How narcistic Museveni rediscovered Uganda’s need for him
In the mid 1990s when I lived in Tanzania, I had a Ugandan friend, John Omara.
John, an Acholi from Gulu in northern Uganda, was brilliant, deep and thoughtful. He spoke in a low measured tone almost in a whisper, calmly and politely, letting you soak in what he was extrapolating.
When we were not busy, we killed time by discussing the latest trends in media and journalism, East Africa’s current affairs and political economy, and African and world history.
We agreed on many issues and many are the times he dazzled me with his grasp of concepts and his worldly knowledge of diverse subjects, yet on one subject, that of Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, we were diametrically opposed. We just could not agree.
On Uganda’s President, we robustly agreed to disagree. Talking about President Museveni, Omara was at his most passionate: articulate and angry, contemptuous and condescending, derogatory and dismissive.
My argument then was that Museveni was the best leader to be ruling Uganda after Idi Amin Dada’s murderous regime and the equally confused and murderous (Milton) Obote.
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After Idi Amin deposed Apollo Milton Obote, who was away in Singapore attending a Commonwealth Heads of State meeting in 1971, he survived eight tumultuous years, where his regime markedly stood out, basically because of the many Ugandans of all shades of colour who were “disappeared”, ostensibly under the command of the infamous, notorious State Research Bureau (SRB).
In 1980, a general election of some sort was apparently organised by the most powerful man in Uganda then, Paul Muwanga. He was a one-time chairman of the all-powerful military commission, in favour of – many Ugandans believe – Milton Obote, the first President of the Republic of Uganda, who had been waiting in exile in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, courtesy of his comrade-in-arms, President Julius Kambarage Nyerere.
After “winning” the election, Obote, instead of ruling by consensus and reaching out to his erstwhile political foes, supposedly went out on a vengeful mission. His regime, like Idi Amin’s, killed many Ugandans, who it assumed were against his weakly government.
In five short years, Obote was out again, toppled by a former Defence Minister, Yoweri Museveni, who accused Obote outright of being in cahoots with Muwanga while rigging the elections.
In January, 1986, Museveni stormed Kampala, the capital city, with his National Resistance Army (NRA) troops. By the time I was meeting Omara, Museveni had ruled for close to 10 years.
It was against this summarised background of Uganda’s brutal political history that most of my debates with Omara took place. It was comforting – at least on my part – that we debated about his country in a neutral country, Tanzania, a country that for all practical purposes, paid a huge price in liberating Omara’s country.
On that one score we were agreed. We were also agreed that Obote, despite his many foibles, was a nationalist leader who had helped formulate the Common Man’s Charter in 1969, a Leftist policy document intended to spearhead the national development in Uganda.
I had always felt – rightly or wrongly – Omara’s stinging criticism of Yoweri Museveni was driven more by his being Acholi than by an honest assessment of the man. Ethnic passions can be overwhelming as a tool of political mobilisation and reasoning, especially in fragile nation-states like Uganda and Kenya. I told him as much, which infuriated him a lot.
One time, exasperated by my incessant support for Museveni, he told me: “Dauti, you don’t know who Museveni is and the day you will realise who the real Museveni is, I hope you will write about it.”
Omara had warned me that more than being satisfied with just the presidency of Uganda, Museveni also had an expansionist militaristic agenda in East Africa and beyond. That was 1996, 20 years ago, when I had derisively laughed at Omara’s eerie political clairvoyance on Museveni’s supposedly hideous schemes.
To wit, I have followed Museveni’s rise to power, yet I cannot claim to have known him, much less understand his primary motive for wanting to be a president.
With the latest bizarre happening in Uganda – the orchestrated push to change the constitution by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) brigade so that Yoweri Kaguta Museveni can rule indefinitely, and the allegedly deployment of the security officers within the precincts of Parliament to beat up MPs who have been questioning the rationale behind crowning Museveni a “democratic despot”, I thought it was about time I wrote something on Yoweri Museveni.
Museveni is 73 years old, and the Ugandan constitution is explicit that once you are 75, you cannot run for the presidency. But the wily Kaguta has an ace up his sleeve: at the tender age of just 73, and as strong as an Ankole bull, like the ones he keeps at his Mpigi farm, and not even having as much as scratched beneath the 10-point programme he formulated for Uganda in 1986, Museveni has belatedly realised Uganda needs him more than ever before.
He must stay around to help the peasant realise his aspirations and dreams.
So, in recent times, I have been thinking about my friend Omara, who I have not set eyes upon since November 1996. Not so much because Omara can today vindicate his dislike for Museveni, but because I could, with the knowledge of hindsight, benefit from his thoughtful reflection on his president, who is currently a mass of apparent contradictions.
In 1999, the eminent Kenyan historian, Prof Bethwell Allan Ogot, published some reflective essays that he had penned between the 1980s and 1990s, entitled – Building on the Indigenous: Selected Essays 1981–1998, published in Kisumu by Anyange Press Ltd.
On pages 223–232 of the book, Prof Ogot wrote a review article on Sowing the Mustard Seed, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s autobiographical book. This is what Prof Ogot had to say in part about the Ugandan President:
Museveni’s autobiography shows him as the Ugandan Narkisses who has fallen in love with his reflections in Uganda’s muddy political waters. He has turned Uganda’s historical record into a narrative of self-justification.
GUARANTEE OUR FUTURE
Prof Ogot reminds us in his book that “although all autobiographies are narcissistic to some degree, the careful shaping of a public self-image, monuments to self-love built for posterity – not all are trapped in narcissism.” But, Prof Ogot makes the point to emphasis Museveni is narcissistic.
Narcissism is borrowed from the name of a Greek youth Narkisses, who fell in love with his reflection in water. The Concise Oxford Dictionary describes narcissism, “as a tendency to self-worship, excessive erotic interest in one’s own personal features.”
In his book, Sowing the Mustard Seed, Museveni lampooned African leaders who overstayed their “presidential welcome”. I will not quote the particular statement because it has become a cliché. I will, instead, quote from Museveni, his convoluted and myriad reasons for wanting to rival comrade Bob of Zimbabwe as one of the longest running president in Africa, without apology.
On February 15, 2016, President Museveni, in Kampala said: “I am here to see whether we can help you get the East African federation so that we have a critical mass of strength that can guarantee your future. Our future and our children’s future. But (I am) talking not about (the) presidency.”
The President was speaking on live broadcast on a Buganda Kingdom-owned radio station – Central Broadcasting Services (CBS). “I am not a fanatic of presidency. If you want to survive, you blacks, you must work for African unity and for Pan-Africanism. How will you survive against Britain, China, and India?” posed President Museveni, who was hooked on live feed from Nakasero State Lodge.
Pontificating on why he was “indispensable” to the peasant, he lectured: “you are here with tribalism, with religion, falling down on your knees, instead of standing up, so that’s why I am here to help you land, escort you …..”
TRAGEDY OF LONGEVITY
In 2015 in Masaka, agitated as always when he is confronted with the issue of his overstaying the presidency, he quarrelled in the Luganda language, saying, “bagala mafuta gange, my oil. Those people saying agende, retire, are after my oil”. In January of the same year, in Kabale, President Museveni said he could not leave power to the opposition, who, he argued, are like wolves seeking to tear Uganda apart.
President Museveni like his southern brother, Gabriel Robert Mugabe, 92, is undergoing the tragedy of longevity in office. If he had given up power in 2000, he would have gone down as a great African statesman, like Nyerere, whom he likes quoting liberally; or Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal.
Then his idea of federating East Africa would have made a great deal of sense to a generation and populace that today largely views him as a political dinosaur that, once upon a time, fought to liberate Uganda, and once he ascended to power, used the liberation credentials for self-glorification and gratification.
The author, Dauti Kahura, is a senior writer for ‘The Elephant’, a Nairobi-based publication. Twitter: @KahuraDauti