It's not Museveni’s long stay, but the emptiness of his autocracy

President Yoweri Museveni

President Yoweri Museveni

Dear reader, I am sure you know by now that I am no democrat. 

I am actually very opposed to democracy— which is sadly confused and mixed up with civil liberties and humane leadership. You can actually have all civil liberties with neither parliament nor election. That is basic world history.

The Ottomans are chronicled as the most humane regime of government in world history. They had neither electoral parliament, nor organised any elections.

The Islamic tradition, perhaps the most comprehensive and foolproof guarantor of civil liberties and freedoms (most notably, women, race, finance), does not thrive on numbers—or noise from uneducated majorities—but knowledge and committed leadership.

In fact, as a handmaiden of the obscenely exploitative and violent free markets, which continue to ruin African economies and privilege our former colonisers, democracy is not simply the language of exploitation, but the practice of exploitation itself.

Democracy is divide and rule. It not only disconnects the elite from ordinary folks, it also divides the most educated folks into polarised political parties where they fight and kill each other. On the other hand, it is the most fetishized, deftly disguised fact that there is no democracy in the Western world — as is performed on TVs and movies — and as Africans strive for it.

The world is run on self-interested authorities or autocracy. It takes two forms: institutionalised and individualised. While in Europe and North America, autocracy is institutionalized, it has tended to take individualised forms in Africa.

The West has extremely autocratic institutions, which constantly change their public relations officers. They call these PR personnel presidents or prime ministers. For example, be it Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump and now Biden, America’s domestic policy on immigration, the police force, black folks, guns, women, the minimum wage will remain the same. There will be minute adjustments that the very noisy American press will blow out of proportion discussing it on end. 

The American foreign policy towards the Middle East, Palestine, Iran and Africa will not change. But while Obama and Clinton smiled through their crimes, Trump was simply a terrible PR. The truth is some invisible Hitlers, Mussolinis, Stalins, Lenins, Zedongs, and Napoleons control the American and European institutions.

Let me come home to our friends, ‘authority leader,’ Pombe Magufuli (RIP) and dear leader, Yoweri Museveni. Theoretically and practically speaking, the governed are generally okay with autocracy, as long as it is explicable and actually seen to serve their interests. If ordinary folks feel the impact on their leaders’ suspension of their civil liberties, they will give them the benefit of the doubt.

After 911, and now Covid-19, ordinary folks in Europe, North America and around the world, understood there was good reason to suspend their freedoms on privacy, movement, worship, travel, etc. Ordinary folks tend to be okay when they see seemingly uncomfortable practices enforced for the larger good. But this tends to be flipped if the larger good is fighting Mzungu exploitation of Africa.

If you are in doubt of the sources narrating successes of Magufuli’s Tanzania, at least, there should be room for Kenya’s Raila Odinga’s eulogising his friend. In “The John Pombe Magufuli I knew,” Odinga is poetic about Magufuli’s successes on corruption, the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), protecting Tanzanian dairy farmers and miners, the suspension of inexplicable Chinese loans. In just five years.  Magufuli appreciated the authority in his hands, resisted democracy-driven colonial exploitation, and empowered ordinary folks.

While he did this, he stepped on many toes of many democracy-chanting robbers especially our so-called development partners. As I noted earlier, these fellows stopped exploiting African resources through direct brutal colonisation to indirect, divide and rule, euphemised as democracy. See, these fellows do not call themselves colonial administrators, and colonial lords as before.

They are not racist nor insulting as their colonial predecessors. They are refined folks with innocent titles such as development partners, country directors, and heads of party. They do not openly grab but sign contracts, and shake hands.

To fully confuse their prey, these new democracy-chanting exploiters have conscripted into their ranks an elite — academics, journalists, bloggers—who speak the local language, and know the prey in and out.

Kenyan academic, Makau Mutua has written about these compradors as spending endless time in offices writing proposals and forging accountabilities, which they submit to their “development partners.” 

Privileged with multiple megaphones and good English, these compradors are in our ears magnifying small things (freedom of expression, movement, human right this, human right that) as their “development partners” rob their compatriots. Shamelessly, these compradors have reduced Africa’s problems since independence to Covid-19.  It is the major yardstick upon which they are dissing President Magufuli.  Have these dullards heard about HIV/Aids?!

Museveni’s surrogates on the Ugandan side have shamelessly joined in the choruses deriding President Magufuli.  But the real problem for them is surely not Magufuli’s populism or autocracy, they are seated on worse.

But that his list of accomplishments in just five years makes them look bonkers and outright comical. They are ashamed that to pitch a strong argument for Mr Museveni, they have to dig 40 years back, and contrast him with a caricatured version of President Idi Amin.

Museveni and team have to appreciate that the hate they receive is not simply because of Museveni’s long stay. Neither is it for his autocratic tendencies.  Rather, there is nothing to show for his 35 years. 

Museveni’s autocracy has not been only empty, but also grossly destructive. The Auditor General recently told us it will take us 94 years to repay all our debts.  All local banks are closed for political reasons, handing over the economy to foreigners. 

Ugandan coffee and cotton farmers are bare bones.  Kampala is a sprawling ghetto. Now, you are throwing theatrics of going to space as nationals leave the country en masse for slavery in the Arab world. Just a few examples.


The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd