To those little has been given, little shall be demanded. One of them actually won, the other was sworn in as president – by himself that is. The other again threatens to and one’s whereabouts are shrinking into oblivion. They share much; boldness, charisma, hardship, popularity, critical lack of flair, impulsiveness and narcissism! Their hardened faces testify of the hardships that the democratic journey, tragedies and resilience, our insipient democracies have gone through.
To these illustrious men we owe very much, much, little and nothing at all – in that order. They are and remain, fondly, the four biggest dictators of our region, extended on more than two decades.
They made it close, so close to power, they were always short-changed: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the chronicles of the Democratic Dinosaurs of the Great Lakes Region: I call Raila Amolo Odinga, Kizza Besigye Kifefe, Ethiene Chisekedi Wa Mulumba and Faustin Twagiramungu.
As Ugandans vote, I thought I would make a comparison between these men. The Comparison is subjective; of course. But well its fun, and after all, where else would you find such refreshing anecdotes, if not on Gateteviews…
‘Il y a des hommes qui sont nés pour être des opposants’; (there are men who are born to be in opposition), Mobutu once told Ethiene Chisekedi wa Mulumba – the historical opponent of: Congo, Zaire, then Democratic Republic of Congo, affectionately known as the ‘Sphinx of Limete’
While Museveni is the facetious one in Uganda, Twagiramungu has brought little else, than much needed comedy into Rwandan politics, most times unconsciously and at his own expense.
We will never know if they would have made good presidents or how many votes they really garnered in elections. Two of them will put up what is probably their last fight; they will loose or be cheated again. Either way the script is written, so is the Supreme Court’s ruling: ‘Irregularities were observed in the electoral process, but not substantial enough to call into question the final results…’; And so will the hammer go down, after a petition to nullify the very expensive and highly risky masquerades that some of these countries subject themselves to, in order to please donors and other democratic fundamentalists
They will declare victory or contest the electoral results, but it won’t matter; nature assigned to them a role, that of ‘outliers’. Had they accepted it gracefully like Al Gore, their unlucky American counterpart, they could have played a much more useful role, like saving mother earth… They are partly responsible for the political stagnation of the young people in their respective countries.
Experts in mimicking their lifelong opponents, their agenda and rhetoric are cloned to that of the incumbents like shadows follow humans.
General Mugisha Muntu, the President of the Ugandan leading opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), a man whom, unlike his party member Besigye, is known for composure, once remarked: ‘we have to change the image of our party, because people know us for criticizing the ruling party and not for what we stand for’; we don’t know much about them or what they think, save from their spectacular disapproval of the policies and deeds of the ruling parties.
‘If you vote for me, you will be walking around with swaggaaaa’ –Besigye’s new catch phrase, in response to Museveni’s fresh rap release: ‘Kwezi Kwezi’. For a Ugandan voter if one has to choose between Kwezi and Swagga as political manifestos, I have to say, it’s best to stay in bed. This was his last shot, except unlikely chaos inUganda, Besiggye may have just played the last card in his hand.
Chisekedi will be remembered as the man who dared defy Mobutu at a time when no one could. At many occasions he had the courage of leaving the confortable seat of Prime Minister when he felt undermined or pushed into redundancy.
Presidents have come and gone, these men have remained true to themselves, different teams, same game plan: Oppose, oppose, oppose!
Which brings me to Twawgiramungu Faustin: He opposed Kayibanda, Habyarimana, Bizimungu and now Kagame. He saw the country change, but remained the same: hardened, radical, eloquent, comical. His time never came. From his exile in Belgium, he makes a comment every now and then; we listen, we laugh and we move on; to him I have but one young man’s advice: To age gracefully; as would have wanted Poet Rugamba Cipiriyani; when he sang: ‘Oya daaa, wikabya. Gyumenya gusaza utanduranyije cyaneee…’
Of course I am being generous by putting Twagiramungu on the same pedestal as these three men, save maybe for the mistakes he made. Not as generous perhaps was Wikipedia, which offered him a paragraph as compared to the essays it reserved the three others.
Change is their declared leitmotiv; and that is the problem. If these men were all the change we have, then our region would still be politically deprived. Luckily that is not the case, and more than the incumbents, the dinosaurs have obstructed the emergence of fresh ideas from young members of their respective parties. While dictators believed they are irreplaceable in power, dinosaurs believe they are irreplaceable in their own parties; when asked why after many unsuccessful attempts they haven’t given a chance to greener ideas, their answer is uncanny: ‘I am here because of the will of the people… of my party!’
Raila was unlucky, or just failed to read the cards; in his moment of strength he could have forced an automatic power-transfer to himself after Kibaki’s lost and rigged elections and be spared of the so-called technological failures that caused him the highly coveted seat in the next electoral circle. He will try again, one last time and pose a significant challenge to the tribal coalition in power; after that, he will be like John the Baptist; the voice that cries out in the desert; a place no strange to Tshisekedi, Twagiramungu and now, in all likelihood Kizza Besigye Kifefe. They are our eternal opposition leaders; we love them right where they are.
Tshisekedi was destined for more, much more than any politician alive in the Congo today. His ego was his undoing; had he served under Mobutu, quietly waiting for his turn like Tanzania’s Magufuli, or even flair the advance of Rwandan troops; he could have made a much better president than both Kabilas combined; father and son.
At one of his swearing-in as prime minister – a position to which he was appointed and removed frequently by Mobutu, Chisekedi, the doctor of laws that he was, thought appropriate to edit the text of the constitution by crossing passages in the oath, that he felt were unsavory to a man of his caliber; namely: ‘I shall pledge allegiance to the person of the head of state, etc.’ – in the presence of Mobutu, who naturally presided over the event.
Twagiramungu was always destined for less; he could thus have stayed on his best behavior, sit back and enjoy the ride, many have and are still to date enjoying the fruits of a tree they did not plant – or water… He mistook his populism for power. He was never taken seriously – but by himself; he constantly overrated his potential; still does… at past seventy he has just started a new party: (Rwanda Dream Initiative) RDI-Rwanda Rwiza; I checked it: all its content in English; an outcry for the half-Belgian citizen that he is – Its never too late…
While they tried their best to hold those in power in check, I am afraid these men are stuck in the past. Their rhetoric has not evolved much; which tells us that they aren’t big reformists. While they energize masses, they have also ensured that no younger leaders would emerge. Aged past 60 they are still splitting hairs with younger party members, for the leadership of… the opposition. We all watched in shock, when Besigye came out of much deserved retirement, to challenge the new president of his own party, in order to give us another stint at his virulent anti-Museveni rant…
In my humble opinion, the main reason they were never elected is that they really never presented tangible alternatives from the establishments. Over the years they managed to document the mistakes of incumbents and their successors in power and mastered the art of bitterness. Having failed to oust incumbents through democratic – or military means, they put their faith into the West’s support, also in vain.
Which is why at 72, Museveni was unbothered to declare in the recent debate: ‘that goes to show that there is only one man on this platform who can lead Uganda; these others have no idea on how to build. They prefer ‘ebyayidde’ – what is already made.’
So they have been refreshing at times, and toxic at other times to our regional politics, they are mutually responsible for dwarfing of our democracies, which they wouldn’t want to let go off just yet.
The Kenyan people would like to move on from tribal politics; but good old Agwambo, or ‘Tinga’ affectionate for Raila, seem to have nothing else to offer, sadly. The same strategy he used against Arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki and now Kenyatta.
I suspect they are hungrier than the corrupt leaders in power; like Senegalese Wade, having tried four times over three decades, almost chocked himself with graft, once he finally sat on the country’s chest – his son is still in jail to that effect…
I don’t know about you, but wouldn’t vote for any of the four men, for that would actually be regression. Tsisekedi’s time is gone, Twagiramungu’s was never up. Odinga will have one more shot; let’s wait and see. But I would have preferred some younger candidates, groomed in their parties to spring up…
I am too young, yet I oppose a harsh judgment to these four men. I would have wanted them to inspire me more. I have been frustrated by incumbents at many occasions, when I turned to them I found nothing. So let me just say, they gave it their best shot – utmost respect! it wasn’t just good enough – not that the game was fair, why should it be…