By: David O. Monda
Uganda is romantically idealized as the Pearl of Africa. The reality is that in the field of democratization, the Pearl of Africa metamorphoses into the Peril of Africa. This is because the example of Museveni’s mockery of Uganda’s constitution is being replicated in many African countries. African presidents have discovered ways to amend their national constitutions to perpetuate themselves in power at the expense of democratization in their countries. These constitutional amendments have the effect of institutionalizing the individual in power rather than building the institutions that will safeguard the nation long after the individual president is gone. Yoweri Museveni’s retirement is key to Uganda’s democratization.
The effort to perpetuate President Museveni’s rule targets Article 102(b) of Uganda’s Constitution. This Article would make Museveni ineligible to run for another term in office in the elections of 2021. Supporters of President do not think the amendment of Article 102(b) is an obstacle to democratization. However, it is. On one level, it makes a mockery of the Ugandan Constitution because it targets a specific section of the constitution for changing. This will directly benefit Mr. Museveni who is an interested party in any political transition in Uganda. Amending any constitution haphazardly to benefit the specific political interest of an individual in power is an abuse of the constitutional amendment process.
Secondly, it sets a bad precedent. Any leader able to come to power once Museveni decides to retire, will do exactly the same thing. They will look to amend the constitution to extend their rule. Thirdly and most importantly, it is a bad idea to amend Article 102 (b) because Uganda has never had a peaceful transfer of power from one president to another. By perpetuating the individual interest of a sitting president, the greater national interest of perpetuating institutions of good governance is lost. In other words, Uganda becomes Museveni and Museveni becomes Uganda. Once he leaves the political scene, no structures are in place to midwife a peaceful transfer of power.
On a personal level, Museveni strikes an interesting figure in the political history of Uganda. In 1979, he helped oust the dictator Idi Amin. He established stability in Uganda and grew the economy. He raised Uganda’s profile on the international stage through savvy diplomacy in the area of peacekeeping and African integration, solicitation of aid from donors and outflanking regional rivals. However, like most African leaders that began their initial years in office well, he has overstayed his welcome and began to see himself as the only person able to rule Uganda.
A respect for the spirit of the constitution is just as important as the letter of the constitution. Amending such an important document to serve narrow political interests is a recipe for anarchy in Uganda. Ultimately, when Museveni amends the constitution and wins another term in office, the only way the people can change government will be through extra constitutional means or his death. This will be because Museveni has coopted the constitution and the institutions of government to serve his own interests. The constitution is the center that holds everything else together. As the late Chinua Achebe once said “when the center cannot hold, things fall apart”. The legacy of one of Africa’s great leaders is on trial.
David O. Monda is professor of Political Science at City University of New York
Image: Campaign poster for Incumbent President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni superimposed over the Ugandan flag.