“Look at him!” the emcee at celebrations to mark 25 years in power for Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni shouts into a mic. “Look at him! He is very fit!”
The former rebel decked out in his usual – and fairly unique – floppy hat and suit combo ambles down a grass slope and waves cheerily to his supporters.
“Look!” she shouts again. “You can even see from the way he is walking!”
Moments later, a pick-up truck draws alongside the 66-year-old and he slowly clambers up onto the back to continue saluting the crowds.
“Oh…” she pauses for a moment before quickly gathering herself.
“He is in a car now!” she booms. “That is the modern way! He needs that vantage point to see you. He is a kind-hearted man who wants to see you!”
A nice bit of quick-thinking there from one of the party faithful all too aware the Ugandan opposition wants to portray the famously shrewd operator as past it.
That shrewd operating was plain to see as “Sevo” was careful not to make the bash about himself — rather it was about Uganda and its progress.
Reading out a list of 551 war heroes and parroting statistics about growth and exports didn’t exactly make for a great party but it got the message across: I care about the people. I rely on heroic Ugandans. I have made things better.
Few Ugandans would deny that. The country Museveni took hold of in 1986 decked out in his fatigues had become something of a sorry husk after years of civil war. He quickly made it stable, got it growing convincingly and became an example for other African leaders — the oft mentioned 90s “new breed”.
But, for many in the country and outside, something’s gone wrong.
And it hinges on one of his most famous quotes.
“The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power,” he said when he took the helm.
A quarter of a century later, he’s still there.
As he spoke about a new road at his celebration, a Ugandan leaned to me:
“120kms of road is what he’s boasting about after 25 years?! Big deal,” he said.
That opinion was reflected to some extent on radio phone-in shows and on social networking site, Twitter, as the country tried to make sense of his tenure.
A man identifying himself as Jeff called into a radio show and said: “The liberators have grown fat. And the people they liberated have grown skinny.”
That perception, right or wrong, that Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement have been feeding at the trough, is particularly damaging and anger is growing. An anger that was reflected on the radio, on the TV and in Kampala’s bars.
On Twitter some were equally scathing, especially after I tweeted from the party that Museveni had said, “We have recovered. We are now going to take off.”
“Huh!” journalist Evelyn Lirri replied. “It’s taken 25 years to recover. We might need another 20 to take off.”
There were others, though, who had nothing but praise for Museveni and were unconvinced that any of the opposition leaders could do better – an opinion seemingly shared by the U.S. as revealed in a cable obtained by Wikileaks.
The opposition are “fractured and politically immature,” the dispatch said. “It is by no means clear (they) would improve governance in Uganda in any way.”
For some, despite the marathon stint in power, Museveni is still the country’s best bet.
So what do you think? Is he still fit for power? Or is it time he took a rest?"