Up to about 15 years ago, no one, not even his critics, thought he would seek to rule ‘forever’.
Finally, it has come to pass in Uganda.
For many months, President Yoweri Museveni’s proxies made the case for an amendment to the Constitution to lift the 75-year age limit on the presidency, to allow him run for an eighth term (two of them unelected) in 2021.
He played the reluctant Big Man, even hinting he wasn’t interested.
But as opposition rose, and determined opponents in parliament disrupted attempts to table a private member’s Bill for the amendment, Museveni lost patience and brought out the brass knuckles.
A military siege of parliament had been on for days, and on the day MPs scuffled over the amendment on the floor of the House, he sent in the presidential guard to wallop them.
Now he has come out openly to say he wants the age limit lifted, and that ruling NRM politicians opposed to the president-for-life project are like “enemies.”
Up to about 15 years ago, it was hard to find people, even critics of Museveni, who thought he would seek to rule “forever.”
There were three exceptions:
First, were a group of Ugandan politicians, activists, and academics associated with the left wing of the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) that came to power after the fall of military dictator Idi Amin in 1979.
From the outset, they held that Museveni was a dyed-in-the-wool militarist, who didn’t believe in civilian politics, but worshipped the gun. Also, that he was not a departure, but a continuation of the militarist tradition that Milton Obote began in 1966 to abolish the Independence constitution and turn the presidency into a dictatorship – and that Amin carried on.
The country was not ready to hear them. Their comeback was that time would vindicate them. It has.
The second group were Nyerere-era securocrats in Tanzania. Both before and after the fall of Amin, Tanzania had easily the best external intelligence network in Uganda.
That network became entrenched after the Tanzanian army helped Ugandan dissident groups oust Amin. Museveni had spent many years in Tanzania as a revolutionary exile, and from there made forays into the Mozambique war of liberation.
A section of Tanzanian intelligence and CCM politicians held that Museveni would in the end rule as a tribal chief, not a progressive leader, and would turn the country into a personal fiefdom. The Tanzanians were seen as bitter and biased in favour of Nyerere’s buddy Obote, against whom Museveni launched a guerrilla war in 1981 after the latter stole his way back to power in the disputed December 1980 election.
The other group were the radical wing of Obote’s Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) party. In their view, Museveni was part of a grand design to restore the Chwezi dynasty that collapsed in 1500.
His was an imperial and messianic quest, and he would not allow himself to be subject to democratic restraint, they argued.
It was a very outlandish line, and hardly any self-respecting intellectual gave it credence.
The reality, however, could be simpler. Once someone works for so long, and puts his life at such risk as Museveni did to become president, it’s perhaps not the most surprising thing on earth that he would want to die on the throne.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. Twitter@cobbo3