Janet and Yoweri Museveni

By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
June 20, 2012

Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has been Uganda’s president for the last 26 years. By the time he retires in 2016 as he has hinted; he will have ruled volatile Uganda for three decades.

Born around 1944, he will have attained a respectable age of 72 when he quits from active politics.

Obviously after ruling Uganda for this long, Ugandans will be anxious to know who will fit in to Kaguta’s big shoes. Will this person the choice of Ugandans or will the person be the President’s private affair?

If Kaguta chooses to name his successor in 2016, he will not be the first African head of state to do so. Way back in the mid 1980s, Julius Nyerere chose Hon Ali Hassan Mwinyi from Zanzibar as his successor. Mwalimu later on had a hand in picking Benjamin Mkapa as Tanzania’s third president. This was good for Tanzania as far as continuity and stability of the CCM after Nyerere was concerned. And indeed, Tanzania has remained one of the most stable countries in the region ever since.

Following South Africa’s first multiracial democratic elections, Nelson Mandela chose to serve for only one term. However, before he left, he ensured that the younger Thabo Mbeki succeeded him. He knew that Mbeki could rule South Africa for the next decade and entrench the ideals that thousands of South Africans had fought died for. If Mbeki was removed from office in his 9th year in office, it had nothing to do with Mandela’s good intentions.

In Kenya next door, succession battles have always raged years before the incumbent exits from the scene.

In 1966 when it became apparent that Jomo Kenyatta was about to die in office, there was clamour for his succession from among the contenders of the time. Leading the pack were Tom Mboya, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Daniel arap Moi, Charles Njonjo, Njoroge Mungai and Paul Ngei among others.

As the jostling gained momentum, Jaramogi Odinga was eliminated from the race by being edged out of KANU. Three years later, Tom Mboya, the man who looked unstoppable through the ballot was felled by the gun. However, even after Mboya’s assassination, another populist firebrand; JM Kariuki emerged as the most plausible contender to the throne. His popularity cut across the entire nation because he spoke the language of the poor. Unfortunately, he too became the victim of assassins and was murdered in the Ngong Hills in the outskirts of Nairobi.

The murder of JM Kariuki in 1975 did not slow down succession tempo in Kenya. A year later, a group of MPs, mainly from Central Kenya met under the GEMA umbrella to plot a motion in parliament that would seek to change the constitution to bar then Vice President Daniel arap Moi from automatically succeeding Kenyatta upon his death in office. Had this group succeeded, it is most unlikely that Moi would have succeeded Kenyatta two years later.

When it was time for Moi to vacate State House after 24 years of uninterrupted rule, he scanned the political scene for a successor, never mind that he had a vice president who had served him faithfully for more than a decade. He eventually settled on the son of his former boss. That choice angered many Kenyans including the top leadership in KANU. At the end of the day, KANU disintegrated and Moi’s choice lost the elections. Mwai Kibaki who had fallen out with Moi ten years earlier became his successor through a popular vote.

As I wrote this article, Kenyans are at it again looking for a successor to take over from Kibaki. Will Kibaki succeed in naming a successor where Moi failed or will he steer clear of that messy political debate?

In Uganda, there are media reports that Kaguta Museveni may prefer his wife Janet Kataha Museveni to succeed him. There are good and bad reasons for this kind of intention.

In looking for a successor, Museveni may first want to look at Uganda’s ethnic, religious and regional diversity. And knowing how emotive the presidency is in Africa, one wonders the wisdom of subjecting a family member to that kind of public scrutiny. Remember that when Museveni came to power, circumstances favored him. Uganda needed a strong leader to bring the country together and stabilize its social, political and economic institutions. Ugandans were tires of war after two decades of turmoil under Amin and Obote. And coming home as a war hero; it was only fair that war weary Ugandans listened to him and gave him a chance. That chance he will have had for 30 years in 2016 despite his former comrade Kissa Besigye’s several futile attempts to dislodge him from power through the ballot.

The question to ask is this: are Ugandans ready for another Museveni or would they rather opt for an open competition to search for Kaguta’s successor?

However, if in the opinion of most Ugandans, they feel Janet Kataha Museveni has the credentials and most suited to carry on with Kaguta’s reform agenda, so be it. After all we have precedents in the Far East and South America where First Ladies have succeeded their husbands and done extremely well.

Yes, Janet Museveni, just like any Ugandan politician has every right to vie for the highest office in the land. After all she has broken the glass ceiling before by being the first First Lady to win an election and serve in her husband’s cabinet.
We can only hope that when the time comes, Ugandans will exercise their mature democracy and elect whoever they want, Janet included; to take them to the next level.


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