By Norbert Mao
No one’s stories and opinions define Museveni’s metamorphosis from a solution to a problem better than Miria Matembe. Obviously, to her and those who trusted Museveni before, there are two Musevenis alive in their consciousness. The one who raised their hopes and the one who dashed their hopes. The disappointment is unmistakable when she speaks.
One fact however cannot be denied. Museveni has made a big personal stamp on Uganda. In the wake of the debate on whether to lift or not to lift the constitutional age limit, we cannot escape the question of what legacy he will leave when the “great equalizer” mingles his remains with those of lesser or greater mortals in the remorseless dust. Will it be said that he repented in time or did he tempt fate and thus earn an epithet as one who both built and destroyed Uganda in equal measure?
Some people think Museveni should be coaxed and eased gently out of power. Something akin to exorcising a ghost or painstakingly hauling out a heavy, useless empty safe from the family house. On July 14, 2017 Winnie Byanyima told journalists “We must help President Museveni to have a safe transition, lead a safe transition and leave power as a hero that he is. He has done some great things and we need to help him to lead his country and his party to have a smooth transition,”. Others, and many fall in that category, think Museveni has his choices cut out for him and he is the only one who can make it. Like his predecessors who made their choices, he will make his and bear the consequences.
Still, the question remains, how do heroes retire? Gracefully I think. In his book, The Hero’s Farewell” Yale Professor Jeff Sonnenfeld, delves into the subject of leadership transition in businesses. He writes “How a business replaces its chief executive often determines that firm’s future. If a business does not effectively manage the transfer of power, utter turmoil can result, with profound implications not only for the CEO, but also for the other employees, the shareholders, and the community at large.”
A key factor in leadership succession is how a leader whose departure is imminent views himself. His self-conception. Also relevant is how he views the world. His cosmo-conception.
On May 17, The Observer newspaper published an interview with Boniface Byanyima. When asked whether anything has changed about Museveni the old man answered ” He had no power. He was a poor young boy. Now he has amassed wealth. He has grabbed power…Apart from that, he is still the same. When he was a young man he was not straight. When Museveni says 10 words, you can’t trust them all. Perhaps only two are correct”.
Museveni’s self conception is again clarified by Boniface Byanyima who saw him in his formative years. Byanyima says Museveni gave himself the name “Tibahaburwa” meaning the one who cannot be advised or one who relies exclusively on his own advice. Museveni’s worldview hinges on violent social change and the regimentation of society. Communist literature dominated his reading list. No wonder, his undergraduate research topic was on Franz Fanon and his theory of violence. In his desire to have a regimented society malleable to his will and the use of violence as an arbiter of conflict, Museveni practices what he preaches. These personality sketches can give us an idea of how Museveni is likely to manage his own succession. He seeks to succeed himself ad infinitum and risk going down in flames.
Tanzania had Nyerere. America was blessed to have George Washington. After leading his compatriots through a bloody war for independence, he was unanimously elected President and after two terms during which physical weariness set in and the voices of his critics became louder and louder, he decided to retire. The overwhelming majority wanted him to stay on as president. He resisted the voices of his friends, political associates and even sycophants and chose to go home to his Rwakitura (Mount Vernon). He penned perhaps the most famous farewell address in history. Readers may say we should stop dreaming because this is Uganda and leaders depart the Ugandan way but, as Winnie Byanyima suggests, wouldn’t it be glorious if Museveni did the same?
Well planned transitions elevates the spirit of a nation. When a leader departs in disarray with his supporters running pellmell, the spirit of the nation is diminished.
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