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Uganda’s traditions: From election rigging to post-election barbarism


By Alan Tacca

There is nothing more depressing than an indisputably intelligent and highly educated person deliberately throwing common sense out of the window.

Some days back, as she often does, Lands minister Olive Beti Kamya was at it on radio.

Apart from land issues, she talked about other things, including the unending occupancy of the presidency by Mr Museveni.

She also talked about our elections, which to different people are sham or sacred.

Her take on the presidency is the usual dinosaurian line she has parroted since she abandoned the Opposition; although some Opposition politicians insist that the turncoat was always a ‘double’, not a recently formed ‘traitor’.

Once a fierce critic of the President’s virtually unlimited power, Kamya now argues that staying in power for a very long time enables a ruler to implement his plans. She says that changing rulers is disruptive.

Let me clarify. Kamya could argue that a ruler may have their power reasonably reduced by the Constitution or by accepted practice, but at the same time be kept in the job for a very long time.

The extreme example is a titular monarch who has very little (or no) power but may ‘rule’ for life.

Kamya’s problem is that Museveni is everything. He is titular and executive and authoritarian. He apparently has even more power than he had when she was a critic of his rule.

In recent years, the harm growing out of that power has become visible everywhere. Beti Kamya cannot be a blind sycophant.

She is a dedicated champion of the hypocrisy of the regime.

An executive ruler who stays in power for 30 or 40 years may indeed have more time to implement their plans.

But what if those plans include an evil agenda, and the ruler is ruthless enough to use his very power and the tools of repression and violence to retain his position?

Rulers in a democracy build their achievements on the achievements of earlier rulers. The danger of growing a fascist dinosaur by not changing leaders is far greater than that of losing continuity through changing leaders.

Kamya betrayed herself when she noted that Museveni had spent much of his time and energy devising how to stay in power! She reasoned that when Museveni despised African rulers who overstayed, the President was still an idealist who had not experienced the difficulties of power.

In my folly, I was led to believe that if a ruler governed his people well, he would earn their gratitude, and they would democratically extend his rule. For Museveni claims that his long stay is decided in free elections.

But Kamya’s reasoning implies that the name of the game is ‘manipulation’; manipulation of the system; of the mechanisms of Parliament, the Judiciary, the security agencies, the Electoral Commission and the citizens to retain power.

It is a separation – a renouncement – of the spirit of a free nation.

It is in this distorted frame that Museveni and his NRM stage our national elections. Inevitably, severely distorted election results come out, leading to a glut of petitions challenging them.

Kamya opined with disapproval that petitioning had virtually become a tradition.

No, Madam Minister; petitioning is just a response. Distorted elections is the primary tradition; from Dr Milton Obote’s days to the present.

Notwithstanding his claim that he fought his Bush War because of a rigged election, that tradition will probably survive as long as Gen Museveni holds power. And to election rigging, the NRM has added the tradition of post-election barbarism.

Alan Tacca is a novelist and socio-political commentator.

This article was published by Daily Monitor.


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