By Andrew Mwenda
Ugandans on both sides of the political divide are hypocritical and deluded. For instance, the opposition have shouted themselves hoarse that the constitution should not be amended to suit an individual. Granted. It is obvious that the NRM want to do exactly that: amend the constitution to suit the needs of President Yoweri Museveni who would not be eligible for reelection in 2021.
However, the opposition have not answered my question: do they genuinely think citizens aged 75 years and above should be denied the right to run for president? Those who say yes should give reasons. They have not. As a principle, I personally think it is unfair to discriminate against people of 75 years and above in the race for the presidency. So in principle it is alright to amend the constitution and remove the age limit.
Nearly all the people hostile to lifting age limit are doing so because it will benefit Museveni. If Museveni were to die today, there would be no hullabaloo over this amendment. Which means they are actually opposing the amendment to stop an individual called Museveni from running for president, not to reaffirm their faith in a constitutional principle. In other words they are doing exactly what they are accusing NRM of doing – subordinating a constitutional debate to very short term political objectives. They don’t care about the collateral damage they will cause, which is to deny many competent and patriotic Ugandans aged 75 and above a chance to offer themselves for the top job in the country.
So both the NRM and its critics do not see this debate as a platform to stating any constitutional principles that can guide Uganda for the next one hundred years. Rather they see it as a battle to either allow or block Museveni from running for president. Museveni the individual is the fount and matrix of this debate. This means that both sides see the constitution as a political document to suit current expediencies rather than to provide long term principles of governance for Uganda.
But in their struggle to retain in, or block Museveni from, the presidency, both sides to this political debate actually agree with the argument i have been making: that constitutions are creatures of politics and their provisions are created and destroyed by political decisions.
The opposition are therefore hypocritical or deluded (or both) to think they are advancing any serious moral constitutional principle for the good of Uganda. There is no straight forward evidence that Museveni’s long stay in power is injurious to Uganda’s interests, short or long term, even for succession/transition. Fidel Castrol ruled Cuba for 49 years and finally there was a peaceful transition to his brother. Lee Kuan Yew, the famous Singaporean president, ruled for 36; then retired, bequeathing a peaceful transition to his country. So many leaders have ruled for long and ruined or built their countries. The evidence is mixed.
There are obvious disadvantages for Museveni ruling for very long. But there are equally many advantages. It is hard to really know which outweighs the other. Those critiquing Museveni’s longevity are giving their opinion, not a moral or scientific truth. In fact a lot of what they say is sentimental hogwash. Most anti age limit activists are opportunists using the constitution to achieve their political objective of removing Museveni from power, something their political organization and mobilization has failed to achieve. This is not a debate about Uganda’s future. It is a debate about their partisan desire to see Museveni leave because with him in power the chance of ever winning the presidency is significantly reduced.
The NRM side know that their bread is buttered by Museveni remaining president. And they know the opposition to amending age limits is aimed at denying them the very asset that keeps their party in power. No political party would surrender its winning asset in a naive faith in some abstract constitutional principles that no one really treasures. It is therefore in their partisan interest to seek to remove age limits so that their man, Museveni, can rule for as long as he can keep winning – or even rigging.
There is no scientific proof that anyone in the opposition cares more about Uganda than those in NRM. They are all politicians seeking what is good for themselves. It is true many anti Museveni elites have deluded themselves into the belief that their politics is really not political but some moral crusade to do the best for Uganda. But regardless of their earnest and honest self conviction on this matter, they are deluded. The constitutional debate is really not about the constitution. It is about who each side favors to be president.
Many NRM people actually believe the same delusions as the opposition, most especially Museveni. He has convinced himself, just like Besigye has, that he has been sent by providence to save Uganda. Museveni clings to power much more out of this sense of self righteousness than self interest. Besigye is similar in clinging to being a perpetual opposition presidential candidate. And self righteousness is a much more stubborn quality to deal with than self interest.
I know very few people who are independent on this debate, and I am one of them. Most participants are partisan warriors butting for their side, even though many convince themselves that they are motivated by the good of Uganda. The good of Uganda is like beauty in the eyes of the beholder. So if you are an activist with an inflated sense of pretentious patriotism that you care more about Uganda than others, please give me a break. Go find someone else to throw such naive self delusions on, not this Old Man of the Clan who has seen it all.