By Joseph Kabuleta
“If the Museveni of 1986 (‘The problem with African leaders is overstaying in power’) encountered the Museveni of 2016 (‘I hunted my animal and now you want to take the meat’) the former would go to the bush to fight the latter.”
Someone recently said that and I laughed real hard; and not just at the irony!
The common belief among political commentary is that the President was a well-meaning revolutionary whose best intentions were corrupted by power and the voracious desire for more of it. As logical as that sounds, it is not true. First we were convinced that he was a good leader.Then cracks began to appear which we couldn’t explain.
About twenty years ago, an uncle of mine who consumed all things in the news and fancied himself as an analyst said: “Museveni is a good man but he has been let down by the people around him.”He was convinced that he had cracked the puzzle that is the dichotomy between Museveni the orator and the politician. I was a young man with sketchy political knowledge but I didn’t buy that explanation. Why would this ‘good man’ keep on appointing the same people who continually let him down?
Most Ugandans once considered him a good leader because they judged him by his words. What we didn’t know was and is that he uses words like Mr Loverman; to seduce his target and achieve a given purpose. Anyone who tries to use the President’s speeches as a benchmark by which to hold him accountable does so at their own peril.
Like a beautiful belle, we have all been played by the Casanova. He speaks the right words, with the appropriate intonations, looks you straight in the eye, and leaves you smitten. But like every smooth operator, his words are for the moment and for a specific target. They change according to who is seated across the dinner table:
If it’s a church girl, promise her a ring.
If it’s material girl, promise her an SUV
If it’s a socialite promise her headlines in the gossip pages
If it is a general, promise him a succession queue and assure him that he is next in line
If it is an errant MP promise him/her an appointment at the next cabinet reshuffle
If it is an electorate, promise them ‘Bonna bagagawale’
Of course you have no intention of making any of it happen. All that matters is that your audience is convinced. You don’t try to cross the bridge before you reach it. That’s why you are called a player.
I will tell you a short story.
Some days yonder, a powerful king had a dog that he really loved. So he approached his wise man and insisted that he must teach the pet to talk. When he tried to explain to him that dogs cannot talk, he saw the rage in the king’s face and feared for his life. So he requested to be given 15 years to make the dog speak. His colleagues pulled him aside and said: “Are you crazy? You know that dog couldn’t speak even after a hundred years”. “Of course I know that,” he replied. “But 15 years is a long time. Anything can happen. The dog could die, the king could die, or I could die.”
Moral of the story: If you cannot solve a problem, postpone it.
That’s how the Casanova has played us for 33 years.
He knew it from the start that he was never going to give up power willingly, but that was too much information for us to swallow three decades ago. So he gave it to us in doses. First five years, after which there would be elections. Then another five, ostensibly to remake the constitution; which stipulated maximum of two terms. We patiently waited out the 10 years. But in the middle of those terms (in 2001), a suspicious referendum that nobody was interested in ushered in multiparty democracy.
Former Local government minister Bidandi Ssali urged Ugandans to give the man his last five years and allow him to retire in peace to his proverbial cows. But Kiiza Besigye was ready to stake his right hand that Museveni had no intention of honoring the constitution.
Like every good Casanova, he knows that seasoned words buy you time.
He knows that promises are made to suit the moment, not to be kept. Why fight battles in 1990 which can be put off to 2020?
On February 11th this year, Museveni delivered a paper on Africa’s economic and political integration at the 32nd Ordinary Summit of the African Union Heads of State and got a standing ovation from his colleagues in Addis Ababa. It was wide in its historical scope, deep in its analysis, and well deserving of the cheers it attracted. But similarly glittering speeches at the State of The Nation address in Kampala send half of his cabinet to sleep. That’s because foreigners are still charmed by his flowery words.
Even the most love-struck woman eventually escapes from the prison of hope. Some sharp ones jumped as early as 1990. A majority escaped when term limits were removed in 2006. A few others waited until the ‘Togikwatako’ Age Limit fracas in 2017 to escape.
The widely-held belief that Museveni has changed over the decades is false. We are the ones who have changed.
We have learnt to judge him by his actions not his words. That’s why his speeches send us to sleep. We know that Casanovas never mean what they say. For them words are but a tool for masking their sinister intentions. In the case of Museveni, his words are the exact opposite of his mind.