Like with many stories, the story of Yoweri Museveni and Kizza Besigye was consummated and nurtured by idealism. Similarly like many stories built on idealism, inevitably, it ended in betrayal, real or imagined.
The story of Ugandan politics over the past two decades has been dominated by two personalities – Yoweri Museveni, the incumbent president, and Kizza Besigye, his main challenger. In many ways, the political vision of both men has been marked by a certain idealism inspired by their participation in the 1981-86 liberation war, but whose relevance is increasingly coming into question by many Ugandans
Though they are widely seen as polar opposite, consciously or unconsciously, over the years, Museveni and Besigye have needed each other to maintain relevance among their respective constituents. Museveni cannot operate without Besigye, and vice versa.
The two are, thus, stuck in a historical time warp of unfulfilled revolutionary utopia.
In dealing with Besigye, the most formidable opponent yet, Museveni is guided by a sense of entitlement, while Besigye is led by grievances, both individual and collective. Museveni believes that he rid Uganda of dictators and tyrants and, therefore, that he should rule as he wills, unencumbered.
Besigye on the other hand is convinced that Museveni has perverted the ideals of the revolution they fought for together, and similar to the dictator and tyrants they fought, he should be fought, as a matter of principle.
The difference between the two, one could argue, is that Museveni is “flexible” and Besigye is “obdurate”. Museveni, sees himself as the grand patriarch of Uganda’s revolution, but with sheds of flexibility that allow him to stay in power. Besigye on the other hand sees himself as an egalitarian moral crusader, a position born of his days as the National Resistance Movement’s Political Commissar. In his unbending vision, he saw National Resistance Army as a movement to end all of the Uganda’s ill. He was and still remains a doctrinaire ideologue.
Besigye sees NRM as incurably corrupt, inimically unaccountable and a one man-circus- show. Museveni however sees NRM as the heir to the rich revolutionary tradition of restoring dignity and improving lives of the citizens.
Besigye’s obduracy- even if it costs him power and friends, in essence, is the difference between the two men- one a successful Uganda’s President and another the ‘People’s President.’
In real terms, Museveni is undoubtedly the winner- he has defeated Besigye in three straight elections, although, some may argue unfairly. But in symbolic terms, every Museveni’s electoral victory felt hollow, and insecure- the more he won, the more he and Uganda lost. In the end, Museveni’s victory looks increasingly pyrrhic, while Besigye’s electoral and personal losses – innumerable as they are, look like a victory for him and for Uganda.
But Besigye has reached the elastic limits of his defiance, he needs to give space, support and share his wisdom with the younger leaders because his cosmic ego war with Museveni is not good for Uganda.
But recent political trends seem to suggest that the egoistic contests between Museveni and Besigye, both drawing on revolutionary mantra, are fast losing their appeal among the younger generation.
Enter Bobi Wine
Kyaddondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known by his artiste name Bobi Wine, was 4 years old when the NRM came to power in 1986.
While Museveni’s and Besigye’s world view and program of action is mostly about history – fear, Bobi Wine’s world few is shaped by the future – hope. His background as a ghetto kid, figuratively and metaphorically, has more resonance with the majority of Ugandans, who identify with his story of triumph over adversity. Over 60 percent of Ugandans are under the age of 30. To this group, Amin and Obote’s horror stories which Besigye and Museveni are is wont to use, sounds like an old-lady’s myths. They would like to be entrepreneurs, music moguls and successful civic leaders.
Bobi Wine’s combination of a remarkable personal story of rising from the Ghetto to become an independent MP, defeating candidates sponsored by both Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change Party and Museveni’s national Resistance Movement, should be illustrative.
His campaign was funded by common people. Or, at least, it seemed to be so. Once the voting ended, they were willing to protect the votes by staying at the polling station. Even Besigye, with all his appeal to the masses, and Museveni, with all his state power, cannot inspire people to defend their votes.
Bobi Wine’s rise could also upset the regional ‘balance of power.’ Museveni and Besigye both come from Western Uganda. Bobi Wine is from Central Uganda, a region that has been a thorn in the side of Museveni, and which the president has attempted to subdue using all means necessary fair and foul, the land question being his latest assault.
If he would like to transcend the Museveni and Besigye duopoly, Bobi Wine needs to expand his base beyond the urban areas to the rural areas. Like every wily politician, Museveni has ignored the urban areas, and instead concentrated all his efforts on the rural areas. This has been lucrative for him politically. Bobi Wine needs to speak to the youth in Kampala as well as those in Kitgum.
The musician-cum-politician needs to be aware of economic ruin that Museveni visited upon those who threatened him. Amama Mbabazi- the super Minister, is a recent and poignant example. In the meantime, he should hire a tax attorney to ensure his tax returns with Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) are up to date, including from his days in the music industry.
The land question and the age limit have sufficiently radicalised a significant constituency in Uganda. And there is a significant number of the younger constituency in need of direction. To win them over, Bobi Wine will need to proactively and innovatively capture their issues and provide them with leadership.
Whether he will succeed in doing so is another matter, but that his rise so far marks the beginning of a turn from liberation war politics in Uganda is beyond doubt.