The Atlantic, a US magazine, has published a series of excellent articles by a Ugandan researcher who must remain anonymous for his/her safety. The latest dispatch from this writer discusses Bobi Wine’s difficult path forward in Ugandan politics, and captures just how much is at stake in this generational struggle. Excerpt below:
At times he sounded uncannily like a young Yoweri Museveni, who more than 30 years ago famously declared that “the problem of Africa in general, and Uganda in particular, is not the people, but leaders who want to overstay in power.” Cognizant of the echo, Wine always emphasizes safeguards. “We should be bound by the words we are saying right now—well knowing that there will be young people after us that will hold us by those words.” A post-Museveni Uganda, he hopes, will “depend on credible institutions, and not a personality.”
That’s not what the country has now, according to Wine, who sees both the judiciary and the parliament as subservient to the executive. As a member of parliament, he has observed that “the real parliament seems to be the [ruling party] caucus, because whatever is decided in that caucus is what passes.” The judiciary in his view is similarly hobbled by patronage appointments, while judges who refuse to defer to executive authority have faced military raids on their courts. “And indeed the army raided the parliament and dragged us off the floor!” he said.
But perhaps the biggest challenge, Wine said, is Museveni’s “personalization of the army.” Indeed, the military has historically played an outsized role in the nation’s politics, both as agents of regime change and enforcers of regime power. Wine, it seems, has himself experienced the latter, given his alleged torture while in their custody. Yet Wine has also witnessed gestures of solidarity from police and soldiers. “Every once in a while, they came and spoke to me and told me that they stood with us,” he said of his detention. “The members of the military, just like the police in the prisons, are human beings … They are Ugandans! I am convinced that they don’t want to be brutalizing their fellow Ugandans. Yes, historically they’ve been exploited to carry out atrocities [but] we think that this is the generation to change that.”
This conciliatory stance extends beyond state forces up to Museveni himself. Aware that his country has never once seen a peaceful transition of power between two presidents, Wine has written that a Uganda governed by People Power would be a Uganda “where a former president can live peacefully in the country without any fear.”
When pressed to elaborate on this, Wine likened the flight of violently deposed leaders to a “brain drain” of elder statesmen. He said he hoped to one day see “a president that leaves power, lives peacefully in Uganda, and indeed continues playing a role of an elder, giving wise counsel to the leaders of the day. But all that comes,” he emphasized, only “when a leader leaves power peacefully.”
Uganda’s next presidential election is not till 2021. “My greatest fear,” Wine said, contemplating the coming years, “is the fear of the state. When a state is in fear, it panics; and when it panics, it makes a lot of mistakes. Many of the mistakes are dangerous to the citizens. My hope,” he added, “is that President Museveni and his regime will listen to the voice of the people. That would save a lot of lives.”