East Africa must unite under Museveni so those poor Ugandans can have a break

Saturday February 26 2011

Even amid very low levels of integrity, flashes of honesty can be discerned.

It’s now official, for instance, that Yoweri Museveni, who won another election recently, will continue clinging to power until his dream of an East African Federation comes true, presumably so he can head it.

If what was reported is true, its true import for the people of Uganda is that they are stuck with their man for the long haul and, since no one is in a position to tell when the said Federation will come to be, that could be a long, long time indeed.

We have to thank Providence for creating mortality, for therein we find the ultimate equaliser: What is made is unmade, what is born dies.

Not that our grandees have shied away from trying to achieve immortality on the cheap.

Usually immortality as a metaphorical construct is attained by great deeds of heroism, brilliance or sacrifice (sometimes even ignominy), acts that awe the human mind and keep memories alive through the ages.


Yes, even ignominy, though we tend to think of immortality in the positive. Adolf Hitler may be as immortal, in my view, as Albert Einstein.

But those were giants of yesteryear, good and bad. Today we are saddled with midgets who are busy trying to cheat death — both physical and metaphorical — without having to resort to great deeds of valour or infamy.

They will hold onto power like it was life itself; they will dye their hair, restructure their faces, tuck in their tummies and gobble handfuls of aphrodisiacs to create the illusion of everlasting youth, all to no avail.

In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, a narcissistic young man blessed with stunning looks stays young forever while his portrait, which he has banished to the attic because it started showing signs of ageing, grows wrinkles and warts.

The catastrophic encounter between Dorian the eternal youth and Dorian the realistic picture is, I suppose, what the Mubaraks of our world experience in Tahrir.

But our corrupted rulers are wise enough to know that they cannot live forever, in literal terms.

So they devise mechanisms of succession to ensure that at least their genes remain in power when dad has departed, though even this has been shown to have its limitations, as Gamal Mubarak will tell you.

Still, whoever is inclined to play the genetic card may find encouragement in more successful experiments in genetic incumbency: The Eyademas of Togo, the Bongos of Gabon, for instance. The Wades of Senegal, I know, are studying the scene with keen interest.

The uncreative mind of the African ruler — creative only when devising means of looting — limits him to the immediate family as a source of both continuity and security, when he himself can guarantee neither because of an unforgiving biology (we all have to die).

In this very insecure environment, the big man can only trust his wife and his children, who have inherited presidential genes. It’s what some local comedian has termed BMW: Baba, Mama na Watoto.

I’m not sure Yoweri is doing his BMW right now (though both his wife and son are very visible), or whether he is just playing for time, as he is quoted as having said, till the Federation arrives, but I feel he may do well to remember that nothing that he holds today in terms of political power is his personal possession, to be passed on from Dad to Junior.

In addition, it is unacceptable arrogance on his part to think that only he can cause the Federation to happen, when we know that in his own country he has failed to heed the demands of Buganda for a “federo” system of government.

But then, maybe all of us in East Africa should do the people of Uganda a favour by coming together in a federated state so that Yoweri can relinquish power in that country where his usefulness has expired.

Jenerali Ulimwengu, chairman of the board of Raia Mwema newspaper, is a political commentator and civil society activist based in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]