Ugandan strongman Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has been “elected” for a new term in office after beating his fierce, long time rival, Dr Kizza Besigye, the Opposition candidate who ran on the ticket of the Forum for Democratic Change.
The country’s electoral body declared the veteran leader the winner of the country’s bungled presidential election with 60 percent of the vote to the 35 per cent polled by Besigye.
And in the aftermath of the “victory”, the Ugandan strongman chose to celebrate his new mandate with his beloved cows. Yes! His beloved cows!
In a picture released by his government and published by Uganda’s leading daily newspaper, Daily Monitor, a relaxed Museveni is seen standing with a stick, and on his head, his trade mark-wide- brimmed hat, eyes firmly fixed on his herd of cattle in what is clearly a rural setting.
The picture tells a thousand words if I may borrow from the now too tired cliché. That aside, the picture is as telling as it is weighty. Why would a leader of sovereign state chose to celebrate an election “victory” with his cows?
One, the man has been accustomed to winning so much so that it is a routine exercise. Secondly, he lacks the conscience and humility and to say “thank you” to the millions of troubled souls who woke up at the crack of dawn and patiently waited on the long queues to vote for him, the integrity of the process notwithstanding.
Thirdly, Museveni’s act depicts a leader who is basically contemptuous of the masses. As much as he is the ruler, world over, leaders are bound by the unwritten doctrine that the governors must have respect for the governed. As much as he is the ruler and leader on the unfree world, a wise ruler must not only listen but have respect for his employers.
However, having been in power since January 29, 1986, everything seems normal to him. He has clung and tasted state power and the goodies that come with it for so long that he thinks Uganda revolves around him.
That aside, this is the catch. On the day the electoral body announced the results, giving Museveni time off with his cows, the Opposition chief, Besigye had his house surrounded by police in riot gear.
In Jinja, where another ally of the president, Nathan Igeme Nabeta, who ran on the National Resistance Movement ticket – the party founded and led by Museveni – was facing an imminent defeat from FDC’s candidate, Paul Mwiru, a joint force of riot police and the army engaged in running battles with supporters of the Opposition after Nabeta was controversially declared winner of the Jinja Municipality East parliamentary seat.
The district returning officer, Anthony Mwaita, declared Nabeta winner with 7,770 votes against FDC’s Mwiru’s 7,635.
The declaration of Mr Nabeta came in the wake of simmering tension between rival supporters who had pitched camp at the district tally on suspicion that vote tallying was being manipulated, the Monitor reported.
These developments starkly point to an election that was not only fraudulent but also that went against the universal doctrine of political competition.
The great philosopher and thinker Niccolò Machiavelli once argued that the State is supreme and at any given time; every measure – whether diplomatic or military– must be taken to protect the state. However, what happened in Uganda smirks of a nation still stuck in the old chiefdom mentality where power is never handed over. It had to be kept by the king until his “unforeseen demise and in the unfortunate event of his death, whereupon the mantle would be passed over to the king’s eldest son.
This takes me back to Museveni, who despite the hue and cry from the opposition candidates, university students, civil society and election observers, stuck to his military principle of intimidating the opposition and organising an election in which he was the supervisor, culminating in him being declared the winner aided by a weak electoral body which, in sense, was his stooge.
Not even the condemnation of the international community could make him change his mind. In sticking to his authoritarian style, Museveni has passed across his message to Africa and to the rest of the world that as things stand, he is ultimate king and ruler of Uganda. “You can make the loudest noise on roof tops but, at the end day, the buck stops with me,” so, he seems to be telling the world.
The danger of such a leader is the fact the Ugandans, even the bravest may coil into their cocoons at the mere thought of engaging in yet another battle with a ruthless ruler, more so one who has “earned” another mandate and keen to go all out to clamp on dissent. Secondly, and most importantly, is the fact that Museveni can choose whether to fulfil his election pledges or not. At the moment, he is aware that he could choose to cling on for more years until that time he deems fit to bequeath the tools of power to his chosen successor.
The danger of such a society is that they risk remaining static when the rest of the word is constantly on the move.
Link with Kenya
Shockingly, as the world and other level-headed leaders vilified the Ugandan dictator, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta fell over himself as being one of the first leaders to send a hearty congratulatory message to his Ugandan buddy.
The message, which was laced with symbolism, irked many a liberal-minded Kenyan who could not fathom the thought of a youthful – digital president aggrandising ill- gotten power through an ill-conducted exercise. It read:
“Kenya values its close friendship with Uganda. That friendship is founded on a common history, a common culture, and common interests. In years past, we have worked closely together for the prosperity and freedom of our nations. We look forward to continuing the work that both our nations have already done, together and in concert with the East African Community, the African Union, and IGAD. We look forward, too, to even closer integration. I wish President Museveni every success as he serves his nation for another term. He and Uganda can count on my support, and my friendship, as well as that of their brothers and sisters in Kenya.”
Kenyatta’s message should, however, not be viewed at face value. Flash back to January 2008, as Kenya burnt in the wake of a disputed presidential election that had been fiercely fought between then President, Mwai Kibaki, and opposition leader, Raila Odinga, when there were claims that the Ugandan strongman aided the beleaguered Kibaki government to cling to power by sneaking in soldiers from Uganda to quell the opposition supporters, particularly in western Kenya.
And in what may have passed out as a brainless decision, Museveni, then, just like Kenyatta now, rushed to send a congratulatory message to Kibaki, when the entire world had concerns about the integrity of the Kenyan electoral process.
Kibaki went on to rule for five years albeit in a grand coalition government forced down his throat by the international community, and which made him share power with Odinga in a loose arrangement marred by constant wrangles.
And now, with Kenyatta having made the most unexpected decision to congratulate a man deemed to have outlived his usefulness in Uganda and with Kenya heading to her own elections next year – in all likelihood the Kenyan election will be closely fought – Kenyatta, a smart student of political science, knows too well that he will need the support of Museveni when push comes to shove.
At 54, Kenyatta knows that Museveni, 71, is the senior most political leader in the East African region and a crooked character for that matter, who can shamelessly rally to his support when need be.
Granted, it comes as no surprise and as the clock ticks to the much anticipated August 2017 election, all indications are that Museveni will return the favour initiated by his buddy, Kenyatta, by providing mental, material and to a greater extent forceful support should need arise.
What informs this? For long, Museveni was the blue eyed boy of the West in East Africa, which he lost when he begun clamping down on dissent.
This prompted the US to switch to the towering, soft spoken Rwandese boy, Paul Kagame. But just like Museveni, Kagame fell out with the West when he engineered a change of constitution so that he could serve beyond the constitutionally prescribed two terms.
As things stand, East Africa lacks a tough, yet flexible leader whom the West can count on, and with Museveni’s hatred and phobia for opposition leader, Raila Odinga, whom he believes has the potential to cut him to size, he would rather deal with Kenyatta.