Third term bid irks donors
After nearly two decades of applaud and goodwill, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is gradually losing his grip as the western world’s ‘blue-eyed boy,’ a move observers believe could push the East African country back in to a state of need.
Museveni, whose National Resistance Army (NRA) assumed power from Milton Obote in 1986, is regarded as one of Africa’s most influential leaders, making him a darling in the west and placing him among what they called ‘the new breed of African leaders.’
During his rule, Uganda has been recognized as a success story, seeing great economic reform and fundamental growth. Museveni pulled Uganda out of years of dictatorship, murder, terror, human rights abuses and economic decline that had characterized the country since independence in 1962. He has also been praised for his successful struggle against the HIV/Aids pandemic, prevalence of which has dropped from 30 per cent in the early 1990’s to - according to the latest release from the Health ministry- 8 per cent today.
In the past months, however, Museveni has received more criticism than praise from donors, international personalities and the media, following his intention to amend the Constitution and seek a third term in office, come 2006 Presidential elections. Opposition groups, several on-line publications and the foreign press have carried articles and critical analyses of his ‘third term project’ locally symbolized with ekisanja (dry banana leaves).
The Uganda 1995 Constitution stipulates two-term five-year limits for Presidents. Although Museveni has never personally spoken on whether he intends to stand or not, some of his supporters are pushing for it under his ruling National Resistance Movement ticket. There is also criticism about his continued suppression of multiparty politics and slow pace of democratic reform.
Members of opposition pressure groups have expressed their frustration over the two Constitution Ammendment Bills and the recent passing of the Referendum Law in Parliament, which they say was carried out “against the acceptable and legitimate rules of Parliamentary procedure.”
The six main opposition parties (G6) have vowed to boycott the forthcoming referendum, saying it is intended to entrench a one-party state. “Many observers see Museveni’s efforts to amend the constitution as a re-run of a common problem that afflicts many African leaders – an unwillingness to follow Constitutional norms and give up power,” said Johnnie Carson, a former American Ambassador to Uganda.
“Museveni is regarded as one of the most influential leaders in Africa. However, his thirst for power and quest for a controversial third presidential term may return Uganda to its dictatorial past,” Carson said in an opinion article first published in the Boston Globe on May 1.
Late last month, Britain, one of Uganda’s biggest donors announced it had cancelled 5 million pounds (US$ 9.52 million) of budget aid; a shift analysts say is the first sign of donor discontent over Uganda’s slow move towards multi party politics.
Uganda heavily relies on donor assistance. In 2003-2004, US$850 million – almost half of its annual budget - to government reserves were donor funds. But Museveni, who seems ‘untouched’ by neither local nor international pressure, has accused western donors of ‘meddling’ in the country’s affairs. In a May Day statement to the nation, the President partly blamed the west for many of Uganda’s problems including the 19 year-old war that has according to UNICEF, caused the abduction of 20,000 children and displaced over 1.5 million people from their homes. Whereas donors have been seeking for peace talks between the Uganda government and the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebels, Museveni has insisted on military means to end the war.
“If Museveni succeeds in his desire to win a third term, we may be looking at another Mugabe and Zimbabwe in the making,” Carson said in his article.
However, Presidential Press Secretary Onapito Ekilomoit says the western media, driven by perception, lack patience and understanding of Ugandan politics. “I think the President during his time has been a leader worth noting,” Onapito says.
“They (the international media) are misleading their audiences because they have decided to take one view of the situation. I think the media really needs to be patient,” Onapito says.
He calls the ‘attacks’ on Museveni as perceptions “which I think is unfair because this country has had a rich and unique history under the Movement.” “After so many years of political instability, what Uganda needed was a unique Movement system to unite the people. The best solution is to wait and see,” Onapito says.
Museveni has however, received criticism not only from the media.
At the launch of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa report in London in March, English rock star and developing world campaigner Bob Geldof advised him to step down. “Get a grip Museveni. Your time is up, go away,” Geldof said, his statement leading to two pro and anti third term demonstrations in the capital, Kampala.
Following the release of a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) accusing security organizations of torture and illegal detention of political suspects, the United States joined the list of donors and international figures criticizing Museveni`s ongoing campaigns.“Democratization could suffer a setback if the NRM succeeds in removing presidential term limits from the constitution,” the US State Department warned in its 2004/2005 report.
But the Uganda government described the intervention as ‘a world hate campaign against Museveni.’ “There is a growing bad international press against President Museveni orchestrated and organised by sections of the international community with local collaborators aimed at bringing him down,” said government spokesman and Information Minister James Nsaba Buturo. ”This campaign is designed to whip up resentment against the leadership of President Museveni,” he said during a weekly cabinet press briefing in Kampala.
And while the clock ticks, and the Constitution to be amended by June, opposition groups have not given up, now accusing Museveni of instilling fear to rule the people. “Museveni has reached a stage where he is saying: ‘I know they no longer love me. But let me instill fear so that they can fear me and extend my stay in power’,” says Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) pressure group co-ordinator Chapaa Karuhanga.
He accuses Museveni of using his ‘right hand man’ Kakooza Mutale and his controversial Kalangala Action Plan (KAP), a pro-Museveni youth militia group to intimidate the opposition like he did during the 2001 Presidential elections.
Two opposition Members of Parliament, Reagan Okumu and Michael Ocula were recently arrested and detained, charged with murder.
“We are appealing to Museveni to follow democratic means so that we can honour him and can become the first President to give up power and remain in the country and create the foundation of national stability. Since independence, we have never changed government peacefully. When one leader is coming in, another one is running out. So there is no handing over of files. This would have helped the next leader to guard against mistakes,” Chapaa says.
“We believe that if Museveni respected our advice and became a partner in this process, he would retire peacefully. But it appears the man is determined to stay on.” “If Museveni stands, and of course does not create the necessary reforms or remove the roadblocks that we have been talking about, we shall continue our struggle. And our struggle has so far been winning,” Chapaa adds.
Several Movement ‘historicals’ have crossed over to opposition groups after disagreeing with Museveni’s intention to stand for a third term, including those he fought side by side with during the guerilla struggle in the 1980’s.