By Norbert Mao
When talk of lifting the age limit started, people held their breath. They wanted to hear Museveni talk. And he did not bat an eyelid. “That is idle talk”, the Fountain of Honour (not necessarily the fountain of wisdom) said. He didn’t have to say a word. The squirm on his face spoke volumes.
Museveni’s attitude is explainable. Calvin Coolidge’s warned that “it is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are always surrounded by worshippers. They are consistently assured of their own greatness…they live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exultation which sooner or later impairs their judgement”.
On Tuesday 18 July, 2017 NRM members met in Kampala at Kati Kati restaurant and said the age limit is a violation of human rights and is discriminatory. Their leader was David Mafabi, Museveni’s political assistant.
So when on 20 July, 2017, DP launched the campaign opposing the lifting of the age limit dubbed “K’OGIKWATAKO”, meaning “I dare you to touch it!”, why did police moved in swiftly to block the procession that was taking a banner to be hung at the Constitution Square? Some of the officers regurgitated the president’s remarks. We told them to concentrate on law and order not the contentious debate.
But a leopard doesn’t change its spots. And only a dead chameleon doesn’t change colours. Like he did during the time he wanted term limits lifted, Museveni is playing hide and seek. A quintessential guerrilla, he is a master of concealment and stealth.
But those resisting Article 102(b) are meeting with resistance. In Kiboga, MP Keefa Kiwanuka was challenged at a traditional wedding ceremony to declare his stand. He refused. His constituents gave him an earful of abuses. They told him not to dare return to ask for votes if he supports the lifting of age limit.
Then on Monday 24 July 2017 the civil society spoke. One of them, Sarah Bireete, compared Museveni to an ungrateful recipient of a kidney from a generous donor but who returns later demanding a second kidney from the same donor. They accused Museveni of putting his interests above those of Uganda.
Some MPs are now crying for help. Simeon Nsubuga Kassanda MP claimed he was attacked and chased by his constituents on account of his support of the life presidency project. He demanded full time police protection. The poster boy for the Museveni life presidency project Arua Municipality MP, Abiriga, also asked for a pistol claiming his life is in danger due to his undying love for Museveni.
During a funeral in Budaka on Monday 24 July, 2017, area MP Mbogo assured mourners that Museveni is full of energy and a mere constitutional provision shouldn’t be allowed to deny Ugandans his sterling leadership. When another speaker, Dr. Patrick Wakida got the microphone he asked whether the mourners support the lifting of the age limit. A chorus of NO followed.
At a funeral in the remote village of Nyabihoko, Kajara, Ntungamo district, the MC warned politicians against talking about the lifting of the age limit because the people don’t want it. No one dared broach the subject. There were six MPs and two ministers – Chris Baryomunsi and David Bahati. Only former Ntungamo District Chairman John Karazaarwe dared. He ended his eulogy by warning MPs against amending Article 102. He received a rapturous applause.
Now John Nagenda has weighed in. He’s said the age limit shouldn’t be lifted. His strongest argument is that Museveni should safeguard his legacy. “Fellow Ugandans, let us all be mindful of what can disturb the very marrow of our bones if we are caught short of the logic and sensibility of what we should be doing to keep the peace bought so dearly…”, he admonishes.
But is Museveni bothered about his legacy? I doubt. He believes he is God’s everlasting gift to Uganda. Yet every president is replaceable. No leader is indispensable. The age limit like its predecessor, the term limits, helps prevent a cult of indispensability and entrenches the republican principle of rotation in office.
Museveni’s long rule has created a log jam. It has clogged Uganda’s political artery. This is both in the NRM and in the country.
But we must not be afraid. The challenge of recruiting, nurturing and deploying new leaders is a challenge that every organisation and nation has to be prepared for. Others have done it. We can also do it.