THIS week, Scrutator was transfixed on events unfolding on the African continent. As was expected, Ugandan strongman Yoweri Museveni managed to get 62 percent of the vote in the presidential elections by hook or by crook, extending by five more years his 30-year stay in office.
I must say that I generally like Museveni as a person. Unlike his perennial opponent Kizza Besigye, who is unattractive, ugly and unwatchable, Museveni is suave, articulate and generally intelligent. The only thing he shares with Museveni is that they are both not lookers, though Besigye is much worse. Whenever I see Besigye’s face, it reminds me of Donald Trump’s diatribe against her now fallen opponent for the Republican Party nomination, Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive officer of Hewlett Packard.
“Look at that face!” the real estate mogul said. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that face, being the face of our next president?!” commented the garrulous Donald Trump. For our many Basotho who live on planet mars, without any clue of current affairs, Trump is the portly and chubby businessman front-running the race for the Republican nomination for the 2016 contest to replace the immensely gifted and handsome Barack Obama as president of the United States.
However, what I disagree with Museveni is over his Robert Mugabe style lust for power. After 30 years in office, Museveni should have surely long passed the baton to the many gifted people in his NRM (National Resistance Movement). But alas, power has corrupted him. I also don’t like the way Museveni treats Besigye. Even ugly opponents deserve better treatment, especially if they are opposition leaders.
Uganda’s election went according to a well-worn script: arrest and harassment of opposition rivals, a chaotic vote, stuffed ballot boxes, Facebook and Twitter blocked, and the Big Man emerges victorious.
Since the beginning of the election period, Besigye has faced ubiquitous harassment including countless arrests. After losing the vote to Museveni and after calling for street protests against the outcome, Besigye has been picked up every morning by police and taken to a police station where he is held until night fall before being brought back to his residence without being charged for any crime.
Could we see him fleeing to join Uncle Thomas (aka Cyclone Tom) in Ficksburg, or Ntate Thesele and Auntie Keke in Ficksburg? The jury is still out. But if that is what Museveni wants, then he must let the world know. I am not sure if there is a King Kamoli in Kampala. But if I were Besigye and thinking of exile, I would certainly choose Ficksburg than Ladybrand. At least Ficksburg is far flung from Makoanyane barracks.
The sad thing about Museveni is that he was hailed across Africa in the 1990s as a new kind of leader who empowers rather than impoverishes his people. He restored stability after decades of bloody upheaval and after the lamentable years of the world’s foremost buffoon Idi Amin, Milton Obote and Tito Okello. Museveni boosted economic growth after long years of ruin. He beat back a high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate. He was hailed in the West as an archetypal example of a new breed of dynamic and democratic African leader who deserved generous aid for development. However, like all the leaders who overstay, he has slowly but surely become an albatross on the neck of Uganda’s advancement.
Museveni is in the ignoble company of Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos and Zimbabwe’s 92-year-old Mugabe, the unacceptable face of humanity, who have all been in charge for at least 36 years or more and are determined to never relinquish power.
Mugabe’s garrulous and uncouth wife Grace recently declared that the nonagenarian dictator, who now regularly stumbles at public events and reads the wrong speeches, would not retire, saying he would be taken to work in a wheelbarrow if necessary.
Imagine being ruled by the same ruler for over three decades. We should spare a thought for our African brothers and sisters. As Mark Twain said: Politicians are like diapers; they need to be changed often and for the same reason.
As Basotho, we need to count our blessings that, despite our many problems, our vote still counts. Power seamlessly changed hands in Lesotho following the 2012 and 2015 general elections. That is certainly something to be proud of.
However, our democratic gains can all go down the drain without a vibrant and ever-present opposition to continuously take the government to task over its policy decisions.
This is where Scrutator has a problem with the opposition bloc’s continued boycotting of the National Assembly. While the reasons opposition MPs are refusing to come back to Parliament are very valid, they nonetheless risk losing sight of the bigger picture. Indeed, the government should ensure the safe return of exiled opposition leaders, as demanded by the latter, given the unsavoury events that have been taking place in this country over the preceding years. The government should also pronounce on whether King Kamoli goes or stays.
However, the reality is that not all of the opposition’s demands would be agreed to by government.
Ntate Mosisili was unequivocal in his tabling of the SADC Commission report that they would “pick and choose” recommendations such as Ntate Kamoli’s firing “on their merit”.
Ultimately, the government and opposition will have to meet each other half way in coming up with a framework for the return of the exiled leaders and ending of the boycott. They can also agree on a dignified exit for King Kamoli. Making him the paramount King at Lesotho’s embassy in the United States would for example be a good way to lure him away from the LDF. The opposition must accept that there is just no way that King Kamoli will agree to go quietly. He will fight to the bitter end. And as I have wondered before, who will be send with his dismissal letter and actually muster the courage to deliver it?
Boycotts can be a good strategy as a means to an end. But it all becomes problematic when a boycott becomes an end in itself.
Boycott politics have their limits and might in fact achieve the opposite results. A sustained boycott of Parliament may result in the opposition losing momentum. The lost momentum will be hard to win back or regain because, unfortunately, in politics the saying that “out of sight is out of mind” applies for the electorate. Opposition politicians need to be constantly in the public eye to endear themselves to voters. Parliament is key for opposition parties to remain relevant as it provides the best platform for both noise making and contestation of ideas.
Just look at the way Julius Malema is using Parliament to build his red berets, the EFF. The EFF’s “pay back the money” campaign against Zuma over his theft of millions from national treasury for his Nkandla project has not only made Zuma the laughing stock of the world, it has boosted the EFF. Surely, if the SA opposition was continually boycotting the august house, Zuma would have gotten away scot-free with his thievery. The EFF would have never risen the political ladder so quickly.
Like Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla report is for the opposition in South Africa, the Phumaphi Commission report should be manna in heaven for Lesotho’s opposition. But how will that happen if the opposition is constantly outside Parliament?
What platform will they use to debate, the report and insist on its implementation. What is the best platform to confront the Prime Minister and tackle him on the issues the opposition is passionate about? It surely ought to be Parliament. You can be rest assured that Mr Size Two would never pitch up in Ficksburg, or Ladybrand to discuss this report.
Finance Minister Khaketla has just presented her budget. A national budget is another opportunity for the opposition to shine. We should be preparing for the opposition to critique the budget in an intelligent and very intellectual fashion. Soon after SA Finance Minister Pravin Gordan presented his budget speech, Julius Malema presented his alternative budget speech. The Democratic Alliance (DA) proffered its own critique. I haven’t read or seen anything from any opposition party critiquing M’e Khaketla’s budget other than Joang Molapo’s one liner describing the budget as “the most useless one” without offering a single reason why he believes the budget does not live up to standards.
I am not even sure if Ntate Thabane appointed a shadow Finance minister before shuffling off to Ficksburg. Come election time, his party then changes the dates on its old election manifesto and recycles it without any new ideas informed by current challenges. Yes the opposition has very legitimate grievances. But the best platform to fight for them is in the National Assembly.