African Press International (API)

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Museveni and Uganda’s political transition; the signs to watch

Posted by African Press International on September 21, 2007

Posted by Ham Mukasa

A political transition is the interval between one political system or reality and another. It would be more accurate though, to refer to the transition as a process by which this occurs.

The dominant view is that citizens tend to accept that true transition should usher in a new order and new faces. This can be termed the “Agende (let him go) phenomenon”. But it is possible to achieve a new order even under familiar faces with a changed, perhaps more inclusive outlook.

However, having changed eight presidents since independence, most Ugandans cannot see a true transition without the departure of President Museveni and his ruling clique that has dominated the army, politics, and the economy for the past two decades through a complex web of nepotism and patronage networks.

Often, the transition begins with a split in the authoritarian regime, after which regime elites who believe in the necessity of political reforms become fairly dominant. These “soft liners” attempt to negotiate a kind of understanding with moderate opposition elites to forge a new way forward. In our case, the successor of the Reform Agenda, the FDC, teamed with five other political groups to form the now defunct G6.

Their combined effort forced even the most extremist elements within the single party regime of the NRM to start campaigning for the return of multiparty democracy.
As if to allow the authoritarian regime to fully enjoy its newfound conscience, the G6 decided to keep away from the referendum on political system held in the July of 2005, resulting in a pathetically low voter turnout. To cover government shame, an estimated 25% turnout was reported as 47% by the government controlled Electoral Commission, a disputed action that irreparably damaged the reputation of the electoral body.

Cracks had already started showing in the regime and had grown into cleavages. When NRM historicals like Augustine Ruzindana, Bidandi Ssali, Amanya Mushega, and Mugisha Muntu decided to close their eyes and jump into the unknown sea of uncertainty that is opposition politics, a major victory had been recorded by the democratic forces in Uganda.

An authoritarian regime can select several ways to deal with its imminent demise in a silly attempt to postpone the inevitable. One response is to infiltrate the opposition with a view to hijacking it, so that it can still “manage the change” that must come.

Most enlightened opposition formations are sophisticated enough to contain infiltration, at the same time taking advantage of the “street value dynamics” to project the infiltrations as valuable gains to the opposition, set the new comers into prominent roles and through a series of calculated moves, the opposition can cause sufficient suspicion in the authoritarian regime’s camp.

The authoritarian regime now begins to look at the security agencies as the most important arm of government, rendering its politicians irrelevant, and can even make hurried changes in command to replace ” non cadre” officers with loyal ones. Promotion in the security forces starts to be a function of loyalty, not professionalism nor competence.

To hide its unreasonable actions the regime must also crack down on the press. Once these measures fail, the authoritarian regime may find it cheaper to suspend civil liberties, freeze the constitution, and declare a state of emergency. This is to create some breathing space and prolong its hold onto power even for a few more months. This is normally the last stage before collapse. It is characterised by uncertainty, loyalty switches, massive plunder of national resources and assets, and immense fear in the population.

An authoritarian regime can choose to hasten the process of reaching this stage by “creating its own insecurity” and preside over it rather that wait for its natural occurrence.

When it succeeds in doing this, this stage can take a long time before it ends and can actually prolong the life of a regime considerably. Such a regime can also stage its own coup d’etat and overthrow itself and introduce a new leaders would then play moderate, attract moderates and opportunists in the opposition and create a semblance of change, by forming a government of national unity until a new election is held, thus postponing the transition by several years. This method can derail transition altogether and introduce new unrelated ideas to the debate, under seemingly changed circumstances.

Over dependence on the security forces by a tired regime creates an exaggerated sense of worth among the armed forces that then start selectively obeying orders from the “master.” As every soldier has a civilian s/he knows, some influences may result in a heightened desire for self- preservation. An officer may find it appropriate to overthrow the authoritarian regime merely as an act of self-interest to safeguard their valued relations with civilian friends or family.

Another would do it for even near patriotic reasons. But the consequences are the same. Disaster that could have been avoided by a little dose of statesmanship. As President Museveni considers to run for a fourth term, he may need to read the signs on the road to the transition that the population is eagerly yearning for.

Published by API*APN tel +47 932 99 739 or +47 6300 2525


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