IN trying to make sense out of the hullabaloo about ekisanja/third term (whether Uganda should have presidential term limits) debate, we should borrow a leaf from China.
Despite being communist, China has over only two decades been emerging as the worldâ€™s economic dragon â€” forget the tigers.
The moral? It is not the type of governance that matters if a country is to remain stable and prosper. And as President Yoweri Museveni says, it does not matter who leads, as long the country has a vision.
Just like Uganda before the advent of Yoweri Museveni and the National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) in 1986, China before Chairman Mao Tsetung and his Communist Party took power in 1949 was a land of political instability.
For all his excesses â€” especially during the Cultural Revolution â€” Mao who came to power via a protracted peopleâ€™s war, like Museveni, remains the icon of modern day China. Why? Albeit ruthlessly, Mao consolidated the hundreds of millions (by his time) of Chinese into the powerful nation state, we know now.
During his three-decade rule, Mao had no illusion about China completely developing into what it is now during his time. In speeches, he always stressed that it would be long before China became a developed socialist state. Indeed, it was long after he died in 1976 that China steadily transformed, when his predecessors partially introduced a market economy that allowed multi-national capital to invest in the country. But unlike, many countries that have embraced the market economy, yet failed to develop, China benefitted from the solid foundation laid by Maoâ€™s iron rule.
The most significant dividend of Maoâ€™s rule was turning Chinese into untiring, unquestioning, robot-like but skilled workers. And given their numbers, you are talking of ants at work. When capital was injected into this disciplined society, the result was an economic miracle. In less than two decades, for example, the Chinese were able to build the southern city of Shenzhen into a pro-type of the adjacent Hong Kong, which the British built up over several decades. Both are today wonder cities. Hong Kong too is, of course, now part of mighty China.
The parallels between China and Uganda are apparent. Even President Museveniâ€™s most rabid critics cannot wish away the fact that he ended the era of political quagmire in Uganda. For the first time in the countryâ€™s history we have functioning elected governance structures. This has happened despite absence of multi-party competition for political office. In addition, while tribal consciousness is still a reality in our society, it is more for social and cultural identity â€” and a bit of economic enhancement.
All parts of Uganda would today be totally peaceful and integrated into the national rhythm of economic growth, if it were not for the aggression of Sudan, which until recently used the Lordâ€™s Resistance Army (LRA) and Allied Democratic Front (ADF) terrorists as proxies to distabilise Uganda. Yet the fact that Sudanâ€™s aggression has failed is testimony to how far, under Museveni, Uganda has come as a nation. The Tanzanians were able to roll out Idi Amin from power within months in 1979 not only because Ugandan exiles joined them but also because Aminâ€™s tyranny had badly divided Ugandans within the country. The failure of the Sudan aggression and all other rebellions over the last 18 years to alter state power shows how much Museveni has consolidated the critical mass of Ugandans under the NRM. Every country needs this kind of consolidation as its starting point for take off into prosperity.
Tanzania under Mwalimu Julius Nyerere is the closest example to us. While Nyerereâ€™s one-party and Ujamaa policies were ultimately judged as wanting, no one could question the fact that he united Tanzania into a nation. Tanzania is now ripe for take-off.
In all fairness, it did not have to be Museveni in Uganda. If Milton Obote, Ugandaâ€™s pioneer independence leader, had not turned out to be a serial blunderer, he could have consolidated the nation and taken the accolades. As it happened, he miserably failed, not once, but twice!
Some critics argue that sheer longevity of a leader in power is no guarantee that a country is progressing. They point out the case of Mobutu Sese Seko who ruled the then Zaire (today Democratic Republic of Congo) for over three decades, but to its total ruin. Fine. But none of these critics disputes the fact that unlike Mobutu, Museveni has taken his country much higher than he found it. As Chinua Achebe says: â€œA chick that will grow into a cock is known from the day it hatches.â€ Surely, after it has become a cock, it cannot become a hen; worse still a kite. Advocates for the removal of term limits are simply saying that in Museveni Uganda has found the cracking formula for its problems. The equation has not been solved yet, but the calculations are adding up, so why the rush to abandon
Museveni is like Nyerere and Mao