Commentary & Letters

Why a united opposition is zero threat to Museveni

The opposition does not have to unite to challenge President Museveni. United they fail. Instead, they have to remain un-organised, chaotic and relentless in their activism. Un-organised they win.

Orderly and elite politics actually perpetuate the status-quo through the technocracies of modern governmentality: elections, judicial systems, and parliaments under modern autocracies are the performative modalities through which the autocrat sustains himself.

Calls for opposition political parties or big-name opposition politicians to unite and mount a singular solid challenge to the sitting government continue in the national political discourse.

In fact, after Gen Mugisha Muntu’s split from the FDC, innumerable column inches have been penned mourning the continued weakening of the opposition. I say, this kind of talk is not necessarily misguided, but is bereft of context and understanding.

These calls for a united opposition follow a rather terrible assumption that after unity, the opposition will have the capacity to mobilise a formidable mass for the next election.

With all their resources in one pool, the opposition will not split their voice and vote, and, therefore, stand a high chance of winning the next election – against President Museveni. What a bunch of malarkey!

The painful truth is that Ugandans in the opposition are way past the time of defeating Mr Museveni in an election. Look, President Museveni aggressively pushed the amendment of sections of the constitution that would bar him from standing in all future elections – as long as he were still alive.

He not only paid expensively to the merchants at Parliament avenue, but he also had to brave the embarrassment of his sending soldiers into parliament to beat the noisy opposition into shape. [Then he later realised it was better to pay them to oppose in a specific format].

Thus, it is absolute silliness for anyone to assume that after going through this pain, Gen Museveni would let anyone kick him out of office using a piece of paper. He is no idiot, my friends.

It is common sense that Mr Museveni follows no structures, and does not rely on elections per se to stay in office. He has learned to manipulate systems—a combination of money and violence — within the NRM or in the broader national constitutional provisions — to perpetuate his presidency.  He is chaotic, violent and unorganised.

Why then does the opposition believe they will take him out of office through unity and organising more? It is the sitting governments that define the terms of engagement for the opposing force: a fire gone wild is best extinguished by another counter wildfire.

When the colonialist used violence to exploit the native, the native would only respond in the same language. Opposition movements can only win a democratic election against any incumbent only if that incumbent is a democrat. Is the opposition telling us Museveni is a democrat?

Ironically, President Museveni actually knows the one way he can be taken out of office: just the way he has governed the country – chaos, disorder and violence. This does not mean taking up arms and going to the bush, but emulating the principle of unorganised, structure-less politics.

Mr Museveni knows that any opposition politician who manages to inspire – not mobilise – a minimum of 5,000 people onto the streets of Kampala demanding that he leaves office would have hit him with a joker card.

Look, if demonstrations – peaceful or riotous – simultaneously rocked Kampala’s divisions and exit routes, his game would be over: demonstrations along Entebbe road (Katwe, Zana and Kajjansi), Bombo road (Wandegeya, Makerere University and Bwaise), Masaka road (Nateete, Kyengera), Jinja road (Kireka, Bweyogerere, Mukono), City Square and Kisekka market, would thoroughly overwhelm Museveni’s power-protection forces.

They would be difficult to beat, teargas or shoot in these scattered places.  Even if just 5,000 camped in the middle of Kampala and were determined not to leave, he would be under incredible pressure to make amends, including stepping down.

Museveni is fully aware of this reality and thus will not allow any sentiment towards unorganised opposition to grow in Kampala.  This is why he has to methodically assault fans of charismatic politicians.

To nurse any ambitions of participating in any protests is to expect a broken skull or broken limbs. Even journalists capturing videos of resilient protestors – which might inspire others – have to be violently dealt with.

YUSUF SERUNKUMA is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.

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