As the Ugandan president marks 37 years in power this week, it is just right to spill the seven secrets that have helped Yoweri Museveni reign for all those years.
One: Eating unprocessed food. From what he tells the public, Museveni abhors food made in factories. No wonder he has remained a farmer all these years, taking real milk from the cow, eating millet. Recently, when the Ukraine thing came up, he disclosed his partiality for cassava to those who were crying about the rising bread prices. If a man who could afford the most expensive foods sticks to stuff from the soil and the cow, don’t ask his secret for health and success.
Two: Using the opponents’ greed. Uganda’s political graveyard hosts ambitious politicians punctured over their raw appetite for money and power. Museveni watches politicians' open mouths as they gobble up what comes their way and, when they throw up on their suits and skirts, no voter wants to touch them with a ten-metre pole. From the opposition, many jump ship, inspired more by appetite than conviction, so they get resented both where they went and where they left.
Remains in touch
Three: Neglecting nothing and nobody. Lesser (wo)men in the establishment only deal with fellow big people. But Museveni remains in touch with an unfathomable number of “small” people. Once in a while, he mentions a “nobody” somewhere who drew his attention to something that turned out to be of significance. So he does not miss out on information like other big people do. Yet he is also the biggest consumer of intelligence in the land.
Four: Patience, patience, patience! Like the proverbial rat that lives long enough to eat the cat’s skin, Museveni bides his time. He is not excitable. During the Covid outbreak, he tried to teach this virtue to the public and got us to endure the long lockdown, by explaining how as an underresourced guerrilla force, his army used to freeze for hours, days, waiting to hear, see, get a whiff of the enemy's movement. It worked, and Uganda had one of the most impressive rates of corona non-transmission in the world. It works for him, as his opponents rush to their political destruction.
Quest for knowledge
Five: Knowledge. The man reportedly has an incurable quest for knowledge — past, current and future. Those who have made presentations to him say it is terrible to go to him without being thoroughly prepared, as he can poke holes in any razzmatazz that is not solidly grounded in knowledge.
Six: Selecting battles wisely. Recently, Museveni told Ugandans that a project he had been pursuing with Russians had not matured for he had slowed on it, as it was upsetting Western allies. This doesn’t need belabouring: Ugandans have a saying of a deer that evades the hunters being hard to cook when its time comes — its flesh having been hardened with age.
Seven: Lady Luck. Nobody can spend a lifetime without being visited by Lady Luck but most of us ignore her, while Museveni embraces her. His mind is always prepared to grab a chance and then shape it, and examples are many.
Thirteen years ago, Museveni found a bunch of university students tinkering with a small car they had made running purely on electricity. He entered it and ordered to be driven around. It was a nightmare for his security as there was even no room for a bodyguard in the little basket. He could even have been electrocuted. He decided to fund their research and innovation and last year, Uganda-made electric buses started plying Kampala city with zero emission. In fact, Museveni already ordered a ban on importation of buses.
Thirty-seven years and still counting. Last week, Vice-President Jessica Alupo announced that Museveni will be running again in 2026. If he wins in 2031, it will be 45 years, then possibly eyeing 77 years. That would be a poetic sign-out!
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]