NB: This article was part of an undergrad paper I submitted to University of Rochester!
The East African Lion is a nickname given to the current President of the Republic of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni. In January, 1986, Museveni who was a leader of a rebel movement marched his forces onto Kampala, the capital city of Uganda and forcefully ousted the newly established military government of Tito Okello who flew to exile. Besides the The East African Lion nickname, President Museveni has been given names such as Sevo(which means sir, in Luganda language) and The Gentleman Farmer, all in his praise for his policies that turned things around in Uganda in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Following his coup d’etat on Peter Okello, a short-lived military leader who had ousted President Milton Obote), Museveni was on January 29, 1986 officially sworn in as President of the Republic and thirty-one (31) years later today, he remains the President of the Republic of Uganda and the chances of him leaving power are very murky and clouding suspicions that he’s grooming his son to take over the presidency once he decides to quit. In what follows, I pursue attempts to answer to the question why African leaders, and specifically President Museveni of Uganda remain in power for too long in comparison to their western counterparts.
I argue that President Museveni just like many other long serving African leaders such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Paul Biya of Cameroon, just to mention some, remains in power because of Uganda’s militarized version of democracy and personalized power.
Mr. Museveni was a young commander and one of the leading military officers that ousted Uganda’s famous brutal dictator, Idi Amin Dada, and installed Milton Obote. However, Museveni soon rebelled against President Obote claiming that Obote rigged elections. He was followed to the bush by twenty-six (26) of his loyal soldiers on February, 1981, and formed National Resistance Movement which quickly gained considerable support from Ugandans who felt victimized by President Obote’s regime that almost equalled Idi Amin’s regime.
Museveni remained in the bush for the next few years and attended peace talks that produced a ceasefire with the new military government which he eventually exploited and ousted Peter Okello, who had overthrown the elected government of Milton Obote. In his swearing ceremony on January 29, 1986, Mr. Museveni said that ‘‘The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power’’, a statement that’s usually used against him.
Museveni came to power after he helped overthrow both Idi Amin and Obote and promised to democratize Uganda and better the lives of Ugandan people which he aggressively attempted in his earlier days and earned him praises from the people of Uganda and the western world, notably his economic policies and war on HIV/AIDS.
Now onto the why part. Uganda’s version of democracy as I argue in this paper is a militarized and personalized one by none other than President himself. This is not an attempt to say there has been a good democratic system before Mr. Museveni as those who came before him, specifically Idi Amin and Obote, ruthlessly pursued personal interests and corrupted the country to the core. However, President Museveni had a good start as Uganda escaped the colonial legacies and the terrible dictators that followed. In the early 1990s, Western leaders such as former United States Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who dubbed Uganda under President Museveni as “a beacon of hope”, praised him and describing Uganda as a postcolonial success story in Africa.
However, Ugandans soon decried Museveni’s first attempts to personalize power as noted by one opposition writer; The real transition taking place there is from a relatively enlightened and benevolent authoritarian regime— a country former US sec Madeleine Albright once hailed as “a beacon of hope” to a textbook case of entrenched one man-rule”. This was in response to Museveni’s attempts to alter the constitution as the 1995 Article 105(2) limited president’s time in office to two five-year terms. In 1994, Ugandans elected a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution, following an elaborate five-year process in which a Constitutional Commission had coffered with local councils all over the country. One of the most uncontroversial provisions of this draft was article 105(2), which limited the occupation of the presidency to two five-year terms(Mugisha,2004). President knew article 105(2) of the 1995 Ugandan Constitution was against his future political endeavors so he planned ahead time and on March 2003, called for a meeting with his party’s most top ranking officials to sell them the idea of amending article 105(2) of the constitution.
It’s worth noting that most African countries if not all had weak democratic institutions to strongly uphold principles of democracy after the colonial administrations left, including the constitutions, and this made it easier for some leaders to manipulate and personalize state power and it’s exactly the case with President Museveni who inherited anarchy from his predecessors.
Museveni’s road to personalization of power and militarization of Ugandan democracy. After he militarily took over power and enjoyed support both from Ugandans and foreign governments, Mr. Museveni was democratically elected in 1996 under the Uganda’s new constitution of 1995. On March 2003, Museveni called a meeting of the National Executive Committee of the NRM and sought a resolution to support the removal of presidential term limits. The NEC officially took no action, claiming that it would consult further on the matter (Mugisha, P.141). However, the Movement Conference, another general of the same dominant political party, the National Resistance Movement, took the issue a couple of days later which passed a resolution to present the (constitutional Review Commission) CRC with a proposal to amend article 105(2).
Here President Museveni was off to changing the constitution to fit his future ambitions. Mr. Museveni and his faced rejection of constitution amendment by the Constitution Review Commission and instead referred to Parliamentary vote where members of parliament could vote to amend article 105(2) but he feared the proposal would not get majority vote required, so he opted for a referendum. The cabinet’s proposals for constitutional reform would weaken the powers and the independence of the judiciary, Parliament, and other bodies. The cabinet has proposed that the experience required to become a judge of the Supreme Court be reduced from fifteen to ten years, and to become either a High Court judge or attorney general be reduced from ten to seven years. The large backlog of cases pending before Uganda courts has provided a convenient rationale for reducing the experience required for these positions, and thereby for elevating a new team of judges loyal to Museveni (Mugisha, 2004).