By Peter Wanyonyi

Back in 1988, when President Yoweri Museveni’s regime was just two years old, panic gripped Kampala when a presenter on state-run Radio Uganda, while live on air, suddenly exclaimed “Oh my God!” followed by screams and the sounds of furniture being thrown this way and that.

In Uganda those days, military coups were never far off and the men with guns would usually drop by Radio Uganda to announce their takeovers. And so everyone listening that day thought another coup had been staged though this wasn’t the case this time, as the presenter was reacting to a snake that had slithered into the studio!

Term limits

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Rather unhappily, there is no mistaking the latest coup stories to come from Uganda. Villagers and the odd Kampala city dweller — all over Uganda were dismayed when, in 2005, President Museveni browbeat his country’s parliament into abolishing presidential term limits, virtually guaranteeing that he will die in office.

Mr Museveni, who shot his way to power in 1986 at the head of the National Resistance Army, has never been much of a democrat. But even by Africa’s rather dismal standards of governance, Museveni’s government has turned into a gross monstrosity that should be sent packing.

At first, Museveni — like many an African dictator — eschewed political parties in Uganda, claiming that they sowed division and ethnic hatred.

Tribalism

This was a handy way to disguise his own tribalism; virtually all of Uganda’s top government and state officers are from Museveni’s Nyankole tribe or closely-related ethnic groups. But this couldn’t last long, and Museveni’s dependence on aid from the West meant he eventually gave in to donor pressure and allowed opposition political parties in Uganda.

But ‘allowed’ is as far as it went. Opposition politicians in Uganda face one of the most brutal suppressions on the continent. They cannot rally, cannot distribute party reading material, have little or no access to radio and other media, and their leaders are permanently under arrest for one excuse or the other.

A few weeks ago Dr Kizza Besigye, Uganda’s most prominent opposition politician, was even prevented from leaving his own house to take a walk outside because, the police said, he was in danger of physical harm from some unidentified persons despite the heavy police presence!

Momentum

Sensing that opposition to his regime is reaching an unstoppable momentum, Museveni threatened to let the military stage a coup. His military chief of staff, who is a fellow tribesman, duly made the threat official and it is now clear that Museveni wants to hand power over to his son, a rapidly promoted brigadier in the army.

Perhaps Museveni didn’t learn the lesson of Hosni Mubarak, who likewise, groomed his son to take over from him until the military felt sufficiently threatened, overthrew him, and put him on trial on a stretcher.

Brigadier Muhoozi Museveni (or his mom) would be wise to ask his father to let Ugandans elect a new president, or else, we might soon see a Ugandan Spring in Kampala.

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Kampala Yoweri Museveni military snake