The danger of picking a compromise candidate as leader

Ugandans are in the process of identifying a new breed of leaders that hopefully will arrest Uganda’s shameful decline which is no longer a debatable issue. NRM has been a big disappointment to Ugandans and development partners. And staying in power too long has made matters worse. Guns have failed to produce right leaders for Uganda so has money.

Leadership has to be earned through hard work on the right things, not through rhetoric or picking non-controversial subjects so as not to lose popularity. Hard work on military training and experience hasn’t produced good leaders for Uganda. We should drop the idea of picking another military leader. Soldiers are not trained to handle civilian populations especially in circumstances where law and order, separation of powers and checks and balances don’t exist. They run the country like the military where instructions – right or wrong – are followed without question. That is why Museveni’s unquestioned vision for Uganda which was basically hot air has driven the country backwards. This is a fact as evidenced by re-emergence of diseases that had disappeared. Look at maternal mortality which is rising and some hospital wards that have turned into hospices! When we comment correctly like this on Museveni failed policies we are branded controversial or sectarian, unfit for leadership.

Governing people involves listening and designing programs that suit their needs. Governing a country based on God’s instructions transmitted through dreams is not only risky but very dangerous.

I have participated in discussions about Uganda’s future leaders. What you hear most often is that Uganda needs a neutral or compromise leader. And when you ask who a neutral person or compromise leader is you get various versions which can be compressed into a person who essentially is “good” or a paper tiger sort of person who does not bite anybody in terms of criticizing their ideas or policies.

They want a person who is not controversial; one that is acceptable to citizens. Or one that essentially doesn’t have ideas because the moment you express your ideas you are going to face some people who have different ideas especially in political economy areas where two plus two may not add up to four.

But when you say that you are not attacking a person per se but policies initiated by that person in power, rarely do you get a clear answer. People fail to see the difference between say Museveni as a person and Museveni as president. When you genuinely criticize Museveni as president for his failed policies it is different from when you criticize him for his private actions. His private life in my view is his business provided it doesn’t adversely affect his public performance.

Uganda has had compromise presidents whose performance was below average or didn’t last long enough to prove themselves. There are also other examples of compromise leaders that didn’t perform well in part perhaps because they were compromise choices.

In 1612 Russia was looking for a leader. Some Russians supported the candidacy of the Swedish prince Charles Philip. Others put up another candidate. To avoid a deadlock, a compromise candidate was found by the name of the 16-year old Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov. Mikhail was acceptable to the ruling class and Cossacks. He became king or Czar in 1613.

Under his weak leadership, the country couldn’t restore order, get rid of invaders or control the border. Out of frustration, the Cossacks mounted a failed coup. The suffering of people continued. He even made the mistake of issuing a decree ordering peasants who had fought for Russia against Swedish and polish invaders return to their owners and continue as serfs. As expected except for Mikhail, the decree provoked peasant uprising. Throughout his reign Mikhail faced peasant and urban resistance and the country never regained tranquility. His economic and foreign policies left much room for improvement. The compromise nature of his selection as Russian leader probably denied him real power to govern effectively.

At home in Uganda we have had two compromise leaders. The late Prof. Lule who was picked at Moshi conference as a compromise candidate to lead Uganda after the fall of Amin until elections were held could not run the country because he had no real power. Obote who had considerable backing was blocked by those who didn’t want him back in power and rushed to Lule who would give them space to organize themselves. Once in Kampala the opposing groups could not allow Lule to assert himself and take independent decisions like appointments of public servants because he wasn’t appointed to do that. He was supposed to get clearance by the bosses that put him in power. And when he resisted parliament showed him the exit door after 68 days in office.

Rugumayo and Muwanga presented themselves as candidates to succeed Lule. None of them was acceptable. Parliament then decided to elect another compromise candidate, Binaisa (RIP) who two months earlier was even locked out of Moshi conference. He too had no real power. He was picked so he could be used by those who were aiming at the presidency. When like Lule, Binaisa tried to assert himself as president, he was also shown the exit within one year of his presidency. This time was wasted because there was no real leader and murders and other serious crimes mounted and the economy plummeted.

The three examples show clearly the dangers of having compromise leaders. They are paper tigers and can’t do much without support of groups opposed to one another that put them in power. The intention of picking a compromise leader is to leave the door open for people who want the job themselves but are not ready to try their luck.

Uganda needs a real leader whose stand on issues is known though some may disagree but such a person is better than someone who is silent or tells different audiences different stories they like to hear. Once in power it becomes difficult to govern because the weakness is exposed. And to save their jobs such leaders often become ruthless and abuse human rights indiscriminately. Leadership at any Uganda level administration should be based on demonstrated merit, experience, character, commitment and patriotism. And Uganda has people with these qualities to pull the country out of the deep hole where Museveni has pushed it.

Eric Kashambuzi


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