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Last Updated: Friday, 10 December 2004, 15:00 GMT
Museveni backtracks on succession
By Will Ross
BBC Focus On Africa magazine

Yoweri Museveni
Critics accuse Museveni of seeking to be "President for life"
In Yoweri Museveni's 2001 election manifesto, he stated he wanted a second and last term in office - and one of his tasks would be to choose a successor.

He won the election, which was marred by an increase in state-sponsored violence - his main opponent fled the country claiming his life was in danger, while President Museveni settled into the hot seat once again.

Last year at a national conference for senior members of the ruling Movement grouping, the main issue was the idea of a return to multiparty politics.

Then out of the blue a man stood up and proposed that the issue of the two-term limit on the presidency be revisited.

Who was that man? President Yoweri Museveni himself.

Prolonged power

A few years ago this did not seem likely. Museveni has in the past been fiercely critical of African leaders for staying in power too long; he saw himself as a new breed.

Addressing workers soon after he came to power, he stated he would be drinking from plastic cups and buying his furniture locally - clearly not the kind of African president who would fly to the south of France to get his moustache trimmed.

But critics say that almost 19 years in power have changed Museveni and the signs are not good.

Museveni supporters
Museveni's supporters have adopted dried banana leaves as their symbol
They say he has become less tolerant of opposing views, and his language has become more combative.

When in June 2004, the government lost a ruling in the Constitutional Court, the president appeared on state television and lambasted the judges.

And when he used the presidential jet to fly his daughter to Germany to give birth, he stated that some Ugandan doctors could not be trusted.

Museveni's former friend Eriya Kategaya - with whom he began the struggle together against Idi Amin in 1971 - openly opposed the campaign to amend the constitution.

When he did so, he was booted out of cabinet along with two other colleagues - despite the fact the two had been in power together for 17 years.

"Our sacking from the cabinet was to show that either you toe the line or you get out," he told the BBC's Focus On Africa magazine.

"I never believed Museveni would try to change the constitution. If he wants it he should be honest enough to say so and give reasons.

"These tactics of dodging the question and hoping people don't see what he's doing - it's not something I expected from him," he added.

And he argued that prolonged power had changed the Ugandan president.

"For an incumbent of 18 years, if one is not very clear and careful it can go to your head," he said.

"You have power and you think you can do anything. Museveni thinks he is the Movement and he thinks if he's not around the country will not go forward.

"The difference between the Movement and himself and the Movement and the country is becoming thinner and thinner."

Difficult transition

A White Paper containing proposed amendments to the constitution is before parliament.

It contains wide-ranging issues - from the proposal to make Swahili an official language to granting the president the power to dissolve parliament.

But the proposal to lift the two-term limit on the presidency is by far the most controversial.

"I don't know what all the fuss is about," Janat Mukwaya, Uganda's minister of justice, told Focus On Africa.

"He is a very patient man with a big heart. He is still intelligent and capable and he will know when to quit."

President Museveni (right) and Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa marking the 10th anniversary of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa
Museveni (right) is thought to believe Uganda cannot go forward without him
Pressed on whether power has changed Museveni, she replies: "When I was reading political science, the most interesting philosopher was Machiavelli. He argued that leaders change to fit within the new environment."

She wants her changing president to stay.

"Anybody who has served his country should not be fettered just because of the term limits," she insisted.

"Leave it to the electorate. If we are going the multi-party way then we should open the term limit. We still want Museveni to be our chair through this difficult transition."

In reality, Museveni has been campaigning since the beginning of 2004, promising to increase the likes of teachers' salaries. His helicopter has rarely been still.

When the mayor of Kampala introduced a monthly US$5 tax for all motorbike taxis, known as boda bodas, Museveni won himself a legion of mobile supporters by quickly scrapping the tax.

Returning from a trip to the US, Museveni was greeted by hundreds of boda boda cyclists decorated with dried banana leaves - which quickly became the symbol for those who support lifting the presidential term limit.

And the government has started to use cash as a means of opening the door for President Museveni to stand again. MPs who openly support the move were recently given close to US$3,000.

The official line is that the money was to enable the MPs to consult with their constituents on the white paper. However, many feel it is simply a bribe to ensure that the required two-thirds of MPs' vote to lift the two-term limit.

As the political temperature rises in Uganda ahead of the 2006 elections, it appears as though Museveni has accomplished his goal of choosing a successor - and he has chosen himself.


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