Museveni keeps Uganda guessing on his preferred ‘strong’ successor

Monday June 21 2021
Yoweri Museveni.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Uganda’s political transitions after an election, as provided in the constitution, are among the longest in the world.

There have been no transitions in power through an election since Uganda’s independence, and President Yoweri Museveni has been in power since 1986, winning elections by all means necessary, and having the constitution tweaked whenever needed to allow him continue running the show.

So, after the January 14 election, in which he dispatched his rivals again with a whip and sleight of hand, he was sworn in to begin his eighth term in office (two them unelected), four months later on May 12.

Last week he named the ministers to his government, nearly seven dozen of them. With four months to plan, and speculation that he might finally signal his succession plans with his Cabinet, expectations were high. Instead, it turned out to be most underwhelming ministerial contingent of his long rule. You could hear the yawns from outer space.

Opposition Forum for Democracy (FDC) legislator Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, a former journalist and a man with an acerbic tongue, said the new Prime Minister, Ms Robinah Nabbanja, was the kind of person you wouldn’t hire to manage even a local garbage-collection company

Some analysts argued the sub-par was an indication Museveni intended to stay in power after 2026 and clock at least 45 years in office. But, maybe not.


There was at least one thing salutary in his line-up. The next three most powerful people in the Executive (on paper), are all women. He tapped retired Major-General Jessica Alupo as Vice President, the said Nabbanja as PM, and Rebecca Kadaga, who he had helped defeat a few days earlier in her quest to extend her tenure as Speaker of Parliament, as First Deputy Prime Minister. There is no other African government led by a man — or a woman as Liberia was between 2006 and 2018 when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was president — which is stacked at the top with as many women.

Those who argue that this selection shows he is not grooming a successor, besides the thinly veiled sexism, presume that Museveni’s succession plan is to pass power to a “strong” candidate. Yet, if in their reckoning the VP and PM aren’t assertive and don’t have what it takes to grab the presidential seat, then it might actually be proof that he wants to hand over to one of them — precisely because they are not a threat, and will not immediately move to settle scores and seize his cattle when he leaves.

Second, they assume the successor will come from inside government and Parliament. However, several people, including his son Lt-Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who is the commander of the Special Forces Command and has a pressure group campaigning for him to succeed his father, are waiting in the wings.

If the plan is to help him, or someone currently not in Cabinet, take over the reins, then it is much easier if there isn’t a credible VP or PM at the table to claim the throne, or oppose the one who has his favour. Then again, this is Kaguta. With him in the frame, you can’t bet on anything.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3