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Dictators have no end game: Tendai Biti

By Tendai Biti

Wananchi would have been amused by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s rumblings on, this week following his attendance of that great Mandela memorial in Soweto on Tuesday. 

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

To many the announcement that he was now retiring in 2014 may have appeared to be of Damascene proportions. The ultimate realization that he was a man of the past and needed to go.

A flash of heavenly lighting hit and intruded on his extrovert soul and suddenly he found a new path. In this case he in fact found no path and faced with a cul de sac he announced he would retire. Or to use his own language “there would be no rap”.

The statements attributed to him are the stuff of a great comedy.

“I am going home,I didn’t realize just how the world has changed, till I went to South Africa.”

Museveni being Museveni had to rub it in.

“I have travelled a lot in Africa and abroad. I do not want to be like our neighbour with retired presidents so old they can no longer run a kilometer.’

The thing is is this no comedy but a farce of tragic proportions.

The thing this is no laughing matter at all but caricatures the present dilemma of Africa.

The heart of the African crises.

This is a man who is 69, has been in power for 27 years since January 1986.

This a man who has altered a very decent Constitution to remove term limits and allow himself the right to serve as he pleases.

This a man obsessed by the opposition, which he treats with contempt and disdain.

Dr Kizza Besigye, the main opposition leader is regularly assaulted and incarcerated without cause.

In Museveni s mind his party the NRM, National Resistance Movement has a God given right to rule. Ugandans owe the NRM an eternal debt for fighting and ousting the arch dictator Idi Amin Dada and the corrupt and inept Milton Obote.

This is a man who has run the country under the same legal order of repression of the past. Refining among other things the colonial Public Order Security Act into a Public Order Management Act.

Yet had Museveni known when to retire he would have retired as one of Africa s greatest sons.

For years he fought in the mountains against Amin.

Inheriting empty coffers he bravely adopted radical economic policies that saw the massive turn around of the economy. In the process producing some of Africa s young economists who are flooding the African Development Bank and the World Bank.

In the mid 90’s the West was hailing same as the leader of a new crop of transformational leaders.

But alas that legacy is gone.

The old Museveni is a tin pot dictator save that he is far much more intelligent and articulate than the old stereotype urchin whose teeth often times discovered Colgate rather late.

This certainly has something to do with the productive years he spend at Dar University mingling with the likes of Mamood Mamdan, Shifji, Walter Rodney and other greats of his time.

Uganda is a typical African state characterized by partocracy , corruption ,clientelism ,patronage and patriarchy. Even the news that he would retire did not cheer up the Ugandan Wananchi. Many thought this was a belated April Fools joke.

The few who took it seriously are well aware that, Museveni s own son, Muhoozi Kaineruguba is being groomed to take over.  Wananchi , the common physcotic disorder of the tin pot, is that he has no idea of the cardinal rule that we all come, we all go.

He has no idea that the most assured way of eating into one s own proud legacy is to over stay. The thing is the dictator has no end game. Has no other plan except to hold on to power. The end game and the middle game are all the same .Just hold on to power.

The dictator would never make a good chess player.

It is precisely because there is no end game that there is no orderly succession in Africa. The tin pot can and does not allow discussion on succession. The S word is a taboo subject, a treasonous term only whispered in corridors.

In the end when it is clear that the dictator because of age can not hold on, it looks to its own busy loins for a successor. Thus an irresponsible teenager born of the tin pot is suddenly air brushed to become the next tin pot.

Thus African politics becomes dynastic, not because the tin pot plans it. No.

Dynastic politics is the legacy of a failed leader who wants to hang on forever. It is a knee jerk reaction to failed succession. Of course the coterie of hangers on and looters in the king s court yard favor dynastic succession.

It does not rock the boat and guarantees perpetual looting and the absence of inquiries or investigations that normally come with a new President. Thus for altered States like Zimbabwe, DRC, Sudan, Uganda to name a few dynastic politics is real.

When you think of it, Mandela s greatest legacy will have been to know the exit, to plan for it, and to play the end game on his terms. His burial at Qunu is a well planned move made many years ago, so too his decision to step down after one term.

Sadly not many see the wisdom of his righteous paths.


Tendai Biti is the Secretary General of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)