Writing a newspaper column every week can get rather tiring, not so much for want of the energy to write as for a sense of deja vu feeling and emptiness of thinking.
Over the last couple of weeks, with the utterly ugly and disheartening events in and outside the parliament of Uganda, I have been asking myself whether there is anything left to say about the retrogressive rule of General Museveni.
When you follow socio-political developments closely and comment on them weekly, there is a very high chance that some future trends and happenings speak to your previous analyses and projections. The natural temptation then is to wallow in self-congratulation.
With a little bit of my personal diffidence, I would like not to go that direction. But the point that must be clear to all Ugandans is that the writing has been on the wall for far too long now. We ignore it at own peril. We are on a slippery slope and anything is possible. The clouds are gathering. This is neither hollow sensation nor alarmist rhetoric.
We are stuck with and trapped in a fraudulent regime in Kampala, presided over by a most deceptive ruler who says one thing today and another tomorrow. For example, in 2012, he told NTV he would not be interested in, and cannot support having, a presidential candidate who is above 75.
But in April 2017, when pressed by Al Jazeera to come clear, he mischievously said “we follow our constitutions.” This is the same deceptive stance he worked with at the height of the manipulative process of removing the presidential terms limit in 2005.
Whereas he is on record saying there is scientific basis for age limits on leadership positions, he recently had the temerity to say we should, instead, ask the doctors for such an opinion.
And in true sycophantic fashion, two members of his cabinet, both medical doctors, wasted no time in insulting their intellects by arguing that there’s no medical, scientific basis.
Museveni is hostage to his own rule. But he is also holding Ugandans and the country hostage to the malfeasance and misrule of his regime. The more he has stayed in power, the more it has become unimaginable that he can live in retirement as an ordinary citizen.
You have to listen to him speak and the paternalism in his tone betrays an obsession with him being the solution to Uganda’s leadership needs.
The longer he has held on using both persuasion and coercion, the more difficult it has become for him to find a comfortable exit strategy. He has dug in and become trapped. And it now looks increasingly likely that if he stays, he is damned; if he tries to leave power, he is still damned.
If he sticks to his mistaken belief that Ugandans need him around as an ostensibly indispensable resource, a rather narcissistic and exaggerated sense of self-worth, he will precariously hold on in the face of rising lawlessness, high cost of regime maintenance due to growing militant opposition, and overall erosion of credibility and legitimacy to govern.
We, the citizens, are equally damned. It falls heads, we are in problems; tails, we are in deeper problems. The man departs, we are in trouble; he clings on, we are in much more trouble.
There are Ugandans who are honestly wary of the eventuality of the man’s departure. They are hostage to the unnerving thought that the modest order and stability under his rule may well unravel without him in power.
This is a hardly veiled blackmail, clothed in this narrative and peddled around with little subtlety by regime operatives. It has been used to successful effect during election campaigns in the past.
But the sooner Ugandans call a bluff on this blackmail, the better; because the hour of reckoning will arrive someday, anyway. Whether or not many of us stay on the side-lines and remain true to our risk-averse instincts, truth is, the meltdown and final conflagration will come and we shall pay the ultimate price.
It is simply impossible to sustain a system of misrule where a substantial section of the population holds very strong opinions against the status quo and does not believe in the extant rules of political engagement. A police state is untenable, especially with pervasive economic hardships and widespread social injustices.
The absence of minimum political consensus is a recipe for disorder. Yes, democracy is about numbers, but it is much more than that. It is about acceptable rules that are seen as fair and credible.
Imposing a dubiously manufactured majority can yield some immediate short-term returns, but it is dangerous going forward. Using state resources to rent political support and to bribe MPs will bring immediate victory but cannot guarantee a sustainably stable regime.
With the overt complicity of the speaker of parliament, the assault is now underway on the last and only remaining redoubt against Museveni’s life presidency.
But as I argued here three weeks ago, the nefarious plot to remove the constitutional presidential age limit will undoubtedly be met with firm resistance even if from a small section of courageous Ugandans. I have signed up to be part of this struggle.
The author is an assistant professor of political science at North Carolina State University.