One of the things that will happen this year is that Mr Yoweri Museveni will turn 73 years old on September 15.
Naturally, he will be 74 next year and 75 in 2019. By the next round of general elections in February 2021, Mr Museveni will be 76 years and five months old. He is, therefore, not eligible to stand for president again under the current Constitution.
Mr Museveni’s age is contested, which is the reason some young activists went to court last year demanding a medical examination of his bones. And on this, you have to blame the man himself. When his age was not an issue, he said he didn’t know when he was born.
That his late mother Esteri Kokundeka had said he was born three months after a massive cattle vaccination, which happened in June 1944; so, Museveni put his birth in September. Further evidence is that he was born during the harvesting period of cowpeas, which happens in September.
That is why I have used the word “officially” each time I have referred to Mr Museveni’s age. I don’t know why submission of a birth certificate is not a legal requirement at nomination of aspirants for political offices. Of course many of us born in villages don’t have them but they can be made.
If Museveni, for once, respects the Constitution and allows peaceful transfer of power, whenever it happens, this transition is a matter that the country must discuss and prepare for. Transfer of power or transition is a very challenging exercise even to old democracies. See the mess the USA finds itself in!
One commentator has said president-elect Donald Trump has undermined a long-held tradition of one president at a time. President Barack Obama makes a decision and Trump criticizes it immediately. If we were in Africa, I think Obama would have attempted a Yahya Jammeh trick.
Therefore, a dialogue of key political actors and institutions is very urgent. You saw how Electoral Commission chairman Badru Kiggundu behaved when his time to depart after serving two unrenewable terms came. Some MPs were given money to support a motion to remove the two-term requirement. Deputy chief justice Steven Kavuma, who must retire in September this year after clocking 70 years, was recently reported to have amended his age in order to stay.
Retiring, even when it is clear cut, is no simple thing. Therefore, I would understand if anyone in Uganda called for dialogue. In fact, that is the point Dr Kizza Besigye made at his New Year press briefing. He said to have a meaningful dialogue, it must be arbitrated by a neutral person.
The agenda must be agreed upon and there must be guarantors that what we have agreed upon will be implemented. Like it was during the presidential candidates’ debate, Museveni and his party must attend the dialogue as participants, and not conveners and guarantors. That is a position we have taken as FDC each time someone has approached us suggesting dialogue.
Dr Besigye, therefore, stated nothing new when he was asked about dialogue. Trouble is that the media presented it as if Besigye left his home in Kasangati and came to Katonga road to tell the world that he has now given up his struggle and wants dialogue. The media asked me the capacity in which Besigye was speaking and I clarified.
Then they went to the Kampala Woman MP, who holds no position in FDC, and she obviously contradicted me. Then the story was “a rift” in FDC. This is bad journalism! I am the official spokesperson of FDC. You, therefore, cannot compare my statement with the one of an ordinary party member.
This is the same sort of reporting the media did in the run-in to the presidential elections. Journalists would selectively interview Beatrice Anywar and I think Nabillah Naggayi and report a big rift in FDC. The media, at one time, suggested that 16 FDC MPs had gone with Amama Mbabazi. Anyway, it is still a long way to go!
But talking about transitions, Ghana has given us something to smile about in Africa. Not because the new president, Nana Akufo-Addo, invited Dr Besigye – probably the reason Museveni didn’t attend the swearing in ceremony – but because of three reasons. First was the presence of outgoing President Mahama Dramani.
Two former presidents in John Kufuor and John Rawlings also attended. Ghana now has a club of former presidents. It is not the club that is important, but the culture they, individually, have allowed to happen. They can now pride themselves as a country in this culture.
The second important thing was the speech of Akufo-Addo. I specifically picked this line: “We must restore integrity in public life. State coffers are not spoils for the party that wins an election, but resources for the country’s social and economic development.”
Col Besigye’s invitation was the third thing. I think Museveni would have felt out of place especially when Akufo-Addo referred to leaders who overstay in power as riding against the tide of history.
Ghana achieved this smooth transfer of power after a national dialogue. Trouble in Uganda is that because of Museveni’s conduct, people think every meeting with him is about cutting a deal. State House has become one big bribery centre. You now even fear to engage the man because meeting him is equal to betrayal.
That is why Winnie Kiiza, the leader of opposition, has been criticized and it is the same reason some people are not happy that Besigye spoke about dialogue. They know and now believe Museveni doesn’t dialogue, but seeks to compromise. And that is how he has killed the country. If Museveni called you for a dialogue, the public will ask: “how much did he give you?”
The author is Kira Municipality MP.