After 36 years in power, have the estimated 44 million Ugandans got enough of their president, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni?
Are they willing to nurture another ‘mustard seed’ from the scions of this aged seed into another mighty tree under whose shade Uganda can shelter with no term or age limits until the end of times?
Gen Museveni, one of the longest serving presidents - who says he has been a leader for a record 57 years from the day he was a student and to the time he gunned his way to power, three and a half decades later, answers the questions about his heir, his intentions, his neighbours and vision for Uganda in a symbolic manner.
In an interview with KTN’s Sophia Wanuna at State House, Entebbe, Museveni retorts that ‘if too much of anything is poisonous,’ it’s up to Ugandans who have tasted his reign for 36 years to say whether his stay was an overdose and therefore toxic.
“Uganda has not had too much of me. When they taste, let them say whether too much of Museveni is poisonous. It is not about arrivals and departures. It is not who that matters but if the who answers the what, then tunasonga mbele.”
Although there has been talk of transition into a post Museveni regime, the president does not rule out his son, a celebrated though controversial soldier, General, Muhoozi Kainerugaba from the succession equation.
On October 4, General Muhoozi tweeted his motherland into a war of words, with threats that he could vanquish Kenya Defense Forces and occupy Nairobi in less than two weeks.
But the 78-year old Museveni, who confesses to have been turned into a keyboard warrior by Muhoozi, responding on the same platform to claim frayed Kenya and Ugandans nerves, is convinced that his son is not beyond redemption.
“I believe in suppressing the negative and encouraging the positive. You know Uganda leaders are not elected by Twitter. When the time comes for leadership, he will be audited…”
In 1997, when computers were just distant rumours in many parts of Africa, Museveni, unlike his son who tells his exploits in short chapters of 280 characters on Twitter, chronicled his struggles in his 364-page autobiography which he titled Sowing the Mustard Seed.
His was a story of a fearless revolutionary waging war on wayward leaders in his motherland from foreign bases in Kenya and Tanzania while family sheltered in Nairobi.
But although the president says he punished his 48-year old son who at the time of tweeting was a Lt General and commander of the army (Land Forces) by elevating him to a full general, he insists that he did not apply double standards.
“I am not applying double standards. Our method of suppressing the negative and encouraging the positive has been to heal the patient not to kill the patient. When we have soldiers who are drunkards, we don’t kick them out. Remember we do not go to work with priests. We go with them. In the battle, the one who looks polite will fear but the drunkard soldier will fight.”
Uganda’s Head of State says he has been doing this for over 50 years and is confident, Muhoozi who is being weaned off tweeting about sensitive things like neighbours politics and internal politicking has more positive contributions to his country and people. And he has a following too among the youth. But the father of the nation swears about one thing. “He must leave Twitter. Tweeting is now a modern method and he connects with the youth. If he was tweeting about sports which is not controversial, that is not a problem.
The problem, Museveni explains is when his son starts talking about other countries internal affairs, something which upsets the diplomatic relations with neighbours.
Muhoozi’s “misdeeds” on social media do not disqualify him from succeeding his father, who however says that he does not have the last word on who or whether the son will succeed him when the time comes.
“You have heard rumours that I am a member of the National Resistant Movement (NRM). I go with what NRM does. I decide with not for NRM but we are guiding by the principles of patriotism, and pan Africanism.
According to the president, if any leader including his son loves Uganda and Africa then they qualify but he warns that it is what they intend to do to solve people’s problems rather than who is at the helm.
He said he was not interested in what happens after he was no longer in power stressing; “Ugandans are not interested in Museveni. When the time comes they will sit down. The issue is not who succeeds me. It is what is to be done. We had term limits but we realised we need all hands on the deck, like in the navy. That’s what is agreed and not contestable”.
Museveni, who favours open borders to promote trade within the East African block says President William Ruto’s bottom-up economic model that propelled him to power in August is an adaptation of a policy he has been employing for ages.
“I do not know how President Ruto got this. This was our line. He has discovered the power of interest verses identity; a principle we have been applying since 1965.”
He says that many African countries, Uganda included, have been suffering from the curse of inheriting the colonial bureaucracy and spent a lot of energy squabbling about identity instead of focusing on the real problems facing the people.
This is the same problem that has made some countries close their borders and protect their markets from imports from neighbours, in the process of punishing their citizens with highly priced goods produced by upstarts….
“Africa’s problem is not about identity or tribe. It is the needs. Hunger knows no tribe or clan. Insecurity, sickness are the real problems,” Museveni postulates.
He argues that the problem of identity is so entrenched that some countries have a problem raising an army because soldiers cannot trust one another to work as a unit.
He cited the case of Somalia which was so fractured along clan lines that it cannot raise an army and had to rely on peacekeepers when they were faced by internal strife.
Africa, Museveni explains, requires organ transplant to solve some of the most pressing problems. “When you find your kidney is not working properly, you may have to do something until you have it revived.
Commenting on the fighting that has been going on in Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Southern Sudan and Congo, Museveni observes: “Tell the people that they are fighting a pseudo ideology. It is a misdiagnosis that may lead to the death of a patient,”
To the President, if a patient was suffering from malaria, it would not matter how many witchdoctors or soothsayers saw him and prescribed their voodoo. The patient was destined to die unless proper treatment was administered.
There has been instances when the international community has meddled into internal affairs and democratic choices and prevented reform-minded leaders from accessing power, as Raila Odinga recently claimed after losing the presidency, but Museveni believes that such setbacks are self-inflicted.
“Unless you make your mistakes, they (international powers) cannot beat you in your own country. When Idd Amin took power in 1971, ten days later Edwar Heath (a British politician who served as UK Prime Minister from 1970 to 1974) recognised his government. Organisation of Africa Unity, now African Union, had refused to recognise Amin’s government. We fought against him and won.”
Gen Museveni also rooted for East Africa integration, explaining that he actively participated in the revival of the East African Community, which had died in the 1970s due to petty misunderstanding and leadership squabbles.
He says he has good relations with Kenya and was keen on developing the inland port on the land Uganda was granted by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration, explaining that his country also has land in Mombasa.
On the construction of the controversial pipeline linking his country to Tanzania, Museveni said the environmental concerns raised by the critics would be addressed, noting that the people displaced by the pipeline would be compensated. He said the project presented many growth opportunities for Uganda.
Museveni is convinced that although there has been concerns about pollution, the levels were minimal and pointed out that besides fuel, petroleum would boost textile and PVC sectors.
Despite this development, Uganda, the president added, is already transiting to clean energy and had already started manufacturing electric vehicles and motorcycles.