Let me start by noting that this is purely a theoretical essay, and I’m no fool to expect impassioned fans of these political players – KB, BW or YKM – to read this well.
Also, for the uninitiated, ‘theoretical’ does not mean, fictitious or inapplicable; it is, rather, reflection built from many case studies analysed through time and temporal moments. So, let’s get started.
There is an interesting pattern of political events in Africa if loosely periodized: if the 1960-1970s were the period of decolonisation, with anti-colonial leaders taking office in newly independent states [Jomo Kenyatta, Milton Obote, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Gregoire Kayibanda, Aden Abdullahi Osman etc.], the 1970s and 1980s and slightly onwards were a period of coups.
Here, immediate postcolonial leaders were overthrown – killed, exiled or jailed – by men serving in their militaries. The former servicemen took the presidency (Idi Amin, Siad Barre, Joseph Arthur, Muammar Gaddafi, Moussa Traoré, Michel Micombero, etc.). In some states, this period saw a country turn into a theatre of coups with one happening after the other.
The period starting 1980, with the Cold War becoming more intense, sitting governments were overthrown through what came to be known as “liberation struggles.”
Coups significantly reduced. Here, a section of ruling elite, sometime, with a section of the army, declared war on the sitting government and took to the bush.
The deeply antagonistic superpowers of the time – USSR and USA – took sides in this conflict. If one supported the sitting government, the other supported a rebel group, or both powers supported different rebel groups against the sitting government. Leaders claiming liberation credentials were born.
Uganda got Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda had Paul Kagame, DRC had Laurent Desire Kabila. A “new breed of leaders” was declared. [Somalia and Central African Republic are yet to recover from this mess]. Around this time, Nelson Mandela had come out of prison. Robert Mugabe had recently become president of newly independent Zimbabwe.
Leaders including Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak, Omar Al-Bashir, Rawlings, Ibrahim Babangida and, later, Sani Abacha were becoming more entrenched. As was demanded by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – that leaders had to have the mandate of the people to access credit – many, as Gerald Karyeija recently put it, organised procedural elections.
When the Cold War ended, one superpower now turned to and Structural Adjustment Programmes later, non-governmental organisations as the new technology of control.
Coups and “liberation struggles” became outdated. A “liberation” or coup leader had neither (military or financial) support, nor would they have legitimacy if they were lucky to win an insurrection. Elections became the thing. But these elections remain the technocracy through which today’s leaders reproduce themselves in a rather autocratic fashion.
The decade 2010 to 2020 has been one of rights, which have ushered in a new phase of political struggle. In this decade, in most formerly colonised places, sitting no-change regimes are deposed through streets protests. The streets of major capitals have become the new battlegrounds.
There is no doubt that Museveni belongs to the category of leaders being deposed through street protests. This wave will not leave him standing.
It is a fact of history – and this is the decade. Museveni is no exception to Mubarak, Mugabe, Kabila, Bashir, or Ben Ali. Having started in 2011 in Tunisia, the wave of street protests is now running riot across the continent. Often lasting 15 to 20 years, Museveni might come in the last cycle. [And for certain, once Uganda catches the cold, Rwanda will surely sneeze].
But here is the catch: Neither Besigye nor Bobi Wine will be taking over from Museveni. It does not follow like that. Again, if this wave were scrutinised more deeply, radical shifts – from the sitting regime to entirely new people from the opposition – are painfully rare, if not non-existent.
If they happen like, happened in Egypt (from Mubarak to Morsi), they are unsustainable. Vested interests – local and international – from the deposed regime remain powerful and antagonistic, and can surely cause harm – again, as recently happened in Egypt under Morsi. Secondly, radical shifts are not healthy for the country – for the same reasons of vested interests. To this end, this wave has seen the new leaders coming from the inside.
Uganda will have to look inside. Someone has to be forced to emerge from the inside. And the painful truth is that it will take Besigye and Bobi Wine’s heightened activism for the men on the inside to see Museveni as a liability.
Please note that whatever union they are in, be it UPDF, Mafia Inc. or NRM, the uniting thread is their access to resources. Museveni has to be seen as a threat, and not a guarantor, and then the transition will start.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.