Idi Amin was a great scourge to not only the people of Uganda but also the people of East Africa. It was no surprise that Mwalimu Julius Nyerere teamed up with Yoweri Museveni, a then budding rebel leader to dislodge him from office and send him into exile in faraway Saudi Arabia where he lived till he passed on. The popular Milton Obote who led the country to independence was brought back to power in 1980. Museveni having tasted the forbidden apple teamed up with some disgruntled elements and sent Obote packing for good. He shed off his Marxist ideals and embraced neo-liberal ideologies as advocated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. State owned enterprises gave away to the novel trend of privatization; he massively cut back government spending and preached a nationwide gospel of self-reliance. This won him admiration from the west as he was seen as a reformer and he instantly became the western poster boy for African leadership.
The HIV/AIDS Syndrome ravaged the former British colony and the death rate was rather alarming. He instituted a state wide policy of the ABC – Abstinence, Monogamy and Faithfulness to a partner and the use of condoms. However, he greatly de-emphasized the use of condoms and preached that it should be used sparingly as the last resort. His efforts are said to have curtailed the ugly spread and upped the ante of his global reckoning. A 2004 study published in the journal ‘Science’ concluded that abstinence among young people and monogamy rather than the use of condoms contributed immensely to the decline of the spread of the incurable HIV/AIDS in the country. This assertion was further corroborated by Edward Green, a medical anthropologist at the Harvard School of Public Health in a research on the issue.
In 1995, the Ugandan Constitution imposed a two term limit on the office of the Presidency in order to forestall the ugly trend of dictatorship that is the bane of African leadership. Sadly, the banana peel of the sit tight syndrome became his Achilles Heel as he got the constitution altered and in currently in his fourth term with plans to go for a fifth term next year at over 70.
United States President Barack Obama came down hard on African rulers who have made their life seats their gods and urged them to vacate their exalted seats at the expiration of their terms. He made this known in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital when he made history by being the first American President to address the African Union. He went on to opine that he was popular enough to get a third term but that he was constitutionally barred from taking another shot and wants his brothers in Africa to emulate that. This obviously did not go down well with Museveni who saw this as an indirect attack against him. There were speculations that Obama chose to boycott Uganda in his last official visit to Africa as a result of her appalling human rights records. His apologists dismissed that and said that his anti-homosexuality stance which saw his signing into law of the anti-gay bill last year which severely criminalized homosexual relations to the chagrin of Obama was responsible for the latter not visiting her.
At a joint press briefing in Kampala on August 12 in the company of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, he said that Obama should respect the will of Africans who democratically elect their leaders. ‘I don’t know what he meant; I don’t care, that is none of my business. For us in Uganda, we rejected this business of term limits. If I am in power because I am voted by the people, then I am there by the will of the people. We are going to have elections here. Ugandans will tell you about the term limit. I have no apology to make to Obama; it’s the United States which has term limits. Look at Israel, UK, and Germany. They don’t have term limits.’ Kenyatta reiterated Museveni’s stance and said that the popularity of the leader of a country wasn’t determined by term limits. Leaders should be chosen by the ballot rather than by imposition.
Grey areas are raised by Museveni’s outburst. Were the people really consulted before the constitution was brutally altered to accommodate his ‘Divine Right by King Ambition’? Will the people have willingly agreed to his indefinite rule if a free and fair referendum was conducted? The countries that he mentioned which don’t have term limits have a historical reason for it which has worked perfectly for them. The reason why many African nations opted for the American system of government with term limits even though the only colony America ever had in the continent was Liberia was because of the need to avert the sit tight syndrome and it was the best way to cater for the diverse needs of the largely heterogeneous nature of most Sovereign African States. His reasons were only a sinister way of endorsing his morbid and rapacious appetite for power for its mere sake.
The current crisis in Burundi for instance is as a result of the inordinate ambition of the President to seek a third term. Lives are being lost daily but does it matter to him? What does Museveni still want after 29 years in power? The failure of a leader lies in his inability to groom a worthy successor. Is Museveni saying that 29 years is too short a time to not only have an exit strategy but to hand over to one who would continue from where he stopped?
The Arab spring which proved partially successful in North Africa for the mere fact that three dictators were toppled should be extended to East Africa and then ultimately to South Africa to get Robert Mugabe out. We are tired of failed autocrats propping up asinine reasons to continue to hang on to power when their rule has been devoid of any resounding success.
George Washington was given the crown and was asked to be King of the newly independent America with the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton acting as the crown bearer. He turned it down and reminded them that the Absolute monarchy which was a vestige of colonialism that they had just dislodged should be jettisoned for egalitarianism and opted to be President for just two terms instead. This precedent has stuck in Uncle Sam till date. Power is now naked and has devolved to the floor and lies in the hands of the people. It is up to them to determine whether they can still bear the ugly fangs of autocracy. Change should not be an ugly word! Africans unite and chase away heartless beasts who masquerade as ‘leaders’.