Museveni’s life presidency is a money making scheme
The above efforts are largely internal to the NRM, and therefore by far insufficient to convince everyone. What else can the President do, particularly to convince all MPs?
This is where patronage comes in, and particularly cash handouts. These have become increasingly important for the regime. For example, in 2013, each MP received USD 1880 to ‘promote’ the controversial Marriage and Divorce Bill in their constituencies. Between May and October 2015, NRM MPs received at least USD 1.64 million to popularise the sole candidature motion and de-campaign presidential candidate Mbabazi.
In other words, hard currency is in demand.
In other words, hard currency is in demand. The bonanza that the age limit removal promises to be to many entrepreneurial politicians and political operators in the wider sense is slowly gaining pace.
In June, some MPs who are fronting the lifting of the age limit gifted their yet unconvinced colleagues with bags of sugar and an envelope with 300 USD. When the constitutional term limits were removed in 2005, brown envelopes were handed out to MPs containing 3,000 USD. Yet, the price MPs are rumoured to have demanded this time is much higher – 80,000 USD cash per head – an increased amount not only reflecting monetary inflation, but particularly the inflationary use of financial patronage by the Museveni regime.
There is no doubt that also beyond the parliament, cash will also play a crucial role: many buy-offs will be required to serve all the constituencies, many of which have developed an ardent sense of political entrepreneurialism in an economy where presidential handouts for many are the only gain to reap: politics, and particularly the elections, are getting increasingly commercialised.
This was already visible in the sole candidature motion ahead of the 2016 elections that sought to pre-empt a showdown between the President and his challenger then NRM Secretary General and Prime Minister Mbabazi, in party primaries. NRM youth were divided and were competing for buy-offs from respective candidates rather than fighting over issues. While some NRM youth recently have expressed their support for the lifting of age limits, others have openly spoken out against the planned constitutional changes.
A state of fear
Securing the lifting of the age limit will not only require cash, but also a tight grip on those opposing it on the streets. Both the actual use and the threat of force have consistently been used as a strategy by the regime.
The 2016 elections illustrated this clearly, when NRM Secretary General Justine Kasule Lumumba, for example, warned mothers in a village that ‘the state will kill your children’ if they were to protest in Kampala. At his closing campaign in February 2016, Museveni openly warned voters of instability and violence should the NRM fail to secure a majority and opposition ‘disrupt peace’.
Opinion polls show how the majority of the Ugandans do not believe the President would peacefully leave power. These sentiments equally play a role in the discussion around the age limit: the regime projects an image of chaos and instability onto a leadership without Museveni. Another NRA old hand even warned in July that Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army rebels may capture Kampala, if Museveni does not stay on in 2021.
Opposition and youth groups are sure to fight the lifting of the age limit, with whatever little means they have, and the government is likely going to restrict their space ever more. In July, 56 FDC supporters who were found with anti-age limit removal campaign material, were arrested near Kampala. They were detained in the feared Nalufenya police station that had in recent months made headlines over cruel torture of suspects, after they were found gathering in groups with anti-age limit removal campaign material. NRM youth leaders who criticised the age limit removal were also arrested in mid-July.
The combination of patronage and coercion will become increasingly prominent over the months and year(s) to come, with the campaign for the removal of the age-limit to further heat up. A Ugandan analyst dared to say what some others quietly think too, ‘let’s get the inevitable age limit removal circus over with, whatever the cost of bribing MPs, and give Museveni a constitutional option of staying in power – for the sake of ‘peace’’.
A few weeks ago, reggae star Bobi Wine won a landslide victory in a parliamentary by-election on the outskirts of the capital Kampala. The ‘Ghetto President’, as he is known by his fans, portrays himself as a representative of the youth that feels left behind by government: At 35 years old, the political newcomer has thus just passed the minimum constitutional age limit for the real-life presidency some rumour him to aspire to.