By Emeka Alex Duru
(08054103327, [email protected])
As a university student in the mid-1980s, I was excited by the sophistication and boldness of four revolutionary figures in Africa – Jonas Savimbi of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA); Samora Machel of Mozambique, John Garang of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. They held many things for me. At a time when African leadership comprised largely of men who shot themselves to office through military coups and with marginal educational endowments, these four, at various levels of their struggle for the independence for their respective countries, were profoundly armed with university degrees and anchored their agitations on definitely ideologies. Savimbi who studied Social Sciences, had a mixture of Chinese communist and American liberal tendencies. Machel was of the Marxist-Leninist bent. Garang put serious efforts at his “Sudanism” as a guiding philosophy to a secular and multi-ethnic country he had dreamt of. Museveni represented the American capitalist economy.
Savimbi, Machel and Garang, are unfortunately dead in controversial circumstances. Of the lot, I was more passionate with Garang and Museveni. Both incidentally, studied Economics at university level.
My admiration for Museveni found bearing in his involvement in struggles that ousted his country’s tyrant at the time, Idi Amin (1971 -1979) and the lethargic Milton Obote (1980–85) before capturing power in 1986. His sustained march through the cold and bush paths, dating as far back as 1967, in his student days at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, against despotism in Uganda, was a study in courage. Idi Amin at the time, was a demi-god of sort, trampling on basic rights of his countrymen in defiance of all known international instruments on human conduct.
In a particularly gruesome presentation in his book, “The State of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin’s Reign of Fear”, Amin’s exiled Minister of Health, Henry Kyemba, gave horrid details of how he debased human lives in the country by regularly dispatching death squads against real and perceived opponents, on flimsy grounds. It was therefore with enormous goodwill that Yoweri and other revolutionary forces dismantled the despicable regime. When eventually he swept through and was sworn in as president on January 29, 1986, it was just natural that he was celebrated as a new face of leadership in Africa. He was like the biblical David, saving the Israelites from the wickedness of Goliath the Philistine. His speech at the occasion was remarkable, as he stressed, “This is not a mere change of guard, it is a fundamental change.” Standing before Ugandan parliament, the new president promised a return to democracy: “The people of Africa, the people of Uganda, are entitled to a democratic government. It is not a favour from any regime. The sovereign people must be the public, not the government.” The declaration complemented a 10-point programme, already developed with comrades-in-arms for an eventual government, covering: democracy; security; consolidation of national unity; defending national independence; building an independent, integrated, and self-sustaining economy; improvement of social services; elimination of corruption and misuse of power; redressing inequality; cooperation with other African countries; and a mixed economy. At various fronts, he spoke against perpetuation in office by leaders.
With this, his reputation soared exceedingly. In appreciation, Museveni was celebrated by the West as part of a new generation of African leaders and a beacon of hope for the continent. The relative peace experienced by Uganda under him and the country’s significant success in battling HIV/AIDS, further bolstered his image.
With time however, apparently sucked in by the trappings of office and consumed by rootless messianic mentality, Museveni began to see himself as the god every Ugandan must worship or die. His journey to infamy, was marked with suppression of political opposition and constitutional amendments, scrapping presidential term limits and the presidential age limit. The age limit had barred those over 75 from contesting for the presidency. Museveni is 76. But riding on the obviously flawed process, he was pronounced winner of the country’s presidential election on January 16, for the term with 58.6% of the votes.
It is necessary to situate this record in responding to the likely questions of, “what is your own with developments in Uganda; why are you weeping more than the bereaved?” These are legitimate questions. Of course, being a student of international politics, one is not oblivious of the place of the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs of sovereign states. But the globalization of international relations has also made developments in one state direct concern to others.
Africa in particular, is one entity that is littered with sit-tight leaders and poll manipulators. It will thus, be dangerous to assume that the situation in Uganda should be left for the citizens. The piteous trend in the East African state, had already taken roots in Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroun, Gabon and other countries. Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi was set on the ugly trajectory before he was stopped by death. It is a form of political virus that sweeps through, if not checked. The immediate result is those countries exposed to such leadership recklessness, often being thrown into turmoil with the exit of such tyrants. Cote d’Ivoire is yet to recover from the long reign of Felix Houphuet Boigny. It is the same story in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, Mobutu Seseseko’s Zaire, Gnassingbe Eyadema’s Togo and others.
Nigeria was saved from this sorry path with the mass of opposition that halted President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure elongation project in 2006. As 2023 approaches, with the existing opposition base basically from the people and not the pliant National Assembly or the crop of rallies that pass for political parties in the country, there could be some certainty in assuming that we have passed that level of self-succession, in the mould of Museveni’s Uganda. But the dangers of imposition of candidates and vote rigging, remain present and potent. This is why the Ugandan experience should not be overlooked or dismissed out rightly. Nigerian politicians are always quick to learn from odd situations and draw analogies that fit into their inordinate ambitions.
Already, there have been stealthy appearances and measured commentaries by interest groups and mobilised agents, instigating conceding to the President the power to determine the areas and persons to choose his successor from. In all these, there has been the conscious effort at ignoring the people-content in the choice of the next president. What is therefore, clearly before us, is agenda setting by the politicians. By the time the people would realize what is going on, it would have been too late. Museveni of Uganda, Alhassan Quattara of Cote d’Ivoire, Paul Biya of Cameroun, did not just happen. They started like this.
DURU is the Editor of TheNiche newspapers, Lagos