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African leaders should now tell Museveni the truth

OPINION
By Charles Onyango | January 9th 2021
Uganda President Yoweri Museveni. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1912-78) is, perhaps, one of the most studied and well known political philosophers of the 18th century. He’s credited to have influenced the French Revolution and more notably development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.

`Common will`; he argued — that human beings are able to function with one common agenda shared among the people and their ruling class. Although he did less in explaining how this will be discovered and decided, he influenced a small niche of rulers to now fully determine the common will of all people — totalitarianism.

Governance in the 21st century yearns for diverse political parties thriving towards common principles of freedom, justice and solidarity, for different causes and different groupings of society.

Constitutions allow; through a majority vote — for the winning party, and specifically its elected leader to be president or prime minister. For most of history, presidents, in most African countries were only allowed to serve two terms. Terms have given an opportunity for leadership transition within the party and also for the country. But while it’s now a logical conclusion among political pundits; that the world is changing faster and governing has to evolve in a similar fashion, many African countries — most recently, Uganda — seem to be turning into retrogrades.

Just a few years ago, many expressed optimism that Africa will remain an endearment which everyone will proudly wear on their sleeves for years to come. But the truth is that this “smiling Global South” — known for attracting hopeless tourists; beach lovers; and diaspora returning home to kiss the land they love — is slowly dissipating into obscurity — the fear induced ambivalence and skepticism informed by the retrogressive state of its democracy.

In virtually all countries, flaws in the system have been worryingly visible and disillusion with politics is rife. Strongmen are actively peddling illusions to manipulate people emotionally with the goal of transcending ordinary political conventions or constitutional limits.

It’s a story that typifies that described in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a work of fiction which could easily have been written by William Shakespeare six centuries earlier or crafted into a tragic theatre play by Sophocles twenty-three centuries ago.

When it’s superimposed on modern Africa, it showcases the boundless lunacy; jaw-dropping greed; and out-of-this world cruelty. As each day passes, the Orwellian Napoleon looks like a Napoleon of a different era and time, yet alive and well in Africa. They’ve embraced Niccoli Machiavelli theories and lessons in leadership unedited without moral reservation. They adapt so creatively to the times, not for the better, but for the worst — accounting for the greatest stains on their unflattering resumes.

East Africa, a sub region once coursed by the prevalence of devastating tribal wars was slowly becoming Africa’s epicentre of democracy lately until Uganda became engulfed into an excruciatingly painful quandary. In a short span of months, it has achieved notoriety as the last remaining hellhole in the sub-region — a demented new chapter that must concern us all.

Increasingly, President Yoweri Museveni looks mortally petrified, and his administration saddled with crippling moral dilemma. On the campaign trail characterised by glitzy stagecraft and discursive policy speeches that often dissolve into vituperative diatribes, he professes friendship for the people and panders to their prejudices while secretly betraying them with brute force.

Critics say he embodies an unholy trinity of traits — ambition, avarice and vanity. However, in the Federalist — at least in its general outline — Hamilton anticipated — in his worst imaginings — the chaos and brutality now on display in Uganda.  Perhaps the time has come for Africans to boldly tell their leaders that democracy isn’t just a set of institutions or shared principles, but a culture of mutual respect and civility.

 -The writer is a Global Impact Fellow at MWI. [email protected]

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