We Should Think Beyond 2016 [opinion]

In 2004, Dr Juma A Okuku of Makerere University’s Political Science department wrote a very insightful academic article titled: “Beyond ‘third term’ politics: constitutional amendments and Museveni’s quest for life presidency in Uganda.”

Dr Okuku argued, with remarkable prescience, that it was not that President Museveni was seeking a third term in office it was that he was plotting to entrench himself in power for life! The corollary to this life-presidency project is family rule – a monarchy.

What the now renegade General David Sejusa has dubbed the “Muhoozi project” seemed rather unthinkable in 2004. Now it’s increasingly becoming a possibility, with many of our analysts and commentators continuously rationalizing it. The most recent rationalization was by the eminent journalist Charles Onyango Obbo in his Daily Monitor column.

What Dr Okuku tried to argue in 2004 was that amending the constitution did not just mean Museveni getting a third term it meant Uganda embarking on a path to democratic collapse and full-blown personalfamily rule.

Ten years ago, the debate was solely focused on the upcoming 2006 elections. Ten years later, today, we are debating free and fair elections in 2016. The national conference on free and fair elections, held from Monday to Wednesday in Kampala, was undoubtedly a welcome initiative. If media reports are anything to go by, the meeting was hugely successful.

At its conclusion, participants came up with a document, outlining a litany of proposals for legal and constitutional reform necessary for assuring free and fair elections in 2016. I heard over radio the eloquent Godber Tumushabe read out the proposals – all sound and apt. But the proposals are nothing more than a wish list for government to act on.

What is more, there are already ominous signs that the government is least interested in what civil society and opposition activists are proposing. First, the government spokesman, Ofwono Opondo, who best represents the arrogance of the Museveni regime, retorted to The Observer on Monday that his governmentarty “does not conduct business through civil society organizations.”

Secondly, although the conference was open to all political parties, government officials and members of the public, the ruling party snubbed the meeting. Also noteworthy is that attendees such as MP Kassiano Wadri, Dr Kizza Besigye and Major General Mugisha Muntu expressed misgivings as to whether the conference resolutions would yield anything.

This means that we are putting the cart before the horse. Or perhaps we are doing something worse – begging those in power to reform such that they lose power. To expect that General Museveni with concede to reforms that will see him voted out of power in 2016 is to be blindly optimistic. He will not. And that’s why Museveni and his partygovernment snubbed the national conference.

They are not in the least bothered, let alone threatened, because they have concluded that the meeting that took place at Hotel Africana comprised of social and political forces remotely capable of threatening their power.

If the ruling party flagrantly ignores the voices of well-meaning civil society activists and opposition leaders, demanding for reform of the current electoral regime, then those pushing for reforms must rethink their strategy and goal. Better, they must think beyond the next elections. The 2016 elections have already been rigged, with the most interested candidate already campaigning and dolling out sacks of money.

The task ahead should be to build a national social and political movement that can rally a cross-section of Ugandans and different interest groups to dismantle the current decadent political system, which is fundamentally undemocratic.

We need a movement that can counter military power with social power that can upstage political arrogance using popular power. To do this, critical segments of society must be on board – the business community, the teachers, farmers, etc. It’s not clear that these were represented at the national conference.

For now, Museveni has succeeded in fragmenting the country and atomizing Ugandans. Reunifying the country around a shared quest for getting Uganda out of the current mess is the challenge of our time.

But the issues are bigger and broader than the Electoral Commission. In fact the national conference should not have been just about elections it should have been about the future of our economy, of the political system that we desire and the kind of society that Ugandans want to refashion.

One hopes that the just-concluded national consultative conference serves as a springboard and a nucleus for a movement that will either force General Museveni to attend a similar conference and concede to sweeping reforms or will prompt him into what his erstwhile counterpart in Burkina Faso did last month – leave power unceremoniously.

The author is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Northwestern University, EvanstonChicago-USA.

Source : The Observer

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