Last week, I met a leading (old-guard) NRM ideologue.
A long-standing public servant of with a stellar CV, he is among those who have held high positions in different offices and at different times and left with a clean name. A day after the sad events in parliament on Wednesday, I asked him what he thought: “Betrayal,” he said.
His perceptive view contrasts sharply with the pitiful coterie that has been supplicating for the master in exchange for material crumbs from the State House dining table. Political neophytes working with, or perhaps more accurately commanded by, mercenary-like courtiers based in parliament have fallen on each other trying to advance the most laughable arguments.
Consider the deeply-sickening assertion that a constitution is there to be amended as and when it is necessary. This assertion grossly betrays a lack of grasp of basic tenets of modern constitutional governance. A constitution cannot be amended at the whims of individuals lest it loses meaning as an enduring supreme law.
Shifting constitutional goalposts whenever the need arises is simply antithetical to constitutionalism. Meanwhile, within the spirit of deception and misleading claims, MP Margaret Muhanga, the ruling party caucus spokeswoman, took matters a notch higher, claiming that MPs are not delegates who have to take the views of the public!
This of course is ludicrous, to say the least. MPs do not represent themselves in parliament; rather, they represent the people who elected them and the public on whose behalf they legislate.
On a matter that is so critical and controversial, MPs cannot ignore the views of their voters and the public. In another sense, Ms Muhanga was alluding to a serious political reality in Uganda, that is, the fact that voters are not actual holders of power as provided in the constitution. Power has been lost, from the people to political entrepreneurs.
Because MPs like Ms Muhanga are able to procure their way to parliament, they ipso-facto buy the power to transact on their own and cut deals in total disregard of the voters.
In the weeks leading to last Wednesday, the emergent general view, backed up by some opinion polls results reported in the media, was that amending the constitution to remove the cap on the age limit of a presidential candidate is something many Ugandans are decidedly against.
Be that as it may, we were told, MPs have the powers to decide for the public by disregarding what the public thinks. This view underlines the arrogance of power.
For a country seething with intractable problems, we are ending the year mourning yet again on a note of battered political immorality. One can add that to the criminal scheme of political brinkmanship.
The upshot of it all is that with the naked greed for power, Mr Museveni can no longer lay any claim to being a statesman with the credentials that qualify him to fellowship in the club of illustrious African leaders.
He has presided over immense political fraud, the high point of which was clinched in parliament last week. Mr Museveni has ably written his epitaph in quite uncertain terms such that in all likelihood, there won’t be much controversy in his absence.
But why would a ruler be so desperate to cling to power that he has to engage in egregious and shameless machinations that utterly wipe out an otherwise a modest legacy worth salvaging? The curse of power!
Rulers in the mould of Mr Museveni construe the state as their personal estate for which they have a lifetime entitlement to manage or, more accurately, mismanage. The spirit of constitutional checks such as term and age limits is precisely to avoid that eventuality.
Every challenge to the ruler’s hold on power hardens his resolve to stay put at all costs, to dig in and to summon all possible illegal responses. And urged on by hangers-on and schemers seeking to cash in from a system of spoils, the ruler can effortlessly switch positions and lie with no remorse.
Today, he will say he has no interest in removing the age limit provision in the constitution, tomorrow he will be the chief author of the same. Ugandan politics has entered a most worrying state.
Going forward, the polarization accentuated by the toxic age limit amendment will only work to undercut progressive politics. The fight to stop the so-called Magyezi bill in parliament included deeply-disturbing gutter tactics. Some of the scenes on the floor of parliament showed just how low Ugandan politics has sunk.
Money and force have gained the status of arbiters, and they will for hold firm years to come. From the trend over the past few years, the emergent police state will become more pronounced in the wake of the latest constitutional manoeuvring that has further discredited the ruler. If coercion won’t work, bribery might.
The author is an assistant professor of political science at North Carolina State University.