Monday, October 19, 2015

BUKENYA AND THE POLITICS OF FLIP FLOPPING

Former vice president Gilbert Bukenya caused a slap-the-forehead moment last week when he came out to say he was returning to the NRM fold after two years of dabbling in opposition politics and toying with the idea of running for the highest office in the land himself.

Of course condemnation of his about turn flew in fast and furious and to listen to his detractors you would think his political career had suffered an irreparable blow.

That may be as it is but it is also to ignore the way politics is developing on both sides of the political divide.

To understand the political tend in the country we would have to go back to 1986.

In 1986 when the NRM came to power it was politically thin on the ground as a political organisation. They made two related decisions that ensured they would be a major player in five short years and the dominant player by the time President Yoweri Museveni first put himself up for election in 1996.

To begin with they suspended political party activity. They argued that parties were divisive and they needed everyone reading from one page if Uganda was to climb out of its malaise.

Secondly, they allowed all political competition to be on individual merit. This cut down the clannish political parties influence even further as now anyone could stand for political office without having to kowtow to the party patriarchs (they were invariably all male).

"These two decisions gave rise to a whole new breed of the politicians who had little allegiance to the old parties and quickly found a home in the NRM. By the time 1996 came around the NRM straddled the political landscape like a colossus and the old parties were scrambling for relevance...

Fast forward to today and you have a situation where the NRM primaries, where in some incidents up to 20 contestants are vying for one position, are the decisive political contests leading up to next year’s polls. In many areas if you are the NRM flag bearer you might as well break out the champagne now not in March.

With that background any political operator knows that without the NRM behind you there maybe a long wait in the wilderness before you make it to the high table, if at all.

It’s against this background that Bukenya’s actions – and many others who have come before him and will follow him, should be judged.

It’s all very nice to seat on our moral high horses and fulminate about principles and morals, but the truth be told if you look around at our political elite they are neither employable or able to make a living outside the hand-outs that come with political office.

Much as they couch their decisions in popular rhetoric they are answering very basic bread and butter, existential questions when they make their political calculations.

"After all, in a country where the majority of us are still grappling with issues of poverty, disease and hunger there can be no sharp divides between the political parties on offer. And if our political elite are of the people and by the people it’s hard to see how they can be very different from the rest of us who are still at the bottom of the pyramid of hierarchy of needs...

We may tear out our hair at events but the positive way to look at it is that this is a stage in our democratic evolution.


On the one hand it may take years even decades to play out, so many of us may not be around to see a more enlightened society, but on the other hand, better we go through this now rather than force a higher level of democracy and be forced to regress to baser instincts we had not quite resolved in our past at a later date, when it will be more inconvenient.

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