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Oil: Reason Museveni, Mbabazi are fighting!

Ramathan Ggoobi

Oil: Reason Museveni, Mbabazi are fighting!

President Museveni and Former prime minster Amama Mbabazi

President Museveni and Former prime minster Amama Mbabazi

Societies become great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in!

I strongly believe that Uganda’s biggest growth-retarding factor since 2005 has not been low schooling, or underdeveloped financial systems. It has neither been high government deficits nor distorted foreign exchange markets. We are being let down by the rising political risk or call it false democracy.

This so-called democracy we are practicing in Uganda, and its champions who came from Luwero bushes 30 years ago, have become a liability to our economy. Apart from causing all the negative sentiments that are driving prices of nearly everything (goods and services, dollars, assets, etc) out of control, Ugandans are wasting a lot of time, and resources carrying out experiments whose results they already know.

Instead of people concentrating on their businesses and gardens they are wasting a lot of time running around with self-serving politicians. Consider the excitement right now that has been caused by what initially we thought was a “battle of egos” between you, Mr. President, and your long time friend, Amama Mbabazi.

Both of you know very well that your time to lead Uganda is up. For the three decades both of you have been at the helm, you have contributed whatever was in your capacity. None of you should qualify to continue leading this country for one reason; whatever you have failed to achieve in 30 years, you simply cannot achieve in the five years you want Ugandans to give either of you.

It’s not a power contest

Like Mbabazi said in his YouTube message, you as NRM leaders have achieved great things for this country. You had given the country a chance to redirect its efforts on development after two decades of anarchy. Of course along the way you too made mistakes. You failed to fight corruption, you failed to invest in agriculture and infrastructure to transform the economy, and many other things. But you tried enough, and may be that was your capacity.

Mr. President, until recently, you and Mbabazi were inseparable. Mbabazi worked his head off — the gray hair on his head is hardly a result of age, rather a testimony of how hard he worked — to keep your power and manage the State on your behalf. In return you delegated him a lot of power and gave him protection, often to the chagrin of many other bush-war colleagues of yours who felt they deserved more than Mbabazi.

So what made you, the two closest friends and political allies this country has had, to reach the point of fighting for the very power that you were better off sharing like you have been doing in the past three decades? It cannot, therefore, be power. Power, you shared it nearly equally.

While attending Eid day celebrations in Masaka last week, you let the cat out of the bag. You let the country know what made you two erstwhile friends fight. You said in Luganda, “Those saying that I should retire are after my oil.” Imagine!

Nine years ago, when it was confirmed that Uganda had oil, a friend of mine, a man who has never been wrong in his analysis of our politics and many other issues, said, “We are in trouble; Museveni will never leave power before enjoying the oil money.” How prophetic was my good friend!

Mbabazi had power

So now I can easily connect the dots. I had completely forgotten about this. I have been wondering what on earth could separate Museveni and Mbabazi, to the extent of starting to arrest themselves, let alone talking ill about each other. Oil is the problem.

My friend strongly believes that had we not discovered oil, you, Mr. President, would have retired after 2006. I also now strongly believe that had it not been for the oil, Mbabazi would not have afforded to risk an open fight for power which he had in plenty.

Mbabazi was “Super Minister” of Defence, Security, Attorney General, Secretary General of NRM and later Prime Minister. He rode in the Presidential jet and played a key role in the selection of cabinet colleagues (imagine that!). He had military escort and a convoy bigger than that of the Vice President.

Many of his colleagues, who were understandably envious of his special status, now think he is running for President because of greed. That he should have settled for what he had, because in their view it was good enough. No. My view is that Mbabazi has decided to bear the risk for the same reasons Museveni decided to hold on to power at the expense of his legacy. They both want to enjoy the status of ‘oil sheik’.

The problem for Mbabazi is that his own risk is more uncalculated and costly than that of his competitor. If anyone understood or at least meant to understand the power dynamics in Uganda and how they play out, Mbabazi should be the first person on the list. He knows how power in Uganda is got and lost. He knows what determines political outcomes in Uganda. Most importantly, he knows where real power in Uganda lies. Since when did posters (whether 3D or canvas) and good messages won power? In Uganda?!

We thought you were liberators

Secondly, Mbabazi knows or at least ought to know, how Ugandans vote. I don’t even expect him to get disappointed if his own friends (some of whom were so close that he might have consulted before taking the decision to ‘take on the man’) decided to turn against him and vote for Museveni. Mr. Mbabazi, would you be surprised?

On a serious note though, we thought you guys were our liberators. When you start to fight over oil, what does that mean? Mr. President, when you stand in front of people and say, “They want to steal my oil,” what message do you exactly want us to take? That since oil was discovered during your presidency it belongs to you, or that you are the only leader who can guarantee the security of the oil? We thought societies become great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

On the other hand, when Mbabazi sits in front of a camera and say, “We are nursing a tired nation,” yet he has been the de facto number two in the last 29 years, what exactly does he want Ugandans to do? Does he think we shall believe that the only magical wand for the nation to recuperate is him being President? Ugandans! Incredible!

Anyway, that is why I left politics to those who are ready to be fooled all the time. In 2006, I graduated from the group (composed of the majority) that failed to learn that politics is a game of fooling people. You politicians fool us with rhetorical campaign messages, high-powered speeches, and delectable promises.

Abantu bakoowu

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of United States of America, said, way back in 1860s, “You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.”

That is in many flourishing democracies, they limit the number of years a leader should ‘fool’ his supporters to either eight or ten years. They know that politicians would find it difficult to fool people for extended periods.

Such societies know that for any leader to expect people to vote for him, he should stay for “sometime” so that he can be able to fool all of them for that short time. You simply cannot expect to stay “all the time” and fool all of the people. In this case, you will only manage to fool some of them. And when you start competing with friends, you become insecure and by extension become a liability to the country.

A local musician, Mathias Walukagga, sang a song “Abantu bakoowu,” literally meaning “people are tired.” A few years ago, Mbabazi was one of the most loathed politicians in the country. Reason? He was suspected to be corrupt, having featured in a litany of corruption scandals. Within the NRM circles, he was hated for treating himself and by his boss as special. People hated Mbabazi! Surprisingly now he is looked at as a saviour of sorts. Why? Abantu bakoowu!

Many people think that since Mbabazi has been your closest ally, Mr. President, he stands a better chance to defeat you. Of course, as I stated above, this is a surprise if Mbabazi himself thought the same way. In the Uganda I know, votes have never removed a president from power. Except for Rotary clubs!

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Ramathan Ggoobi

Ramathan Ggoobi is Policy Analyst, and Researcher. He lecturers economics at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) and has co-authored several studies on Uganda's economy. For the past ten years, he has published a weekly column 'Are You Listening Mr. President' in The Sunrise Newspaper, Uganda's Leading Weekly

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