Why breaking promises turned M7 into a dictator

Yoweri Museveni during his first swearing-in ceremony on January 29, 1986.
Yoweri Museveni being sworn in for the first time as president of Uganda by then Uganda Chief Justice Peter Allen on January 29, 1986.

By Eric Kashambuzi

When Yoweri Museveni (the incumbent Ugandan leader) captured power in 1986, everything at the national, continental and global levels was in his favor. Uganda needed a saviour after 15 years in political and economic wilderness. Africa was going through a lost decade governed by dictators and the world was demanding democracy, good governance, human rights, the rule of law, term limits and regular, free and fair elections.

Surrounded by a cadre of distinguished intellectuals, Museveni prepared and published in 1985 a 10-point programme that captured the prevailing mood. In the programme and subsequent speeches around the globe, he promised to end suffering in all its forms and dimensions in Uganda. He committed himself to eradicating, not reducing poverty. He promised that every Ugandan would wear shoes denied to them by previous regimes. He promised he would end wasteful spending like on presidential jets and parties. He condemned corruption and sectarianism in the strongest terms as well as winner-take-all in political, economic and social affairs. He promised a government of national unity, equal opportunity and individual merit. He promised that Uganda would become an industrialized country and a middle class society within 15 years of his administration.

Museveni underscored that sovereignty resides in the people to be served by the government. He called for the rule of law, democracy, free and fair elections, science and technology as the foundation of Uganda’s transition from a poor to a rich nation. He urged African leaders not to overstay their welcome in power. Accordingly, he promised he would step down as soon as security was restored in Uganda and concentrate on community and Pan-African affairs. He promised the late President Habyarimana that the Uganda revolution would not be exported to Rwanda. Unlike in the past, Museveni promised a new constitution that would be based on the wishes of the people through comprehensive consultations.

This comprehensive agenda based on consultations, transparency and participation, endeared Museveni not only to the people of Uganda but to those of Africa and the entire international community. His speeches in Uganda, the African Union and United Nations summits and conferences were published widely including on front pages of major newspapers like The New York Times. Museveni became a star performer and was regularly invited to the annual summits of the world industrialized countries. The United Nations also invited Uganda ministers and experts regularly to participate in panel discussions.

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