By Fortunate Ahimbisibwe
Very few leaders start as dictators, most start as liberators and Democrats, slowly, they degenerate, they start breaking promises and doing the opposite of what they promised. The liberators of yesteryears become today’s tormentors. And then people start saying, ‘these were never liberators after all.’
As I grow up in the early 1980s, the stories I heard were about the liberation struggle led by President Yoweri Museveni, a charismatic leader who had liberated the country and chased away bad leaders. We were often told of how Museveni had ‘magic’ to turn into anything to evade capture.
And when he stood on the steps of Parliament in 1986, people celebrated the ‘liberation’ and Museveni himself promised that this was not a mere change of guard. It was a fundamental change. Those old enough could see and feel the heartfelt actions and emotions of Ugandans celebrating the downfall of Obote’s Government.
At the time, he was seen as a revolutionary hero, fighting against bad governance. The scenes of jubilation on the streets of Kampala were many and memorable as Ugandans felt that their tormentor had lost the power and Museveni was now in charge. He gave Ugandans hope.
And then, the efforts to redirect the country onto a path of development started in earnest. The rest is known, many things changed, there was relative peace. People seemed happy apart from some parts of the country where there were pockets of armed rebellion.
After 10 years, some people started asking questions about democracy, about opening political space, about corruption, nepotism, stealing from our national coffers,
By 2001, the situation had degenerated further. When Kiza Besigye tried to challenge Museveni. He faced all sorts of persecution including rape, treason. The situation degenerated to the lowest point when MPs recently removed the age limit effectively making Museveni a life President.
One of the most important realizations that Museveni was not, in fact, a liberator he claimed was when underhand methods were employed to change the Constitution by bribing MPs to remove term limits. With time, institutions have become political weapons, using Police or Courts to harass the opposition, using Parliament to pass unpopular laws like removing the age limit.
Museveni is fully aware of the fateful missteps that have wrecked other countries. Like they say, You are what you repeatedly do, if your soldiers are shooting or torturing opponents repeatedly, then you become branded an autocratic leader.
The people I interact with say Museveni has done for the country BUT the same regime has tortured opponents, killed some of them, shut down media houses, imprisoned some journalists, intimidated many critics and has recently engaged in egregious acts as seen in Arua and Kasese, photos of injured politicians. The regime cant be massaged for this, it must be called out for what it is, a repressive and authoritarian power obsessed regime that only seeks to dominate Ugandans.
The only way Museveni and NRM will ever be regarded as genuine “liberators” if they return to a path of genuine national reconciliation and also rebuild trust, build strong independent institutions that work for everyone, not a few.
Because as it is today, the poor Ugandan feel that they had thrown off one group of monsters for another because the NRM liberators have become their tormentors.
There has to be an understanding that competing parties must accept one another as legitimate rivals, not enemies. It is more complicated when 75-year-old start fighting for political space with 35-year-olds.
John McCain who died last month said: Every life must come to an end, one way or another. What will be President Museveni’s legacy when he eventually gets called by God. How will he be remembered, a liberator or a tormentor?
Maybe, if based on People Power slogan, the opposition can promise Ugandans to bring some sanity in our politics, many people will be hooked.
Mark Twain says: History doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes which means that although history does not repeat itself in the sense that exactly the same things happen over and over again, it does have a recurring theme with similarities.
People Power could become the NRM, the country is ripe for change
Mr Fortunate Ahimbisibwe is a seasoned Kampala journalist currently on a sabbatical to the UK