Kenya’s excellent newspaper, the Daily Nation, ran a well-written, if depressing piece about Museveni that was initially published by their sister Ugandan paper, the Daily Monitor (where my colleague and Garden City bowling buddy Gerald Bareebe works). I first came to Uganda in 2007, 21 years into Museveni’s regime, so I never really experienced the initial presidency that did so much for Uganda in the 1980s and 1990s. Museveni’s regime turned 24 this year, and he surpassed former Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi as East Africa’s longest-standing ruler. But with oil profits on the horizon, and a penchant for overstaying, Museveni is currently running for his fourth term– and even Moi has been in Uganda this week, helping to campaign for Museveni.
When I first came to Uganda, newspapers affectionately referred to the country’s president as “M7.” I can’t tell you how long it took me to realize what they were referring to– a fighter jet? A different version of LC1s and LC2s (local gov. officials)? Out of the blue, I finally realized that M7 was literally Museveni, and cracked up at myself for not realizing it sooner.
The Monitor piece describes the Museveni who first came into power, and I was practically gaping… anyone who has only known Museveni in the decade after 2000 would feel a similar sense of surprise.
“There was little to suggest that Mr Museveni had any ambitions beyond restoring security, establishing the rule of law, and breathing life into the economy. He openly mocked African leaders who flew to the United Nations in their private jets while their subjects walked around barefoot in stark poverty.
He chided previous regimes for importing expensive furniture and whiskies from European capitals and promised to buy his cutlery and furnish State House with cheap, locally-available goods. Having organised Resistance Councils in liberated areas, the left-wing revolutionary leader spoke of taking power and giving it back to the people to be exercised in a democratic fashion.
However, two decades later, President Museveni is still in power and planning to seek re-election in 2011 which would stretch his reign to 30 years. The revolutionary who argued, in ‘What is Africa’s Problem’, that one of the biggest challenges facing the continent was leaders who over-stayed in office, had the Constitution changed in 2005 to allow him stand for another term in office.
Many observers are now united in the reality that President Museveni has no intentions of handing over power on a silver platter, at least not in the near future. “He is a political survivor; he knows how to survive and is so determined such that if there is anything in his way he must get rid of it,” says Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a political historian at Makerere University. “His ultimate goal has always been power and how to maintain it.”