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East Africa: Dashed Dreams

Published date:
Saturday, 04 August 2007

(Opinion)By now Ugandans have understood their perennial President. Whenever he wants something very badly he makes a denial statement.

In 1985 he made a statement broadcast on BBC that he did not want to be President of Uganda. What is being President of Uganda, he asked? It is not even equal to being Mayor of London, he said. Then he proceeded to become President a few months later.

When he wants more aid, he says that he does not want aid but trade. Then the Americans took him seriously and Congress passed AGOA. But Uganda's trade with America under AGOA was a mere $2.5 million.

Now who has prevented him trading with America? He is of late singing the same song of "trade not aid" with China and India as he seeks more aid from those countries. The Chinese and Indians have responded with more aid as Museveni's Uganda has virtually nothing to trade with those countries.

When he was busy plotting for his life presidency project he asked Ugandans to vote for him for the last time in 2001. Having achieved that, a sufficient number of MPs was bribed to remove presidential term limits from the Constitution to facilitate his life presidency.

Now he is at it again. Recently he denied having interest in East African leadership, meaning that he wants it very badly. Yet one of his stated objectives for his perennial presidency is that he is the only one who has the vision to effect East African political federation.

This is the repeated message from him and his party. However, it seems his recent caravan pilgrimage through Kenya and Tanzania taught him a few lessons about the realities on the ground leading to the disclaimer about his well-known East African ambitions. That of course does not mean that he has given up his ambitions. His denial is his typical way of saying that he very much wants to lead East Africa. He may only change his tactics to achieve his objective.

But indeed what happened in the wasteful pilgrimage? The roads cannot be the excuse for cutting short his pilgrimage as the remaining part - Mwanza-Biharamuro-Bukoba- Mutukula- is a stretch we had gone through umpteen times in the past when Tanzanian roads, in that part of the country could not be said to have been better than they are now. Whatever happened, his pilgrimage seems to have been a disappointment since we are yet to see any glowing praises about its immense benefits either to the country or to the region.

Incidentally, is it in order for a head of state to go around decorating people in their own countries? Can someone find for me a precedent for such conduct? This is usually done when visitors come to a country but not to go around looking for them in their own countries.

The other notable incident is the recent Kyankwanzi NRM MPs retreat. This is not the first one for the current Parliament. There was another one last year in July. However, this one was special. Mr David Mafabi, in his Sunday Monitor column reported that President Museveni attended all sessions in order to underline the importance of the event.

This is quite revealing. It seems the importance of this retreat is comparable to the National Delegates Conference (NDC) in 2003 that approved the removal of term limits from the constitution. In that NDC someone observed that he was not even going for calls of nature. So what did the President want from the MPs in this retreat?

A number of presentations were made but two are noteworthy. The Minister for Security made a presentation on the history of NRM as a liberation movement, highlighting the role of its leader. Then there was a film/video recording covering the political history of Uganda and the wars of the '70s and '80s again highlighting the role of the Big Man sitted there watching the reaction of the audience.

Some of the scenes featured military exercises showing the rigours and dangers of war. After the film, the next lecturer, a political science professor from Makerere, asked the audience whether the people who had gone through that experience of war they had seen on the screen could just relinquish power and go away.

This was the main message and the watchful one was gauging whether those MPs could be relied upon to retain power through any constitutional amendment that he may require them to effect.

Mr Ruzindana is Deputy Secretary General, Policy and Research, FDC

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