Presidency is like booze: Stay too long, you won’t ever want to leave

Saturday October 22 2022
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. In a few weeks, he will notch 37 years in power, 13 years longer than all the country's seven previous leaders since independence combined. PHOTO | BADRU KATUMBA | AFP

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

The leadership succession in Uganda is fully on. President Yoweri Museveni, in a few weeks, will notch 37 years in power, 13 years longer than all the country's seven previous leaders since independence combined.

There are many claimants to his throne circling, some from his household. In the meantime, Museveni is doing what he does best: fishing with a long rod.

There are many signs that he has launched his re-election for 2026. Parliamentarians and party leaders around the country are already endorsing him as "sole candidate". In the eastern Kampala suburb of Kyambogo, residents point with long mouths to a building they claim is an office for his 2026 bid.

A new "wealth creation" vehicle, the Parish Development Model, was unveiled not too long ago. It's to distribute seed money for local investment up to the parish level. It's a lot of money; predictably, local officials and leaders have already eaten some of it.

Remains undeterred

It's vintage Museveni, though. Though his cadres often rob his war chest, he remains undeterred. With every campaign, he has a poverty-fighting fund clearing his electoral path.


Kenya's new President, William Ruto, refers to Museveni as our [East African] elder — Mzee. In 2026, he will be, by his official age, 82, the oldest man or woman ever to run for electoral office in the EAC.

Good personal care and dietary habits, however, have served Museveni well. He looks younger than some 55-year-olds who've lived a reckless life.

In West Africa, Museveni's close friend, Equatorial Guinea strongman Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, is making him look like a freshman. He's been in power for nearly 44 years and holds the world record for longevity in power for a living head of state who is not a king or queen. He is facing two opponents in elections on November 20. Going by precedent, his winning votes have already been counted.

There will be time to examine the meaning of Museveni's long life in the State House and his re-election bid. Today, however, the question is when is it too late to leave power? It's a very different question from how much time is enough.

Nyerere and Moi

Two previous EAC leaders who stepped down from office provided us with the answer. Both Tanzania's Julius Nyerere and Kenya's Daniel arap Moi (may their souls continue to rest in peace) left office after 24 years.

So, if a leader doesn't do two terms (of 10 or 14 years), the following cut-off point is 24 years. Round it off to 25.

Beyond 25, inertia sets in. At 30, it is very complicated. At 35, it's very hard to leave. At 40, it is impossible.

Presidential incumbency is like booze. You drink half a crate of beer, you will leave the bar wobbling on your feet if you have a strong constitution. You down a crat, you will be carried into the backseat of a car and driven home. You might crawl and knock on the door when they drop you off. By the time you finish off two crates, you can't leave. You will spend the night on the bar floor. You might not even be up for lunch.