By Bernard Sabiti
Today we start with a flashback:
Episode 1: August 2005, Kampala, Uganda.
Scene 1: Date: August 10. Location: Kololo Airstrip. Event: Funeral service of Ugandans that, a few days earlier, had died with then Sudanese Vice President, John Garang in a helicopter crash.
Yoweri Museveni: “These newspapers, I am the elected leader of Uganda. I therefore have the ultimate mandate to run their affairs. I will no longer tolerate a newspaper which is like a vulture… I will simply close it. Finish. End. Gasiya tu. I have been seeing this young boy, Mwenda, writing about Rwanda, writing about Sudan, writing about UPDF, he must stop. Completely. He is an expert on SPLA, he knows the minutes which took place where… he must stop. And this other paper called Observer, what is being said in the army. This is not how a country is run… Red Pepper also. I thought those were confused young boys busy with naked girls… These newspapers must stop or we shall stop them. If they want to continue doing business in Uganda, they must stop interfering in security matters of the region…”
Scene 2: Date: August 11. Location: KFM Radio HQ; 8th Street, Industrial Area, Kampala. Main event: Andrew Mwenda Live political Talkshow. Panelists: Presidential Assistant on Politics, Moses Byaruhanga, Mr. Reagan Okumu, an opposition Member of Parliament and ex-intelligence chief David Pulkol
Andrew Mwenda: “… If he was elected, does that mean that other actors do not have views? … Does it mean that when people elect him, those who disagree with him should keep quiet? … You go and tell him to listen to this show, then he can get some wisdom, because all of you guys sit at State House and say, yes sir, yes sir. Here we say no sir… I can tell you, his little threats are completely ignored… Mwenda should not discuss security in the region, how can you say something like that? I don’t want… we run a newspaper and pay taxes which buy his suits, does he know that?… You see these African presidents. This man went to University, why can’t he behave like an educated person? Why does he behave like a villager?… But, how can he insult me like that? Museveni has no monopoly of irrationality, do you know that?… If he wants to behave like Saddam Hussein, let him go to Iraq… Peace and security is a public good… I think I understand security better than Museveni… That is what I think. I am a security expert… Oh, Jesus Christ! You really think laying the whole northern region, a third of the country, in waste, 20 years of war, is how you bring security into a country? Let him resign today, let me become President and you will see what I will do. This country will be better managed and there will be security all over the country. Security will no longer be a tribal good enjoyed by the Bantu in the south. Everybody in Uganda will be entitled to security. Museveni can never intimidate me. He can only intimidate himself… We are willing to pay Museveni a handsome pension if he decided to go home and rest and stop mismanaging this country. Why does he call me a boy?… Listen to me and you will get the correct security analysis. Listen to the President you will get the wrong one… The President is becoming more of a coward and everyday importing cars that armour plated and bullet proof and you know moving in tanks and mambas, you know, hiding with a mountain of soldiers surrounding him, he thinks that that is security. That is not security. That is cowardice… this one’s security is Jurassic security. Why does this one move with mounted anti-aircraft guns, AK 47 assault rifles, tanks and mambas, buffels and katyushas, Jesus Christ? Actually Museveni’s days as a President are numbered if he goes on a collision course with me… I wish I was 35, I would have contested the next election… you mismanaged Garang’s security. Are you saying it is Monitor that caused the death of Garang or it is your own mismanagement?… Aah what caused Garang’s death? Garang’s security was put in danger by your own government putting him first of all on a junk helicopter, second at night, third passing through Imatong Hills where Kony is… Are you aware that Garang died in Imatong Hills where you have always complained that Kony is?… Are you aware that your Government killed Garang? … I would say the Government of Uganda, out of incompetence, led to or caused the death of John Garang. They put him on the plane when it was already late. That plane the President said it has the capacity to detect bad weather 100km away. Why couldn’t they detect the bad weather 100km away? … Let me challenge you. When a plane is taking off from place A going to place B, it is supposed to establish weather at place B. If the weather at place B was bad, why didn’t your people here decide not to go? Maybe you don’t recognize that the Government of Uganda is responsible for the death of Garang. Whether it is by commission or omission, the government of Uganda cannot run away from that responsibility.”
Episode ends with Mr. Mwenda being arrested, jailed for those words.
Episode 2, August 2015, Kampala Uganda
Scene 1. Date, August 10, 2015. Location: State House Entebbe: Main event: Joint press conference with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, who is on a state visit to the country:
Yoweri Museveni: “For us in Uganda, we don’t agree with term limits. We rejected them. What Africa needs is infrastructure not term limits. If people do not want a particular group, they vote them out…I am not responsible for what Mr. Obama says. I don’t know what he means by being in power for long. Being elected every after five years means I am still popular. I have no apologies over that.”
Scene 2. Date, August 10, 2015. Location: Unknown but most likely Kanjokya Street, Kamwokya, Kampala, The Independent Magazine HQ. Main Event: Commentary in the “Last Word” column
Andrew Mwenda: “US President Barack Obama excited a section of Africa’s elite when he denounced African leaders who rule for very long, some even dying in office…But how long is long? There is an assumption that longevity of leaders in Africa is a cause of instability. But is this really true? The laboratory of politics is history. If we look the nations of Africa with the most stable democracies, they are the ones that had preceding presidents that ruled for very long…”
There is a saying, largely attributed to former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that In politics; a week is a life time. In the complicated world of the Museveni-Mwenda bromance, ten years, it appears, is quiet something.
A remarkable thing happened this week. On the 10th anniversary of the 2005 clash between the two as reconstructed above, Mr. Museveni and Mr. Mwenda offered their views on the important topic of term limits, the nature of which would astonish anyone who first watches the four scenes reproduced above, and is alien to Ugandan politics in general, and the history of Andrew Mwenda’s ‘evolution’ as a commentator, in particular. No one who doesn’t know both men would believe that the protagonists in the first two scenes, would ever agree on anything.
For Mr. Museveni at least, it is totally understandable. He is after all, a politician. So, he has a selfish interest, which is why, even he states his obvious half truth (that ‘Ugandans rejected term limits’), we will give him a pass. Andrew Mwenda However is a journalist. Or at least he says he is one. So we must hold him to a higher standard. Mr. Mwenda’s recent views on term limits, as espoused in his latest article are, in effect, more polished, equivocal echoings of Mr. Museveni’s informally stated ones on the issue. And therein lies the tragedy of current political commentary (‘analysis’, some call it), and even more so, ‘journalism’ in Uganda.
In the middle of the storm that followed the article he wrote criticizing Obama’s remarks on governance and dictatorships last month, Mr. Mwenda and his supporters jumped to a breaking news report by the Reuters News agency that Germany’s Angella Merkel was going to run for a fourth term in 2017.
“May be Obama needs to fly to Germany to give Merkel a lecture on why term limits are absolutely necessary,” Mwenda wrote on his Facebook page on August 2, following the Reuters report.
“I also thought when you have term limits as Kenya does, corruption goes away and heaven falls on the country. Problem with over-simplifying the complex”, Mr. Mwenda posted again, in a series of posts.
Mr. Museveni and Mr. Mwenda have once again used the same ‘whataboutism’ card (see my previous blog) during their invectives against term limits, giving as examples western established democracies that do not have term limits. In the aftermath of the 2011 election when the Walk to Work protests were raging, Mr. Museveni sat down with NTV Kenya’s Linus Kaikai, who put the same question to him.
Linus Kaikai: Was it a good thing Mr. President, to remove presidential term limits from the constitution? Some analysts say what just happened in Egypt and Tunisia where there were no term limits might happen in Uganda as well…”
M7: “…If the people are voting, that’s the benchmark. The Lowest Common Multiple, to determine who leads them. About these term limits, that’s according to individual countries. Many countries don’t have term limits. Are there term limits in the UK? In France? In Israel? In Germany? The crucial thing is the competitiveness in the political system. Was the Egypt system competitive? As for Uganda, the system is very competitive. No limit on how many parties can contest for power. No limit on who can contest. If you lose, you really loose because people don’t want you.”
That was of course before the Sole Candidature melee!
Now, it is really the epitome of deception, misinformation, naivety, even stupidity, to compare European democracies “without term limits” to Africa’s dictatorial regimes. I will try to explain important details about the political systems of these countries that intellectual frauds will not tell you.
Most of these countries are parliamentary democracies, not presidential ones. The party that wins the most seats forms the government. Why is this distinction important to make? Because unlike presidential systems, the power is not vested in one person who, naturally will likely abuse it. Secondly, these countries have such old and entrenched, tested and politically mature political/ democratic systems that even without the term limits written in their constitutions, change does happen, almost Darwinian style. Many parties even fail to form governments and have to form coalitions because the power and support is almost equally distributed. You will never have a situation where one party controls three quarters of parliament like the NRM does in Uganda. If we look at the countries Mr. Museveni and his supporters on the term limits issue give as examples, you will note that over the same period that Mr. Museveni has been in power, there have been multiple changes of heads of government, with different parties having a shot.
Since Mr. Museveni came to power in 1986, Canada, France, Australia, the UK, Germany, Israel, and these other democracies have had several changes of governments.
Australia has had 6 Prime Ministers since 1986: Robert Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, and Tonny Abbott;
Israel has had seven changes of governments: Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel has one seven year non consecutive terms meaning you are allowed to come back to serve but not continuously, which actually is some sort of deterrent, some sort of ‘limit’. That’s why you see some names reappearing)
The UK has had Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron.
India, the world’s largest democracy, has had ten prime ministers since 1986! Rajiv Gandhi, Vinshanath Pratap Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Narasima Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee (twice) H. D. Deve Gowda, Inder Kumar Gujral, Manmohan Singh and the current NArendra Modi.
Canada has also had 5, namely; Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell, Jean Chretien, Paul Martin Jr. and Stephen Harper.
In many of these cases, incumbent prime ministers were voted out as party leaders and thus lost the leadership of their countries, such as was the case of Julia Gillard in 2013. Those who were removed as a result of internal party democracy were succeeded as prime minister by somebody from their own party who in some cases would be defeated in the general election. What just befell former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi should speak for its self to those who think these contexts are comparable!
In fact some of these so called ‘no term limits’ countries have, over the same period, had higher turnover of leaders than even the United States, a presidential democracy with term limits. Mr. Museveni has shaken hands, as president with 5 different US presidents since coming to power in 1986: Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
To justify the raping of African constitutions by the continent’s good-for-nothing dictators therefore, by pointing to the Western Europe’s or Asian situation is, as this writer says, the epitome of absurdity!
But now let’s look at Mr. Mwenda’s more seemingly “reasonable” examples in his latest article, “The problem with Missionary Politics” which is the most recent piece on his page in The Independent’s “Last Word” column. Mr. Mwenda dismisses the notion that a leader’s longevity in power has any correlation with that country’s stability, and, as he always does, gives carefully selected examples that, if anything, actually show that the longer the leader stays the better prospects for that country’s political stability. Except that he forgot that someone else reads, and can further interrogate those very examples to turn his argument upside down. Mr. Mwenda writes:
“There is an assumption that longevity of leaders in Africa is a cause of instability. But is this really true? The laboratory of politics is history. If we look the nations of Africa with the most stable democracies, they are the ones that had preceding presidents that ruled for very long: Zambia (Kenneth Kaunda, 27 years), Malawi (Kamuzu Banda, 30), Tanzania (Julius Nyerere, 24), Ghana (Jerry Rawlings, 18), Kenya (Daniel Arap Moi, 24), Benin (Mathieu Kerekou, 19 plus 10), Botswana (Katumile Matsire, 17) and Senegal (Abdou Diof, 20).
Even those who ruled till death contradict Obama’s doomsday prediction. The most successful democracy in Africa is Botswana. Its first president, Sir Tseretse Khama, died in office after 14 years in power. Kenya’s founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, ruled for 15 years and died in office. In Mozambique, Samora Machel died in office after 12 years in power, there was a peaceful transition leading to term limits and a stable democracy. Recently in Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi died in office after 23 years in power and left the most successful economy on our continent – and a peaceful transition.
In Ivory Coast, Felix Boigny ruled for 33 years, died in office paving away to a peaceful transition. Under the successor multiparty democratic government the country succumbed to a coup, then civil war and near collapse. In Togo and Gabon, Presidents Nassingbe Eyadema and Omar Bongo ruled for 38 and 41 years respectively, died in office and bequeathed peaceful transitions to their sons. Ahmed Ahidjo served Cameroun for 22 years and retired peacefully and handed over power to Paul Biya who has ruled for 33 years now.
In Mali, Moussa Traore ruled for 23 years and was overthrown in a military coup. The coup leader, Gen. Amadou Toumani ruled for one year and handed over power, to a democratic government with term limits. But this experiment collapsed in 2012 with a coup. Today, the country is held together by French troops”.
As usual, Mwenda also begins his intellectually dishonest article by going medieval. He makes references to contradictions of democracy as a governing concept, as far back as 500 B.C ancient Rome. I warned you in the last article that this is a classic characteristic of intellectual fraudsters. Why, there are more examples than we would need by just looking around us, in the present day!
Anyway, let’s look at some of the examples Mr. Mwenda gives, and see what really happened in those situations.
Malawi (Kamuzu Banda, 30 years in power, 1960-1993).
Mr. Banda’s Malawi, was, even by African standards, a pitiful country in terms of governance and economics. He inculcated a culture of personality cult, banned all political parties except his, jailed and killed his opponents, censored or banned the press, and every other evil act in a dictator’s book. His successor, Bakili Muluzi was a former ally who quit the government and went into hiding after Banda had wanted him dead. Banda was stripped of the life presidency in 1993 when a referendum ended his reign. The referendum was forced by a Western aid cut which forced him to legalise political parties. He was voted out in the very first election under that new arrangement as he had lost all legitimacy.
So, yes, Malawi now enjoys term limits due to Banda, but for the opposite reasons of those Mwenda wants us to believe. It was a result of his EVIL, not his goodness, that Malawians said, Never Again, to life presidency. I hope I don’t have to remind you of what happened when the beneficiary of this Malawians’ farsightedness, Bakili Muluzi, tried to abuse it by attempting to remove term limits in 2006 himself. The people rose up, the influential catholic church rose up, and Muluzi was denied a third term. So, thanks to the evil one, Banda, Malawians learnt how to not let it happen again.
Poor guy! A somewhat funny New York Times obituary of him when he died at age 100 in 1997 talked of his five residences, a fleet of British luxury cars and a private jet, his refusal to give speeches in African Languages (he considered himself the perfect ‘English gentleman’ and his love for British taste and mannerisms was well known) as well as another important detail: the fact that he never married, had no children, but kept a voluptuous secretary, a Miss Kadzamira, referred to as the ”official hostess,” for 30 years. This is not what the sly ‘analyst’ Mr. Mwenda tells us, of course, in his article!
Felix Boigny, Ivory Coast: Ruled for 33 years, “died in office paving away to a peaceful transition”
Commonly known as the “Sage of Africa” or the “Grand Old Man of Africa,” one of Houphouët-Boigny’s acts as president, was to move the country’s capital from Abidjan to his hometown of Yamoussoukro in the North, where he also built the world’s largest church, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, at a cost of US$300 million! Mwenda is right on the turmoil that followed his rule. After his death, conditions in Côte d’Ivoire quickly deteriorated. From 1994 until 2002, there were a number of coups d’état, a currency devaluation, an economic recession, and, beginning in 2002, a civil war. But what were the causes? Unsurprisingly, Felix Houphouët-Boigny, who, at the time of his death was the longest-serving leader in Africa’s history and the third longest-serving leader in the world, after Fidel Castro of Cuba and Kim Il-sung of North Korea, was a big factor in the instability that followed his death. Most of the political, social, and economic crises that erupted after his death were directly or indirectly attributed to him. Many revolved around who would succeed him. After falling out with his former political heir Philippe Yacé in 1980, who, as president of the National Assembly, was entitled to exercise the full functions of President of the Republic if the Head of State was incapacitated or absent, Houphouët-Boigny who knew he was dying of prostate cancer, delayed as much as he could in officially designating a successor when his health became increasingly weakened. Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara (current president) meantime administered the country from 1990 onwards, while the president was hospitalised in France. There was a struggle for power, which ended when Houphouët-Boigny rejected Ouattara in favour of Henri Konan Bédié, the then President of the National Assembly. In December 1993, He even asked to be kept on life support to ensure that the last dispositions concerning his succession were defined. When he died on 7 December, the fate of the Ivory Coast’s future died with him. That’s when the succession melee started, leading to coups, wars, and the very recent problems when French troops were called in. Again, we can now see that Andrew Mwenda lied when he stated that Houphouet-Boigny “paved away to a peaceful transition”. His longevity in power was one of the biggest factors for the precurrent problems in the Ivory Coast. You need to watch a series of Aljazeera’s documentaries titled “The French African Connection”, which recently aired on that channel. You will learn how the French, under their ruthless mercenary Bogart, used Houphouet-Boigny to destabilize much of West Africa. He personally supervised the murder of Thomas Sankara in Upper Volta (Now Burkina Faso), instating Blaise Compaore in Power. Given the latest events in Burkina Faso, you can now connect the dots and see how his legacy continues to doom those countries even long after he is dead!
Give that I am in no mood to write a million words (and frankly, neither are you, reader, ready to read them), I am not going into the other “good dictators” that Mwenda included in his examples. Some tried to ‘leave without truly leaving’ by fronting stooges to run in the elections which followed their exits, many of whom, thankfully were rebuffed by the voters. Rawlings and Moi are good examples of these. In other examples such as Mali, Mwenda similarly leaves out important details with nuance that would debunk his view.
What I am trying to demonstrate to you is that Andrew Mwenda’s views these days, while appearing credible in their flawless, articulate written form, are flawed when subjected to in-depth examination. This is the same case I was making in my last blog.
Mwenda’s current rhetoric against term limits, like Yoweri Museveni’s centers on the superficial, simplistic notion that, “If the people don’t like them, they will vote them out”. This of course, is a bunch of hogwash. We know what those ‘elections’ are like!
Why haven’t people rioted then, Mr. Mwenda asked recently, like they did in Burkina Faso? People being quiet don’t mean they are happy with the status quo, and of course of all people, Mwenda knows this. It’s because of the helplessness, powerlessness, concerning the status quo that they sometimes seem resigned to their fate. That’s of course, until they can’t take it anymore!
When the Arab spring broke out in North Africa in 2011, Tunisia’s Ben Ali had just “won” the election with 89 % of the vote the previous election. Egypt’s Mubarak with 88 percent. Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, (Al’Hizb Al Watani Al Democrati) had just won 420, out of the 429 seats in the national assembly in 2010, a few months before the Arab Spring!.
A referendum to confirm the presidential candidate Bashar al-Assad was held in Syria on 27 May 2007, after the People’s Council of Syria voted to propose the incumbent for a second term on 10 May 2007. Assad got the nod with 99.82 % of the vote.
There is even an example closer to home. As of the editing of this article, I am seeing on my phone a twitter storm generated by Rwanda’s New Times report that apparently says that only 10 people, in the whole of Rwanda, oppose Kagame’s bid to extend his term in office! I hope the examples I give above, help you make sense of this latest absurdity.
Mr. Mwenda ends his seriously defective argument by saying; “These facts contradict our secular gospel that condemns those of our leaders who served long. In fact they teach us that longevity and term limits are not mutually contradictory – one seems to lay a foundation for the other. Therefore the real issue facing Africa is not the length of time a president serves but how he/she organizes politics”
Mr. Mwenda’s argument therefore is that staying very long in power is actually a boon for a country’s successive stability. As usual he selectively references certain cases and either tacitly mentions the opposite ones or doesn’t even mention them. And as I have shown, in elaborating more on the examples he gave, his thesis is not only wrong but also dangerous as there are people who religiously believe what he says.
Why term limits?
Man, by nature, especially man with power, is selfish. That actually is the reason power given to man must be restricted. Because naturally, he will want to abuse it. A man is a mammal. You just need to watch NatGeo to know how our instincts, just like those of those cousins of ours in the jungle, are to be as dominant and all powerful as much as we can be. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely, as Lord Acton said.
Therefore, even though term limits only are not enough for good governance, they are absolutely crucial. Term limits provide an opportunity for contestation, participation, representation and limiting the concentration of power around one individual.
I am not saying that term limits are the bullet solution to Africa’s governance problems. No one would ever, in their sane mind say that. Term limits are not enough. But they are important part of the solutions.
The absurdity of Mwenda’s argument is that he appears to be saying that since term limits have not worked in some circumstances, they are not as important as people make them appear to be. This really is absurd.
It’s like administering one drug for a particular disease to a person suffering from multiple illnesses that require multiple medications and when a person doesn’t regain their full health, you say you are going to discontinue treatment all together because the patient is not getting better. It doesn’t mean the one drug you are administering is not working. Simply provide the other drugs for the other illnesses, and when you have the right cocktail of the drugs, the patient will heal. It’s as simple as that really.
Delivering invectives against term limits therefore, based on the fact that countries that have them still suffer from governance ills is not only a deceptive argument, but a stupid one too.
Let me end with this conclusion from our own Mwebesa Ndebetsya ‘s key note address during an event organized by the civil society in Uganda to debate term limits in 2012 in which he explains other merits of term limits:
“…We have failed to institutionalize power and democracy because of neo-patrimonialism. There is failure of policy implementation because of patronage. Neo-patrimonialism is characterized by giving out state jobs, districts, contracts and tenders, envelopes, Prados etc in return for political support. This system of patronage suffocates the transformation from individual rule to institutional rule hence democracy deficit in Africa. It also suffocates the change of political behaviour among the citizens. Neo-patrimonialism promotes private and informal politics that cannot be controlled and regulated. One of the means to break the cycle of neo-patrimonialism is to impose term limits so that every time a leader creates a patronage network then the term limit interrupts the network at least every ten years thus overcoming the democracy deficit. In conclusion, evidence suggests that there is need for restoration of term limits. The theoretical and comparative analysis, historical and empirical evidence all suggest unlimited term limits are subject to abuse. The discussion and argument about term limits is not nonsensical as president Museveni wants to frame it, and all Ugandans low and high should use civilized language in discussing this important issue. Although term limits is a necessary factor for democracy to take root, it is not sufficient. There are other factors that combine with term limits in order to have a functioning democracy”.
Bernard Sabiti is a Kampala based Researcher. Email him on email@example.com or Follow him on Twitter and Facebook
Note: The transcription of Mwenda’s KFM 2005 radio broadcast was sourced from bwesigye.wordpress.com, and so was Museveni’s 2005 speech on Mwenda and the media