News and Views

Term limits: Museveni can save the day by not killing own goose

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Last week, I did a piece on why I think the diplomatic community in Uganda is a docile observer, perched on a hedge of indecision and inaction over the current political events in the country.

Being the shrewd President he is, Museveni whips, screams and when his moods are good, makes witty comments about envoys as he chooses. Some 10 days ago, he told EU envoys to Uganda that it is they who were going behind his back and trying to lure (bribe) his “young MPs” with money to spy on his government. Well, diplomats? Accused of corruption? That must have really riled his listeners. The diplomats, it turned out, didn’t have an answer to the allegation except for hushed whispers and distraught looks. The President is known for putting diplomats in ‘their rightful place’.

But as fate might have had it, that piece never got to see the light of day on print. A computer virus, as I was later advised by our IT specialist, wiped it off the system and I had no time to re-write it because of deadline concerns. It is a stupid excuse, nonetheless, one that really got me thinking about the gone-by years of the old-fashioned typewriters.

Today though, since I intend to focus on an ‘anti’ establishment subject of the return of term limits, I will try to be more careful so that technological or man-made viruses do not deny this piece light of day. In the last couple of weeks, this subject has been on the in-tray much to the discontent of some NRM stooges, who are increasingly and shamelessly positioning themselves as thinkers for the rest. This latest momentum of the term limits discussion has been gaining its form from a campaign by mainly opposition politicians, which partly explains why NRM commentators will not tolerate it or even allow it to take its own course so that ‘every’ Ugandan can contribute to it.

First of all, how did we get to this point; with no presidential term limits? The answer to that question, you will most likely note from the different commentators, has nothing to do with patriotism rather how much butter there is on the commentator’s side of the bread. Well, and somebody might ask; what will those who have neither bread nor butter say?

On this note I would like to particularly take issue with the arguments of David Mafabi of the Outside the Box column. David is the private secretary to the President in-charge of political affairs at State House, so your guess about the probability that he has bread in his palm and the possibility that it is buttered is as good as mine.

In his column this week titled; Socio-economic transformation is the absolute necessity for Uganda, I must say, I agree with David that “there is nothing absolutely wrong in discussing the merits and demerits of restoring term limits”. Actually, the tail-end of this debate is far beyond the “obscurantist…reckless and grossly irresponsible approach” of political activists and the philosophical discourses of David, rather the ultimate solution on how to hand everybody – every Ugandan – a piece of bread which is possibly buttered.

So, while David’s discourse of socio-economic transformation being a necessity is absolutely right, the process doesn’t happen in a vacuum. On the contrary it is always a melting pot seasoned by what he describes as the “flabby political class and elite, with no sense of responsibility or allegiance to the state” and the so-called “strong, charismatic, focused and transformative leaders” who, according to him, beget “critical and immense benefits from the longevity in office…” that a country like Uganda needs.

For all his longevity in office – 26 years – President Museveni’s capacity to transform Uganda has moved full circle; it is for this reason that the restoration of term limits or the debate for that matter is part and parcel of the process of socio-economic transformation. The concept is not a preserve or an exclusive process of political benevolence but thrives better where national institutions and individuals are allowed to function independently and democratically within the confines of the law.

The problem that I find with David’s arguments is trying hard as he does, albeit without success, to trivialise the debate of term limits making it seem a peripheral consequence engineered by a rogue civil society that should wait for the NRM or Museveni to set the agenda.

If anything, the term limits debate is a wake-up call to Museveni that he risks asphyxiating the process of socio-economic transformation that he started, by his continued stay in power. But let’s not also forget that in the circumstances the debate on term limits and NRM’s own succession question are two sides of the same coin…let the debate continue!

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