One, the longer a ruler stays in power, the more he/she becomes the law, the only credible institution for managing public affairs, and the sole centre for crucial decision-making.
Presidential longevity breeds personalization of power and de-institutionalization of politics. It erodes the basic institutional fabric especially for a young nation such as Uganda. After three decades in power, functional state and governmental institutions are seen as posing a threat to General Museveni’s grip on power.
This is most ironic because you expect that a head of state and chief executive for a country would find it prudent to govern through proper institutional channels. But the insecurity and jitteriness that come with a long stay in power compel a president to undermine formal institutions to secure themselves in power through informal and illegal structures. Formal institutions then are reduced to a mere façade.
This is the logic of the neopatrimonial state that has long been seen as predominating social relations and characterizing many postcolonial African states.
You look at the manner in which the police force has been fragmented under the command of a partisan inspector general, the use of State House connections as the final stamp in decisions and deal-making, the arm-twisting of parliament using all manner of power brokers and the ruling party caucus, the opaque process of appointing judicial officers especially judges, etc, all add up to the logic of undermining the growth of autonomous and credible institutions of state and government.
The overriding drive and thrust is to maintain a tight grip on power.
Two, nepotism, favoritism and cronyism tend to define presidential longevity and are a logical consequence of the exigencies of holding onto power. Today, the regime of General Museveni is easily one of the most nepotistic of the current generation of long-surviving authoritarian regimes around the world. For various reasons, Ugandans speak about nepotism in hushed tones.
For example, a cursory look at the command structure of the security agencies and the armed forces, key positions in statutory authorities and state agencies, and State House itself, suggests a deeper problem of a fundamentally skewed composition of public positions and betrays glaring nepotism.
The longer Museveni has held on, the more he has become insensitive to making appointments of a most nepotistic nature, including having his own wife holding a powerful ministerial portfolio.
The bedfellows to nepotism are favoritism and cronyism. Decisions in big procurement deals and use of state assets are determined not through transparent and legal procedures but on the basis of informal connections and networks involving individuals and groups allied to the status quo, who finance regime continuity during elections and who contribute to building a large state patronage.
The upshot is the erosion of the value of merit and competence in getting a government job or undertaking a public project. There is runaway rent-seeking and profiteering through connections, and not actual innovative and productive economic activity.
Three, the centrality of money in politics and the high cost of providing physical security to the president and the presidency emerge as pointers to decline in legitimacy of a ruler who has overstayed.
Where it was easy to use persuasion, it becomes only doable through money, literally having to buy consent but also procure it through coercion when necessary. Throwing around real cash is as expensive as using the coercive arsenal of the state.
The position of president, and even that of a member of parliament, is increasingly seen by the public as a job for which the office-holder must pay to keep. Thus, we have observed successive elections becoming a lot more expensive and the use of huge sums of money taking center stage.
Related, the presidential motorcade and security detail is a humongous entity paid for by a big official budget vote and unknown classified expenditure through defense and security. There have to be layers of security and protection for the president but also for the attendant big presidential community. It has to get more costly every passing year.
Four, deepening social and political fragmentation. Long-standing one-man rule has the tendency of fostering social tensions. There is a sense among sections of society and regions of the country of political exclusion.
The response to this in Uganda has been, among other tactics, balkanization through creation of unviable tribal-districts and the promotion of local governments built around presumed localized access to the national budget.
Uganda today comes across as a highly-divided society with the potential for social animosity that can explode into something tragic. Social tensions have, for now, been in part held at bay by political fragmentation yet this in itself is recipe for more problems.
Lastly, the sum of the above problems wrought by an imperial presidency is uncertainty with regard to the future of the country. The state of uncertainty, although not necessarily engineered by the ruler, is nevertheless functional for his continued stay in power.
With the public not sure what the future holds in terms of political stability and social cohesion, the ruler can continue presenting himself as the best bet and sole guarantor.
The author is the interim secretary, Society for Justice and National Unity, a Kampala-based think-tank.