In the land of the dead, there is always room for more. So it is with African politics. Incumbents possess an insatiable appetite for extra time to ‘sacrifice’ and continue ‘serving their long suffering people.’ Never mind that those who have been suffering for say 30 years have been under the same leader who wishes to continue leading them.
Now with bated breath, Ugandans are looking at Article 102(b) of the Constitution, which among others, bars one from standing for office after attaining the age of 75.
The incumbent President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni who does not know exactly when he was born, but estimates it was around August 1945, will be 76 come the next scheduled election in 2021. As things stand, he won’t be eligible. Just to digress, Makerere researcher Fred Guweddeko once observed that under the now controversial Article 102(b), Museveni has never been eligible to stand for president. He argued that because Museveni is not sure when he was born, any claim to be ‘between 35 and 75’ is dubious and contestable. Many are now arguing that any lifting of the age limit is for all intents and purposes, for Museveni’s indulgence.
I recall before 2005 when the two term limits was lifted, many said it was something Museveni would never do because he would never live to look many people straight in the eye and he had a reputation and legacy to protect. Then some Members of Parliament received Shs5 million each and the rest is history. He has walked with a straight face ever since. Now people are apprehensive. Once beaten, twice shy.
People are saying they will die fighting to maintain the 75-year age limit. But come to think of it, if or when Museveni wants to perpetuate himself in power, he has options at his feet beyond lifting the age limit. One of the easiest ones from the book of autocrats is summarised by James Madison “crisis is the rallying cry of the tyrant.”
Uganda is now tending towards crisis as it faces extreme economic challenges. One of the outcomes besides high prices of scarce food, is a huge army of unemployed restless youth. There are also many who feel that for so long, they have been left out of the political economic bracket enjoying the distribution of the national groceries. All things equal, the multitudes of angry young people are set to get even angrier, more desperate and become a security threat.
This could work in Museveni’s favour if insecurity affects, especially what Prof Mahmood Mamdani calls the 1-2-3-4 class, ie, one wife, two children, three bed room house and four wheels.
This dangerously pretentious group that prides in calling itself ‘apolitical’ is quite vocal on social media and can give an impression of where the country is going. If the goons start mugging them, stealing their smart phones (and exposing their nudes), robbing their vehicles and kidnapping their children for a ransom, they will want ‘any solution’ that protects their property and allows them to party and sleep peacefully all night. The matter of the incumbent staying in power forever will become secondary.
Military men know many things that could deliver such a golden opportunity. Like Oliver Cromwell said, “it is good to strike the metal while it is still hot, but it is better to make the metal hot by striking.” In other words, if you want to swim in troubled waters, but don’t find the waters troubled, you trouble them and take a swim. Crises can be fomented on the battle field – you may lure your opponent into a fight.
It is called a tactical withdrawal. A situation can be controlled and allowed to get out of hand tempting or even misleading angry people to think of using force to remove the government. You have a live example in Turkey. The incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan faced a lot of criticism for his dictatorial tendencies in the recent past. One day out of the blue, there was an attempted coup and see what happened. More than 140,000 academic and civil servants were sacked. Also 50,000 people suspected of being part of the coup were arrested, 7,000 were dismissed from the military and 130 journalist were imprisoned. Many fled into exile. The coup worked against those who opposed the government.
With society cowed, Erdogan came up with a referendum giving the president more sweeping powers in a constitutional amendment and he won!
In Uganda’s case, should such a crisis (attempted coup) take place, Museveni would be called upon by people who don’t want Uganda ‘to go back to the dark days of Amin and Obote, to take charge of the situation.’
That will bury the debate on the age limit as Uganda will be in a ‘state of emergency’ where security of lives and property come before the law and democracy. Museveni and NRM may then work out another ‘interim period’ like Uganda had after the war of 1986. This one would run beyond the year 2021 when he will be 76, right up to 2026 as the country is prepared for ‘democracy proper.’
To achieve this with ease, the current Parliament would be allowed to extend its lifespan as well. Such a proposal would be too good for MPs to reject because most of them know that more than 70 per cent will not return to Parliament in the next election as current trends suggest.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues.