Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Traps ahead of Yoweri Museveni

by Ebo Quansah

After the fall of Gen. Tito Okello's government and the advent of Mr Yoweri Museveni onto the hot seat of Ugandan Presidency, the western media and, indeed, African media are enthusing on the return of peace to the embattled nation. This writer reminds the new leaders of the obvious pitfalls that confront him.

In societies built on conscience, leaders are elected. In Africa, they are self- imposed. Mr Yoweri Museveni's rise to the high office of President of Uganda owes its origin to the success of his guerrilla forces of the National Resistance Army over the Ugandan National Liberation Army.

The euphoria of liberation from the tyranny that has been the lot of this East African nation appears to have over- shadowed the basic fact that the new Head of State could locate his constituency only in the barrel of the gun.

The freedom perceived by the people to have replaced the torture, rape, murder and all kinds of atrocities committed by previous Governments has influenced the people to welcome Mr Museveni with such reverence that could only be com- pared to the Biblical welcome of Moses' delivery of the Israelites.

The western media, noted for their expert exposures only when third world dictators are overthrown, have made much fetish of the modesty of the new leadership and given all sorts of reasons why Mr Museveni is the only person cap- able of leading Uganda to the promised land. Ironically, the same media had given enough cause, six months earlier, to believe that Gen. Tito Okello's coup was the best medicine to cure the ills of Uganda.

The Guardian of London, in a despatch from Kampala harped on Mr Museveni's decision not to sleep on a bed in the Government House because it was extravagant. Instead, said the paper, the President had ordered one from a local carpenter'.

Without any corresponding analysis, the paper leads the reader into the conclu- sion that the decision to go 'local' is a symbol of modesty. (In Africa, it is not uncommon for local products to effectively compete with imported goods in prices).

Profiling the President under the caption "Yoweri Museveni - Guerrilla who ended a nightmare", The Observer of Sunday, February 9, wrote: "In the main street of Kampala one day last week an old man was knocked down by a car. Two young soldiers, their AK47s slung across their shoulders, sprinted along the pavement. When they found he was not badly hurt, they lifted the old man to his feet and helped him to a wall where he could sit and get his breath back.

"In a country where soldiers have for so long stood ONLY (emphasis mine) for murder, rape and pillage, such an incident still causes amazement." The paper added that anytime Museveni's forces raided a bank during the guerrilla warfare, they left an IOU.

"Even the bankrupt economy does not daunt him because Uganda is naturally so lush and productive." Summing up his hopes and aspirations, Mr Museveni is quoted in these words: "All this country really needs is a good general manager. That and the extermination of corruption."

Like all ideologues, the President believes that politicising the population is the only path to the goal. "It is a matter of raising political consciousness." This article aims at drawing attention to the various traps ahead of Mr Museveni, in particular, and African heads who are easily taken in by initial adulation into abandoning their set goals.

Footballers would tell you that the greatest temptation on the field is playing to the gallery. Sweet, flowing football with square passes is pleasing to the eye and therefore any teams that indulge in such acts are more likely to receive the approval of the crowd than those that do not.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get anything meaningful by way of goals which are all the game is about, from merely pleasing the crowd. Likewise, in real life, attempting to please has the tendency of producing a negative effect. In Africa, it is not uncommon for leader- ship to denounce previous rulers' life- style only to employ security as reason enough to pursue a career that pales those of the predecessors into insignificance.

When the late Kutu Acheampong overthrew Ghana's Second Republic Prime Minister Kofi Abrefa Busia in 1972, he decried the former Oxford University professor's two-man motorcade and chose to ride in his worn-out Datsun car. Later, when the 'security of the state' became paramount, the Colonel found it necessary to move around the country in a motorcade. about a quarter of a mile long of the latest models of Benz and Peugeot cars.

On the day of his coup of December 31, 1981, Flt-Lt. Jerry Rawlings saw the Castle, Ghana's seat of Government as a sanctuary where a few people, isolated from the problems of the nation sat, put on weight, and created more problems for the entire population. Today, Rawlings not only lives at the Castle, fewer people are deciding for the lean and hungry populace who bear the full weight of his IMF/ World Bank inspired Economic Recovery Programme.

In Liberia, Master Sergeant Doe sounded musical in people's ears when he pointed to the dominance of the Americo- Liberians in local politics to justify his bloody coup of April 1980. Today, Liberian law is the gospel according to Samuel Doe. Needless to say, the average Liberian is worse off than before.

Eyadema, (Togo), Mobutu (Zaire), Mengistu (Ethiopia) are but few of the African heads who took power promising by example to lead the people into im- proved economic life only to end up outdoing kings and barons in their extravagance while the problems for which they sacrificed human lives continue to multiply. Admittedly, the worsening of the economic problems might not have been entirely the fault of the new leaders, but much could have been averted.

Uganda's problems are too enormous to be dismissed in simple terms. With those he drove out of Kampala regrouping in the north, Mr Museveni might definitely be aware that the war is far from over. No one would want it but it is unlikely for Uganda to follow the trail of Chad, where civil warfare has charted the people's path for the past decade.

Even if the President is able to avert civil war, tribal sentiments that have fragmented a united nation, is too formid- able a task to allow the president enough time to indulge in frivolities like which type of bed to sleep on.

If there is any philosophy worth recom- mending it must be George Orwell's Animal Farm. The fourth in the original seven commandments spelling out the spirit of Animal Farm was unambiguous: "NO ANIMAL SHALL SLEEP ON A BED". Having tasted the sweetness of power the pigs found it necessary to add WITH SHEETS" to the original clause to justify their new life-styles.

In Africa, as in all third world countries, post-mortem always takes precedence over symptoms. And when the time comes for the judgement of his administration, Mr Museveni would discover that the index might not be the kind of bed he slept on or whether he slept at all.

The weight of the judgement would depend on the quality of life of the ordinary man. There is every assurance that when it comes to such evaluation, the western media currently singing his praises would never be outstaged. Assigning reasons for his downfall would be as religious as has ever been.

Museveni: ninth Head of State since Uganda's independence, the President who waged war against three of his predecessors.

Footballers would tell you that the greatest temptation on the field is playing to the gallery.

Sweet flowing football with square passes is pleasing to the eye... unfortunately it is very difficult to get anything meaningful by way of goals which are all the game is about.

That Mr Museveni is a popular figure is never in doubt. One other certainty is that the popularity owes its genesis more to the atrocities of the past than any charisma the new president could com- mand. As a political science graduate, Mr Museveni could obviously interpret the sound thrashing the political party he helped form to contest the 1980 elections in its right perspective. The fact that he himself fared badly in his own constituency should give him an idea of his public rating.

If he should have an enviable place in Ugandan history, Mr Museveni should not abandon his decision to return the country to constitutional rule in the near future.

Very soon, he would start to receive delegations of chiefs and local leaders urging him to declare himself life president. Such pleas are normally buttressed by the need to ensure continuity in nation building. If and when the President is bombarded by such requests, he would realise later that the decision to agree to their plea is the first step towards a permanent exile.

So far there is everything to say about the discipline of his guerilla forces. But how far they could go with this kind of comportment would depend on the type of education available to them in peace time. Unless they are superhuman, it would be difficult to perceive them playing the samaritan role without proper training.

With the war ending and nothing much to do, the guerrillas might find their patience running out and turn to atrocities as their means of retribution on a population whose future they themselves have secured. Every effort should therefore be made to integrate those who qualify into the mainstream of Ugandan Armed Forces.

After his success in the physical combat, Mr Museveni is being tempted to believe that the economic war would also be easy. Economic wars have defied conquest in Africa since the dawn of self- Government. The late Kutu Acheampong, a Colonel who rose to five-star General in the course of his reign, could not capture the "commanding height" of the economy until a palace coup bungled him out of power.

Ghana's first President sought the political kingdom en route to economic salvation. With all his charisma Dr Nkrumah never reached the economic heaven he envisaged.

The Ugandan economy is bruised and battered. Years of civil strife have left vital sectors of the economy not attended. Like Ghana, Uganda is a one crop economy deriving most of its international revenue from coffee exports. Unless there is a genuine attempt at diversification the future will be bleak.

As an ideologue Mr Museveni seems to place much emphasis on the politicisation of the people. Educating the people to be aware of their civic responsibilities is a prerequisite to effective government. The danger, however, lies in using ideology as the basis for dividing the people.

If Mr Museveni persists in seeking the political kingdom in the hope that like Dr Nkrumah, "all other things shall be added unto it," he would discover too late that like the ex-Ghanaian Head of State, not only had he missed the economic salvation, but that the entire kingdom of Uganda for which he spent five years in the bush, had slipped from his grasp.

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