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Five myths about Museveni


1.         Museveni played a key role in the fight against Amin

There is no question that President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda had – and retains – an intense hatred of former president Idi Amin Dada. But his role in the fall of the self-proclaimed Conqueror of the British Empire has been grossly exaggerated.

Museveni’s own account of his contribution to the so-called liberation is tainted by self-applauding tales that have been disputed. His Front for National Salvation, or Fronasa, fell to pieces in 1974 and gave way to other organisations like the Uganda National Movement and Peoples Liberation Party, according to Fronasa executive committee member Yoga Adhola.

Whereas Adhola’s obsession with the Uganda Peoples Congress does not make him the most credible person to assess Milton Obote’s archenemy, his version of Fronasa’s story seems to be more objective than Museveni’s chest-thumping narrative.

Even before 1974 when Fronasa ceased to exist as a serious group, Museveni had done more talking than action. “Museveni told [Tanzanian President] Mwalimu [Julius Nyerere] that he had built a strong underground network in Uganda,” recalls Adhola, who closely worked with the son of Kaguta in exile in Dar-es-Salam. “That he had trained people in the districts of Mbarara, Masaka and Busoga to fight Amin and all he needed was extra material and political support.

“In 1972 Tanzania launched an invasion of Uganda that turned out to be a disaster. Nyerere had hoped that…Museveni’s trained men inside Uganda would join the attack on Amin. Of course that did not materialise…the men Museveni had talked of did not actually exist.”

Museveni’s alleged lies led the Tanzania People’s Defense Force into harm’s way, suffering a terrible massacre at the hands of the Uganda Army. This strengthened, rather than weakened, the shrewd military leader who later vowed to rule for life.

Between then and 1979, there was little that the current president, and the Ugandan exiles in general, did to undermine Amin apart from spreading harmful propaganda that contributed to the isolation of Kampala. In 1979 Museveni picked up the pieces of his broken Fronasa and joined other forces to form the Uganda National Liberation Army whose capability, without the full-scale invasion of the Tanzanian military, would have been no match for Amin’s well-trained, well-equipped troops.

There is nothing in this concerted campaign that makes Museveni’s contribution extraordinary. With or without him Kampala would have fallen without additional burden. Museveni’s overall contribution is negligible.

2.         Museveni restored democracy

President Yoweri Museveni’s style of governance is a comical deformed version of democracy that modern dictators have invented.

This system adopts some democratic institutions but ensures that they remain too weak to serve as checks and balances. It puts in place a parliament that dances to the tune of the executive, a judiciary that is dominated by ruling party cadres and an electoral commission that is unilaterally hired and fired by the first citizen. This is how Mr. Museveni has failed democracy in Uganda.

The head of state should surely not be crucified for frustrating an alien model of governance that usually degenerates into anarchy. Popular elections, for instance, often tempt politicians to resort to populist albeit wrong policies simply to attract votes. The reluctance of the government to rid the capital of the nuisance of motorbike taxis, or bodaboda, is rooted in the fear to lose votes.

The same fear explains the continued existence of the filthy, fire-prone St. Balikuddembe (Owino) Market in a place meant to be parking space for the Nakivubo Stadium. Kampala remains nasty and ghastly partly because of democracy.

Such cases are not unique to Uganda. Whereas dictatorial China can easily wipe away a slum and instantly create space for an investment that employs thousands, democratic India on the other hand, besides going through the straining bureaucracy of democracy, may hesitate to relocate the dwellers of the slum to avoid their backlash on polling day.

There is in fact no question that China’s rapid economic growth, as opposed to India’s economic sluggishness, is partly explained by Beijing’s ability to make decisions very quickly, an advantage that often evades democracies. Museveni himself has repeatedly alleged that parliament delayed his plan to construct a dam that would have significantly reduced the problem of power shortage.

Even western democracies attained economic growth long before they knew democracy. Europe industrialized and advanced at a time when dictators ran its affairs, from 19th Century despotic monarchs to 20th Century Nazis and fascists. The argument that democracy is a prerequisite for economic growth is just a well-packaged piece of lies. 

Even if we were to accept the myth that democratic governance is the foundation of the economic might of the west, the success of a model in one place does not necessarily mean it must succeed everywhere else.  Instead of blindly imitating alien systems, developing countries, as Pakistani scholar Ziaddin Sardar observers in The Quest for a New Science, should “devise their own patterns of development tailor-made for their own needs, abilities, and aspirations.”

But this is not the spirit in which Museveni has frustrated western democracy. On the contrary, he has corrupted democracy to feed into his inglorious scheme of perpetual absolute rule.

3.         Museveni killed Cerinah Nebanda

The sudden death of Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda late 2012 put Museveni on the defensive, with various politicians insinuating that he poisoned the young politician. This supposition was unfounded because of four factors.

There was no evidence that Ms. Nabenda died from poisoning. The fact that the police prevented a pathologist from taking her body samples to South Africa for independent examination doesn’t constitute evidence that she was poisoned.

Secondly, Nebanda posed no imminent or even distant threat to Museveni. Whereas she was vocal, by no means was she the only critic and certainly not the most extreme in her criticism of the government.

Besides, whereas Museveni is a notorious murderer who has slaughtered hundreds of thousands in northern Uganda and eastern Congo, he is not known to kill people for merely criticising him. He, on the contrary, usually neutralizes critics by giving them money and jobs, rebutting their arguments or ignoring them.

Lastly, there was believable evidence that Nebanda used narcotics. Apart from keeping company with drug dealers, she, her former classmates and colleagues confirmed, was a drug addict, adding weight to official reports that the late died from drug-related complications. 

4.         Museveni is a Christian

Far from following Christianity, Museveni is a primitive African traditionalist who consults sorcerers before he embarks on any risky enterprise. Media photographs of him jumping over a carcass of a cow during the 2005 funeral of John Garang in South Sudan will not easily fade away from the memory of the world.

Many politicians and most women in this part of the world, regardless of their exposure and education levels, remain ardent believers in witchcraft and other superstitious orders. 

5.         Museveni is a Pan-Africanist

Pan-Africanism is an ideology that seeks to unite and empower the inhabitants of the second largest but poorest continent. A character as divisive as Museveni cannot claim allegiance to such a cause.

Museveni is a narrow-minded bigot whose hatred of certain sections of Africans is shocking. He has described the law of Africa’s largest religion, Islam, as a Middle Eastern ideology that should have no place on the continent. This kind of dirty rhetoric persistently flowing from his mouth divides more than it unites Muslim Africa on the one hand and Christian and animist Africa on the other.

Islam reached Africa in the Seventh Century, bringing with it a civilization that permanently became part and parcel of the continent. The Islamic culture and its Arabic language and all the cultures and languages that trace origin in this civilization – from Swahili in East Africa to Hausa in West Africa – became an integral part of the African identity. It takes strange idiocy to dream of stripping Africa of its Islamic identity.

Until the Ugandan dictator overcomes his prejudice and acknowledges the position of Islam in Africa, he cannot claim to speak for the continent.

Even in his own country Museveni sows seeds of disunity. He maintains his tribesmen in most key government and military positions. His disregard for the Nilotic tribes of northern Uganda inspired him to mount a 20-year scorched earth policy in the region in the name of fighting Joseph Kony’s rebellion. This indiscriminate punishment reduced Acholi and parts of Lango to wreckage.

In eastern Congo the warmonger has slaughtered thousands of his fellow Africans. How can such a butcher of members of his own race represent their interests?