Ugandans are euphoric with the single story “#WhatWouldMagufuliDo”, which is trending on social media (Mugendi 2015). Ugandan politicians and ordinary citizens alike want to be seen to be operating or buying into or promising to operate within the logic of the current president of Tanzania – His Excellency John Pombe Magufuli. On social media, the trending single story of President Magufuli presents the President with messianic saintly tones. He is mostly depicted as a sort of Robin Hood (Myth folklore on line 2004). His presidential decrees which are seen as redirecting resources from the seemingly unethical greedy rich towards the poor are celebrated.
One such presidential decree, it is reported (Nesoba 2015), cut the budget of the inauguration party of members of parliament from an original budget cost of 250 million Tsh to actual expenses of only 15 million Tsh. Reportedly (Nyanje 2015), by presidential decree, imported food items were cut out of the party budget and only local finger foods, juices, sodas, Tanzania’s Dodoma wine were served. The savings of 235 million Tsh that resulted from this particular decree were reported utilised to purchase 300 beds, 300 mattresses and 1,695 bed sheets which have since been installed at Muhimbili national hospital.
President Magufuli, according to news reports (SA people news 2015), has decreed a cut down on international travel by government officials, instructing them to instead take more frequent trips to the rural areas of Tanzania. The decree has also set limits that if Tanzanian civil and public officials do travel abroad they must travel ordinary economy class and not first or business class.
Plenty stories in the news (BBC News 2015) focus on how President Magufuli has decreed that a 54-year Tanzania tradition of commemorating its independence will not be done on 9th December 2015. And that instead the funds allocated for the commemoration will be used for a cleanup campaign, since there is a cholera outbreak in parts of Tanzania.
President Magufuli the saintly mover and shaker of things in Tanzania is the trending story of the moment. Ugandans on social media are full of adoration of President Magufuli. His social media profile has become larger than life itself. His persona is now a trend with many justifying their choices – good or bad – as resulting from a reflection of #WhatWouldMagufuliDo. He is heralded as the kind of leader African nations need. He is considered totally awesome. President Magufuli’s trending single story carries connotations that he should be emulated by other presidents of African nation-states – that is to say presidents of African nations should ‘efficiently’ and ‘effectively’ rule by presidential decree in favour of the poor.
There seems, in fact, to be selective amnesia among Ugandans in particular and the global media in general on matters of African presidents ruling by decree in favour of the poor. History clearly shows that President Magufuli is not the first leader of an African nation to espouse the ‘bulldozer’ mentality against the rich in favour of the poor. President Magufuli’s no nonsense results driven approach, which has earned him the nickname “Bulldozer” (Windsor 2015), has in the past been associated with other leaders of African nation-states.
Keeping it close to home, for example, Hussein Lumumba Amin (Amin 2015), the son of Uganda’s former President, Field Marshal Idi Amin, has on social media described President Magufuli’s ‘bulldozer-approach’ as being “the exact hands-on approach that Amin used to insure that government was providing expected services efficiently.” As a matter of fact, there are indeed some (Idi Amin Dada Foundation 2007) who actually consider President Amin to have been one of Uganda’s great leaders. Observers have even gone further to assess that as sections of Uganda’s population get increasingly disgruntled and heart-broken by President Yoweri Kagutta Museveni’s broken promises, including longevity in power – since 1986 to date, the opinion that President Amin was a better president than President Museveni is gaining traction in the popular press.
Analysts (Zedriga 2010) caution us to recall that in 1986 when President Museveni took power his promise of an administration that was “not a mere change of guards but a fundamental change” was received with jubilation and great hope for the future of Uganda. In 1986, when President Museveni took over power it was believed a new day for Uganda – the messianic leader had arrived. Similar with President Magufuli, it is on record that President Museveni in 1986 pledged to the people of Uganda that he and his administration would desist from indulging in a lavish life style.
Historical archives are awash with the famous promise that President Museveni made in 1986 that he would not be like ‘problem-leaders’ of Africa who overstay in power; promising that he would stay in power for no more than 10 years. During the 1990s, President Museveni’s popularity indeed soared high. He was recognised by world leaders as among the new generation of African leaders (Wikipedia 2014). He was among Africa’s new leaders who were perceived and celebrated in the popular press as being committed to democracy and economic reform for the good of their respective populations. He was heralded alongside other African leaders, such as: President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, President Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea, President Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, and President Thambo Mbeki of South Africa.
President Museveni’s popularity was at its highest in 1996 when 75.5 percent of Uganda’s voting electorate democratically elected him and endorsed him as the President of Uganda. How could they not. The smoke-screen of the Museveni single story that the media had popularised was still thick in the air. Ugandans still believed, for example, that the essence of his 1986 decrees still held true. Decrees such as the one in which he ordered that plastic mugs and furniture that are made in Uganda should be used in State House. Specifically, that the furniture to be used in State House would be made by poor active Ugandans who were residing and working in slum areas, such as in Bwaise.
Like President Magufuli’s decrees, President Museveni’s 1986 decrees were popularised by the media as being revolutionary and exciting decrees. And like President Magufuli’s decrees, President Museveni’s plastic-cup decree and his local-furniture decree seemingly redirect resources back to the majority. In the case of Uganda it was the hardworking Ugandans who were getting a raw deal from unfair global trading practices who were the would be beneficiaries of President Museveni’s 1986 presidential decrees. Like President Magufuli in 2015, in the late 1980s and early 1990s President Museveni was the ‘it-leader’, he was ‘our man’ and he was absolutely adored by the press which predominantly told a single story of him.
Well, nearly 30 years later, the jury on President Museveni’s messianic rule-by-decree leadership is long back in. If at all there are any plastic cups in Uganda’s State House, judging from imagery in the popular press, it is doubtful that the first family uses such cups. It is plausible that only the lowliest state house workers currently use plastic cups in Uganda’s State House, if at all. Certainly, photos of the interior of Uganda’s State House by journalists (Oluoch and Barugaba 2012) erase any doubts that the furniture currently in State House is not made in Bwaise.
Reality checks among Ugandans began to truly sink in during the 2000s as may be deduced from that the fact that the media began to tell another single story for President Museveni – he was not the messiah after all. Nevertheless, in 2001 President Museveni again contested and won Uganda’s Presidential elections with the endorsement of 69.4 percent of Uganda’s voting electorate choosing him to continue ‘serving’. It is popularly believed that many Ugandans thought that the 2001-2006 term would be his last term in office and that is why they overwhelmingly voted for him once more. The logic followed: let us reward and show appreciation of the messiah one more time for he is a great leader. Some may find similarities with such logic with what is currently going on in Rwanda. The Rwanda parliament has changed Rwanda’s Constitution in order to allow for President Kagame to remain president longer – he is great, and there isn’t yet another like him, kind of logic.
President Museveni’s long time friend, Dr. Warren Kizza Besigye Kifefe (retired Colonel of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces), with whom he has fallen out, was his main challenger in Uganda’s 2001 elections. In that election, Dr. Besigye was voted for by only 27.7 percent of the voting electorate. By 2006, however, President Museveni’s popularity had significantly waned when it became crystal clear that he has irreversibly broken his promises to the people of Uganda. He is seemingly the same as Africa’s ‘problem-leaders’; those such as he had criticised in the past for overstaying in power.
While President Museveni won the 2006 Uganda presidential elections, he was endorsed by less Ugandans – 59.3 percent of the voting electorate – denoting a 10 percent drop in his popularity, in comparison to the 2001 elections; and a 16.2 percent drop, in comparison to the 1996 elections. His main challenger in 2006, again Dr. Besigye, had a 10 percent gain in his popularity, as compared to the 2001 elections; in 2006 Dr. Besigye was voted by 37.4 percent of the voting electorate.
The two friends turned into foes in 2011 again contested Uganda’s presidential elections. That time round Dr. Besigye’s popularity had waned. He was voted by 26 percent of the voting electorate; an 11 percent drop in his popularity in comparison to the 2006 elections. While President Museveni enjoyed a nine percent gain in popularity – in 2011 he was voted back into office by 68.4 percent of the voting electorate. Some are of the view that Dr. Besigye’s egotistical, abrasive, confrontational and bulldozer style tendencies repulsed a significant section of Uganda’s undecided voters who chose to vote for President Museveni within the logic of the English idiom (UE – Using English.com 2002) “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”.
Thirty years since he took power, in 2016, President Museveni will again be one of the choices on the Uganda Presidential Election Ballot Papers. Yes, he is contesting again. And again one of his main challengers is Dr. Besigye. The other is another of President Museveni’s long time friends with whom he has also fallen out – Mr. John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, Uganda’s immediate former Prime Minister. No doubt, among the fundamental transformations that President Museveni has achieved, is him transforming from being among the ‘new generation of African leaders’ to being among the African ‘problem-leaders’ he once criticised in his youth. Analysts (The Economist 2013) now categorise President Museveni among those problematic leaders who cannot bear to retire.
But then again, did President Museveni go through a transformation or is it actually the case that he is still who he has always been? Might the individual of the person of President Museveni have governed Uganda differently, including retiring within 10 years as he had promised, if his individual autocratic, megalomaniac tendencies had from the onset been checked and subjugated to restrict him to operate and conform within the collective of the genuine democratic decision-making structures of Uganda the nation-sate?
Put another way, might presidents govern differently if from the onset the media focus is not popularising a single story, but that rather the media tells dual or multiple stories. That is to say, while celebrating presidential decrees, the media and all other active citizens would also at the same time analyse what the full implications of presidential decrees are. When a president makes a decree that re-allocates resources from one approved budget vote to another un-budgeted vote, what does this say about all those civil servants and politicians before him who made and approved the plans and budgets or were with him when they made or approved the budgets? Is it sufficient to simply justify the presidential decree on grounds that funds are being re-directed from the greedy rich to the poor?
How does a presidential decree affect the work ethic of those civil servants and politicians who participated in making and approving the budget now dismissed by presidential decree? What does it say about the value that individual citizens place in the formal institutions which ideally define the society, such as a country, in which they live – you know the written down policies, plans, laws, etc., and the informal institutions – unwritten down beliefs and norms? When the individual – the person holding public office – uses the public office that they hold to ‘bulldoze’ through decisions, in this context presidential decrees, however saintly they may be, in what way or not is the particular individual conforming with expectations for one who holds such an office to abide as defined – formally or informally – by his particular society?
When the individual – the person holding a public office – does not abide by norms and goals valued within his society – in this context the stipulated roles of a president and of the other public offices – is it not in fact counter-productive to celebrate that individual? Is it not tantamount to celebrating a societal deviant? After all, this person would necessarily be operating in violation of and in deviance of the particular social structure of his society.
If one is persuaded, as I am, with the school of thought that views society as an organism then one appreciates the necessity of dealing with society as a whole. As a sub-part of society, it is the responsibility of the media to inform members of their respective society so that members of their society can make informed decisions. Importantly, in addition, if the media does not do its job well, such as when it tells single stories, this has the power to over-nourish the ego of the individual beneficiary of the single story narrative. To the extent, for example, one may believe in the fallacy that within their respective society they are the only ones with a vision and the ability to run state affairs.
It is currently campaign season in Uganda. For emphasis and for your food for thought on the role of the media, I conclude by sharing here below an extract of a social media exchange we had in regard to media reports of the promises made by Candidate Dr. Besigye to return land grabbed to rightful owners. You see, Candidate Dr. Besigye is the beneficiary of a single story; a story that insinuates that he is the only one who will be able to unseat President Museveni; and a story which he, Dr. Besigye, has fully internalised.
Dr. Besigye is quoted (Kirunda and Kasasira 2015) as having said that if he is elected president, his government will ensure that all the land grabbed or acquired illegally is returned to the rightful owners; and that when he comes to power, the law will work and whoever is getting the land wrongly, will lose it. In reaction to those media reports of Dr. Besigye’s promise to return grabbed land, I provoked an exchange on social media as follows (ME = me and supporters of my viewpoint and KB = supporters of Dr. Besigye):
ME: How absurd. Land grabbing in Uganda is sanctioned by state law (Owaraga 2014). This politics of lies – promising the impossible just so that one gets a sound bite full knowing that he has no power or capacity to deliver is what depresses me about politicians in Uganda #ThereIsNoNeedToLie. Short of abolishing Uganda the nation-state for which he wants to be President, Dr. Besigye is incapable of returning grabbed land from the first nations – Teso, Buganda, Acholi, Lango, Karamoja – to it is rightful owners. Let us take Karamoja, for example, is he going to de-gazette national parks, reverse mining contracts, etc. and return the lands to Karimonjong? How is Candidate Besigye going to address historical injustices that go over 50 years back when the nation-state Uganda was formed?
KB: All those laws will be scrapped and swept away.
ME: That can only be achieved through a dictatorship and not a democracy – so there is no point of him engaging in campaigns and claiming to be a different ‘democratic’ leader.
KB: Life is about mindset! What you see as impossible, to some people is a walk over! It is important to have a positive mindset!
ME: It is not impossible to dismantle the nation-state Uganda but it is unlikely that it is going to happen in 2016 -2021. And the challenge I am throwing at you is to explain how I am wrong and show me how he is going to scrap existing laws and dismantle the nation-state Uganda and moreover within one presidential term.
KB: Nothing is impossible if you understand what is called a decree. One single decree can reverse all land grabbed as long as it is accompanied by a good bureaucracy. Amin sent out Indians by decree and it’s legal.
KB: Norah Owaraga this is how it is done (tags me to a post on President Magufuli decrees and with #WhatWouldMagufuliDo).
ME: Decrees are used by dictators because they hate consensus. It’s not the kind of Uganda I need for Ugandans.
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