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UGANDA: How Museveni applies the laws of holding onto power

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In 1998, Robert Greene, an American

writer, released a book titled The 48 Laws of Power.

If I was looking for a one reference point to help me understand the actions of President Museveni and those around him, then this is it – of course not forgetting the Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince.

Here I will only pick a few of the ‘laws’ he suggests and demonstrate them with examples from home to help us understand how and why certain things happen the way they do in our politics – the games people play to hold onto power, both on top and under.

It also particularly helps us contextualise the ‘good dog’ behaviour of some of our selfishly calculative politicians. I also recommend the psychology book Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid, edited by Robert Sternberg. Greene’s first law: Never outshine your master.

Call it the art of sycophancy. Try to make your boss feel superior and perhaps more intelligent than he/she is. You may need to show your talents, but carefully, not to steal the boss’ show and make them feel insecure.

Compare Prof Gilbert Bukenya and Edward Ssekandi here. Bukenya went too far in showing his abilities with his upland rice initiatives and showing he could even be Museveni himself – by perfecting mimicry. You heard the loud kick that followed.

This way, his successor learnt how to act ambitionless. One bull at a time! Secondly, never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies. It’s good to keep your historical ‘allies’, but continually court new converts.

These will tend (or try) to be more loyal because they have more to prove. Hence, statements like those from Beti Kamya, Henry Mayega, Ofwono Opondo, etc.

They are stuck in there, for it’s hard to win back credibility outside the fence. In connection to Law Two, Law 39 instructs you to ‘stir up water to catch fish’. Make your enemies fight as you stay calm and cast your net; the vanquished (or both) run to you.

Fish from the troubled waters. Thirdly, conceal your plans. People shouldn’t be able to read your intentions, lest they plan for counteraction.

Reveal your intentions piecemeal. Keep them guessing about term limits until removed; about age limit until you strike it out; about life presidency until you die at it… Let them realise your intentions when it’s too late to prepare.

Fourthly, try to guard your reputation while you place others in positions where theirs will come out damaged. Let them be exposed to the public and be rebuked while you sit aside and watch as the good one or saviour.

When in wrong, blame another for having misled you – like on the handshake, Bujagali, etc. And, as stated by Law 26, whatever bad or dirty idea to push forward, delegate an Anite, Abiriga, Simeo, Kayihura or Magyezi. Let them take the blame and public anger.

Don’t accumulate much dirt around you, though. At an appropriate moment, dump the used fellows unceremoniously – also so that they don’t get too familiar to think that they are indispensable. They will get no public sympathy on being dumped, anyway.

Meanwhile, Law 12 demands that you use selective honesty and generosity. Publicly appear to be truthful and caring; then your dishonesty can be covered by these few actions. Relatedly, Law Six is that you gather as much credit as possible.

Don’t miss any opportunity for being seen to be more caring and hardworking – go where women are killed and take notes from residents, take photos carrying matooke on a bicycle from your water bottle-irrigated farm, launch whatever you can attend, appear to make the most important decisions, even in dockets of others. Law Seven adds that you present collective achievements as yours (I did …). Appearances matter a lot.

Don’t forget Law 11; make people dependent on you. Make it seem almost impossible to imagine life without you. Be the provider – of scholarships, pledges, do- nations, jobs… Never teach them enough so that they can do without you. Don’t mentor any possible replacement.

Neither should you risk any internal competition to be compared to others; be a sole candidate. Together with this, remember Law 17; create a mystery around yourself. You need friends, but for strategic reasons. Therefore, Law 14: pose as a friend but work as a spy.

Infiltrate your enemies to know what they are planning so that you can plan ahead of them. Use moles/ spies to learn about your adversaries’ weaknesses and use the information to your advantage.

As you do all the above, Law 20 demands that in the long run, you commit to no one but to yourself. This way, you can control others and play them against themselves.

Law 25 cautions that you always remember to re-create yourself. Always go for that identity that commands attention. Don’t bore the audience, ensure a dramatic public appearance. Use proverbs and metaphors that carry away people with humour – lubengo, bean weevil, cotter pin, etc.

Once in a while, give them a rap. Law 31: control the options. Let there appear to be room for choice when there is actually little or none. Control the alternatives as well. Operate an autocracy within a democratic framework – a hybrid regime. Organise elections, but do the counting.

You don’t always have to promise only what you can do. Law 32 calls upon you to tap into people’s fantasies. People want to have hope and to hear nice things. So, feed them on: Entandikwa, Bonna bagaggawale, middle-income status, electric car manufacturing … To these, I will add Law 46: Make it appear like you are just helping them – like the son of God helped us.

Oh, where would we be if He didn’t come!

The author heads the Centre for African Studies at Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi.

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