By Stephen Lwetutte
It is the perfect textbook last minute patchwork of a panicky ruler clearly out of time on the way out. If for nothing else, the realization of his own mortality must be weighing heavily on President Museveni’s mind – at the official age of 77 years, he is not exactly a spring chicken. Detractors swear the man is at least a decade older. With the average life expectancy in Uganda put at almost 63 years (World Bank, 2018), the man has done well whichever way you look at it. At stake, though, now is not just his personal physical survival, but that of his legacy and continuity. It is, therefore, not far-fetched to believe that President Museveni could be taking this kisanja (presidential term) as though it were his last – and his instinctive character traits and flaws have amply betrayed him.
Having rigged himself into power for the 6th or 7th term, depending when you choose to start the count, securing 40 years in power, he must have thought that it was about time he ensured the remaining vacant arm of state pending the election outcome – the parliament- was placed in a safe pair of hands. The political machinations and shenanigans that preceded the election of the speaker deserve a column of its own and will probably be the subject of a separate story for another day, but suffice it to say that the President was determined to do whatever it took to secure the position of the Speaker parliament for the candidate of his choice who will unquestioningly do his bidding in this crucial final term. Jacob Oulanya, a former Deputy Speaker, was the President’s preferred candidate.
His boss, the former Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga, notwithstanding being a senior member of President Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, had long fallen out of favour with the President for being too much of a maverick. She had been viewed as too independent for the President’s liking and a source of frustration for his legislative programme.
It is reported that she sometimes exercised her constitutional independence and authority a bit too liberally for the President’s comfort. On a few occasions, she is on record as having publicly challenged the executive, by logical extension, the President on rather sensitive NRM government matters. To all intent and purposes, with Rebecca Kadaga as Speaker, President Museveni was not going to have an easy ride at all in parliament – she had to be given a push whatever it took.
To make things worse, Kadaga had made brave insinuations last year on national TV as though to suggest that President Museveni remained President thanks to her underhand manoeuvres during the 2017 debate to expunge the 75-year age limit from the constitution. This paved the way for 76-year-old President Museveni to be able to stand again for president. So, it would appear that the bottom line and the consensus within the ruling circles had been that she had to go – do or die, and her fate had been firmly sealed.
After 20 years at the speakership as, first, Deputy Speaker for a period of 10 years and then Speaker for another 10 years, she had also been suspected of having built up sufficient political influence and a power base of her own to have the presidency within range – now for those who are familiar with the modus operandi of dictators will know that this is a cardinal political sin to commit fraught with all sorts dire consequences for the contender.
Come D-Day, last week Monday 24 May 2021, the election day of the Speaker of the 11th Parliament, following President Museveni’s success at securing the party official speakership candidature for his candidate Jacob Oulanya, a well known regime sycophant, the president wasn’t still out of the woods – a determined popular Kadaga was not going to go down quietly – she had swiftly announced independent candidature. The micromanager that he is, President Museveni was reported personally to have talked to and enticed NRM MPs throughout the night to D-day to vote for Jacob Oulanya. He wasn’t going to take chances with Rebecca Kadaga, who had at a previous season succeeded in out manoeuvring and out smarting the president in similar designs against her.
During the process, when youthful Mityana Municipality MP, National Unity Platform’s (NUP) Zaake Butebi suddenly caused a rowdy commotion by shouting demands for the release of NUP members and others in prison on charges widely believed to be politically motivated and trumped up, you should have seen an insolent President Museveni, supposedly the Fountain of Honour, in an unprecedented display of presidential indiscipline, also rising up to similarly shouting himself hoarse to drown the voice of Hon Zaake Butebi. An angry Museveni was ostensibly beseeching the presiding Chief Justice to reign in on Hon Zaake using his pet excuse on COVID-19 considerations, so well rehearsed and tested as the perfect guise to suppress dissent in the wider ugandan community – it was a scene to behold in that tent. He had also disrespected and violated the parliamentary precincts by allowing his armed security detail to access that parliament without authority. It took an MP to call the President to order and remind him of the inviolability of parliament precincts, for him to order order them out, out of sheer embarrassment.
In the end, as expected, the frantic machinations paid off handsomely and Jacob Oulanya emerged the winner. The unusually keen interest exhibited by Mr Museveni and his close physical and personal role throughout the process of the election of the Speaker, suggest something that he knows that the rest of the country does not. His satisfaction and euphoria about achieving the desired outcome were difficult to conceal. Mr Museveni’s government must have major legislative proposals and reforms up its sleeves for this term that would probably seek to cement his succession and legacy before his possible and plausible exit. Is President Museveni at last alive and bowing to the inevitable? As it is, there is never smoke without a fire.
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