A decision by NRM MPs this week to endorse a report on removing presidential age limits for the sole benefit of Mr Yoweri Museveni has potential to worsen an already uncertain future.
And almost all these MPs know. Privately, they will tell you how bad this decision is. And then you wonder why they are gearing up to vote for it! A couple of NRM MPs told me their motivation is cash. And Mr Museveni has become an expert in bribery.
Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee members have each [allegedly] been given Shs 300 million for signing the report endorsing the age limit bill. That is why they signed it past midnight.
Kiboga Woman MP Ruth Nankabirwa has become very crucial in this transaction. I understand non-committee members will each be advanced Shs 100 million before voting and Shs 100 million after voting for this bill. That is the deal which has motivated even a few NRM voices that initially opposed this constitutional amendment.
And Museveni is a lucky man. He is no longer blamed for bribing and compromising people. Instead, his victims take the blame.
The information above was to help you understand why things have moved so fast. I sit on the committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and we had agreed never to submit a report before conducting public consultations. In fact, a programme had been drafted and we had been divided into groups.
The leadership of the committee had even put a condition that before writing the report, we must visit some countries to benchmark on the issue of age limits.
I am told Museveni fixers told him MPs are usually hungry for money towards Christmas. He quickly organized money and deployed Nankabirwa to strike. Nankabirwa convinced NRM MPs that the money they wanted to get through benchmarking trips will more than double if they quickly processed the report.
Right, that has happened. Let us now discuss the real implication of this bill for our future. In a report titled ‘They used to be rulers of their African or Arab countries: today they are dead, deposed or driven from their homeland’, Los Angeles Times summarized our problems.
The newspaper last week published a photograph of heads of state attending the second Afro-Arab joint summit in Sirte of Libya on October 10, 2010.
Those standing with their host, Muammar Gaddafi, on the front row were: Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia who ascended to power in 1987; Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen in power for three decades; Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in power since 1981; Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso in power since 1987; Robert Gabriel Mugabe in power since 1980; Gaddafi in power since 1969, and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir in power since 1989.
This entire row, save for Bashir, has been wiped out in just seven years, with serious ramifications for their respective countries. You all know what happened to Gaddafi and Libya, Compaore and Burkina Faso, Abdullah Saleh and Yemen, Mugabe and Zimbabwe or Ben Ali and Tunisia.
Sudan and Bashir are also limping and he is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Removing a leader forcefully is as expensive as keeping a leader beyond his expiry date.
With Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola finally bowing out, Mr Museveni is effectively the third-longest serving leader in Africa.
The African Union has 55 countries. Almost all leaders who came into power in the 1980s or before have either been forced out or have voluntarily retired.
It is only Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon’s Paul Biya that have refused to go. Sudan’s Bashir is in fourth position, having grabbed power in 1989. These are the remaining leaders of the 1980s.
With the exception of Eritrea (1991), Morocco (1999), Djibouti (1999) and Congo Brazzaville (1997), the rest of AU heads of state assumed power after 2000. Museveni, Bashir and Nguema are in a league of their own.
As the manoeuvres of changing the Constitution reached a climax last week, I remembered the words of Gen Henry Tumukunde in 2005 while appearing on CBS radio.
Tumukunde reminded us that when leaders grow, they surrender power to their spouses or girlfriends. He gave us the example of Kamuzu Banda of Malawi who, in old age, surrendered power to a girlfriend and his son in-law.
Tumukunde was right because that is exactly what happened in Zimbabwe in the last days of Mugabe. His wife Grace assumed power and was making decisions on behalf of the aging leader.
If Museveni gets his way and amends the Constitution and rigs the 2021 elections, he may be a leader even at 83. Will he surrender power to a spouse or girlfriend? Our work as the citizenry is now well cut out!
The author is Kira Municipality MP and opposition chief whip in parliament.