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Puzzle of what draws Ruto and UDA into orbit with Museveni

MACHARIA MUNENE
By Macharia Munene | August 22nd 2021

Deputy President William Ruto chats with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at Mubenda State Lodge. [DPPS]

With one year to Kenya’s General Election, Uganda’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) has featured prominently.  This has raised questions about NRM’s past desire to project regional ‘revolutionary unity’ under President Yoweri Museveni.

A few incidents focus attention on the dalliance between Deputy President William Ruto and Museveni.

The latest was the aborted Ruto trip to Uganda ostensibly to assist a Turkish national invest in Uganda using finances from a Kenyan bank, Equity, but also for Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance seemingly to benchmark with NRM. This raised the question of whether Ruto is a willing proxy for Museveni’s dreams of regional grandeur, a fact that would worry Kenyans.

As a ‘revolutionary’ outfit, NRM is a puzzle that tries to outlive Uganda’s history by becoming its history. It has colonial roots in the competition for power among various subdued Ugandan ‘kingdoms’ as it tries to rise above the kingdoms.

In the process, it adorns the mantle of Uganda’s ‘liberator’ whose image is an unquestionable and irreplaceable Museveni. He is, he asserts, ‘a freedom fighter’ for himself and his beliefs but not a servant to, or employee of, the people. Becoming virtual president for life, Museveni shares the ‘messiah’ imagery with Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, his NRM comrade in the liberation days.

Uganda’s colonial and post-colonial happenings helped create this image of a perpetual ‘freedom fighter’. The British claim they acquired Uganda and what became Kenya in order to stop other Europeans from having access to India through the Suez Canal and the Nile. This makes Uganda and Kenya accidental British colonies, but momentous things then happened in the region due to that ‘accident’. They included the ‘Lunatic Express’, the separation of Uganda from Kenya, and the creation of ‘a white man’s country’.

In Uganda, the Baganda Kingdom became the instrument for forcing colonialism on other kingdoms that remained resentful of their supposed subordination to Buganda. In Kenya, the stupidity of the ‘white man country’ attitude led to the Mau Mau War that forced independence in Eastern Africa on reluctant Britons. In that Mau Mau War, Britons used Ugandan soldiers serving in the King’s African Rifles, KAR.

The soldiers included Idi Amin Dada who, on the eve of independence, was among the Non Commissioned Officers, NCOs, who received the special rank of ‘Effendi’ - a preparatory rank for African NCOs before being commissioned as ‘officers’ in the spirit of Africanisation. Amin benefited from Uganda’s independence in 1962 as Prime Minister Milton Obote’s righthand man in uniform.

In 1966, Obote used Amin to overthrow the Kabaka as Uganda president and assume the presidency. Obote, with his 1969 Common Man’s Charter, plunged the country into prolonged chaos. In 1971, Amin overthrew Obote, ruled Uganda for eight years, and intensified the sense of insecurity that Obote had started. His attack on Tanzania’s Kagera marked his end as Tanzanian forces invaded Uganda, drove Amin away, and tried to re-install Obote as the new leader.

The reinstallation of Obote backfired in that, instead of stability, there was increased change of government. Kenya tried to mediate among the power claimants, and factions turning to guerrilla warfare.

The best organised of such guerrilla factions was Museveni’s NRM, a kind of coalition of ‘progressive-minded’ Ugandan and Rwandese activists determined to oust power-competing remnants of Obote and Amin. They succeeded in January 1986 through the gun as Museveni became president, restored stability and trumpeted a ‘No-Party’ ideology as Uganda’s salvation.

Initially, NRM looked good with Museveni as the 1990s leader of ‘the new leaders of Africa’ who were fresh, young, and unencumbered by past ideologies. They included Kagame in Rwanda, Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, Eritrea’s Isaiah Aferwaki, and Congo’s Laurent Kabila. It wasn’t long before Kabila, Kagame, Mugabe, and Museveni turned on each other and fought pitched battles, in pursuit of perceived national interest.

No longer talking freedom, democracy, and term limits, NRM crushed any Museveni challengers, who were portrayed as imperialist lackeys out to return Uganda to the Obote-Amin atrocities.

Besigye’s association with Kenya’s Raila Odinga, then promoted as the darling of the West against Mwai Kibaki between 2005 and 2008 and against UhuRuto in 2012/13, made Museveni and NRM a supposed anti-imperialist force.

Museveni and Raila used to be good ‘revolutionary’ friends but they turned bitter rivals mostly after the vital railway line was uprooted in Kibra in 2007/08. The new closeness between Uhuru and Raila probably pulled Museveni closer to Ruto whose trips to Uganda raised eyebrows even as NRM’s intentions on Kenya are puzzling.

Prof Munene is a senior associate, Horn International Institute for Strategic Studies

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