7 January 2011
Uganda: How Museveni Departed From the Correct Line Over the Years
When Yoweri Kaguta Museveni shot his way to power in Kampala in 1986, many saw him as a saviour.
Of course Ugandans may have been used to the idea of mkombozi, after the Tanzanians aided Obote to come back to power a second time, but Museveni’s arrival was a bit special: he knew the old system and its ills and promised to correct the sins of the old men and women who had messed up the once so-called ‘pearl of Africa.’
But many Ugandans should have known that those who proclaim revolutions hardly change anything once they get to power.
Museveni and the National Resistance Movement/National Resistance Army promised to rule for five years and then hand over power to the citizens. But Museveni is still around 25 years later, and is seeking office in the forthcoming elections on February 28.
So, what happened to his promises to reset Ugandan politics and retire? This is the subject of a book by Olive Kobusingye, The Correct Line? Uganda under Museveni (AuthorHouse, 2010).
Kobusingye, a medical doctor, is a sister of Museveni’s perennial opponent, Warren Kizza Besigye Kifefe, commonly known as Dr Kizza Besigye. This family forms a significant background to the narrative(s) of The Correct Line?
The book will be read as a family diatribe against Museveni. Whether Kobusingye meant it to be read so we can’t know for sure, but the book is surely a testimony to Besigye’s tenacity in the face of the Ugandan state’s wish to eliminate him from the political landscape. He has been harassed, detained, charged and had to go into exile.
This book is neither an academic treatise nor a journalistic account of Uganda under Museveni’s rule. Its narrative texture is a mix of a scholar’s writing style and a journalist’s eye for detail. That detail could be expressed in hyperbole with the intent to sensationalise, or repeated with the desire to emphasis.
It is repetition and juxtaposition that Kobusingye uses so effectively in The Correct Line? In all the 19 chapters, the author carefully picks some statement that Museveni made in the past about democracy, good governance or leadership in Uganda, either before his rise to power or when in power, and contrasts it with events in Uganda under Museveni.
The result is an embarrassing diagnosis of a leader who assumed power on the promise of democracy but whose reign is increasingly becoming an autocracy. It is a testimony to how a man with good intentions can be corrupted by power.
Museveni’s supporters will point to the “peace and prosperity” that Uganda has enjoyed under him. But Kobusingye’s view is that this argument is at the root of the problem with Uganda today.
She suggests, by offering incredible evidence to the contrary, that Uganda is actually a state under military siege. For instance, how can the country be said to be peaceful when on two separate occasions, in November 2005 and March 2007 members of the armed forces attempted to abduct, in daylight, accused individuals who the courts had given bail?
Is a country with the so-called “safe houses” where those who contest the authority of the state are tortured (remember the Nyayo torture chambers?) really safe?
Can there be peace in Uganda when, like many post-colonial African countries, slums host the majority of their urban citizens? What of the war in northern Uganda, which the Ugandan state seems uninterested in ending – probably as a means of holding the northerners to state “military mercy”?
Kobusingye poses the questions above and many others as a way of asking Museveni to account for the discordance between his public pronouncements and the performance of his government since 1986.
Whither African democracy when the formerly so-called “new African democrats” – Meles Zenawi, Isaias Afewerki, Museveni and Paul Kagame – have become more than just strongmen, they are behaving like monarchs of yore who believed that theirs was anointed leadership? The Correct Line? Uganda under Museveni is available at Bookstop, Yaya, at KSh 1,250.
The reviewer teaches literature at the University of Nairobi.