WHAT OTHERS SAY: To bribe or not bribe MPs to lift age limit?

Thursday November 9 2017


By Charles Onyango-Obbo

One of the things many Ugandans find disgusting in the on-going project to lift the age limit, and effectively make President Yoweri Museveni president-for-life, is that MPs have been paid to support it.

In 2005, in order to get MPs’ support for scrapping presidential term limits, the Museveni government again paid them. These payments are the more intriguing given that NRM has an overwhelming majority.

While this is corruption, it is not the only thing going on. The reason why Museveni won the bush war, and has hang on to the presidency for 31 years now, is because he has a very keen understanding of Ugandans.

Of all the peoples of East Africa, perhaps it’s Ugandans for whom it’s never sufficient that they are members of your party, religion, or tribe. You must put something extra on the table.

Museveni understood that grievances against Milton Obote and his Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) run very deep in many parts of the country when he started his bush war in 1981. He could have started the war in Ankole or Busoga, but chose Luweero. He probably understood that in Buganda, he could sell something more than freedom and the end of Obote and UPC rule – the return of the Kabaka and the kingdom.

The fact that MPs had to be paid to end term limits and now to get rid of the 75-year age limit, means they cannot support it if only their conscience was at work. I guess it is like paying for sex. The man who buys it is under no illusions that the woman loves him.

So, in a messed up sort of way, it is a good sign that the age limit removal is being bought.

But what, deep down, is it about Ugandans that makes this necessary? For reasons of history, geography, and how they shape our loyalties to politics, and how we view ourselves, we take our individual sovereignty much more seriously than most people on the continent.

There is a Ugandan expression, “you don’t feed me”, or often stated as a question, “do you feed me?” It is the ultimate statement of pride, to mean that if you don’t put food on my table, you have no business telling me what to do. Very few other African cultures have a similar expression.

Let’s see how this plays out. From pre-independence, every election in Uganda has been stolen. It got worse from the December 1980, which Obote’s UPC won controversially, and sent Museveni to the bush.

However, in 1980 UPC won 75 per cent of the vote. In 1996, Museveni enjoyed the hallowed status in Uganda that Rwanda’s Paul Kagame has in recent years. In 1993, Kagame won with 93 per cent of the vote. In the recent election in August, Kagame won by 99 per cent.

By contrast in what some saw as Museveni’s “coronation” in 1996, he got 75.5 per cent. That margin was “stunning” for Ugandans. In 1962, UPC won with 52.4 per cent.

In the October 26 repeat presidential poll in Kenya, boycotted by president-elect Uhuru Kenyatta’s main opposition rival Raila Odinga, he got 98 per cent of the vote. However, there were six other candidates on the ballot.

If it had been Uganda, Uhuru would have won perhaps with 78 per cent of the vote. The result of this is that Uganda is now the only country in East Africa where neither the ruling party or an incumbent has won by more than 80 per cent in a national election.

Consider this, former deputy governor of Bank of Uganda, and Finance minister Ezra Suruma, is a very serious man. He is also a socialist intellectual, who believes in collective things.

Dr Suruma built a nice home in the outskirts of Kampala some years back where he lived. A relative bought a plot near him, and that is when I found out he was an early adopter who ran his house on solar, off the national grid! A very individual sovereign approach.

I used to be a big dogs man. I was introduced to a wonderful Ugandan who had held big international jobs, trying to save the world. He had a rare breed of puppies.

Before I could get his puppy, he wanted to interview me to see whether I was the “right fit”. I went to his home, with its vast compound and finely manicured lawn.

Tea was served in elegant crockery, with home-baked scones, and vintage cutlery. I passed the test, and got the puppy.

He lived off the grid, including providing his own vast underground water tank. He didn’t want State employees wandering into his ground. I have rarely admired a man more. Unless you are the Kabaka, in Uganda you have to add a “ka-something” to get something.