Lessons for Museveni from Mugabe, and for Uganda, from Zimbabwe

Lessons for Museveni from Mugabe, and for Uganda, from Zimbabwe
Mugabe in Uganda last year for Museveni’s swearing in

COMMENT: Lessons for Museveni from Mugabe, and for Uganda, from Zimbabwe

COMMENT | Andrew Mwenda | The fall of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has been welcomed by many Ugandans with excitement. For many people tired of President Yoweri Museveni’s long rule, Mugabe’s fall gives hope that their nightmare is about to end. That a long serving president who had ruled his country like a colossus can fall from power must be encouraging to many anti Museveni Ugandans and worrisome to Museveni’s supporters.

Yet Mugabe fell not because he ruled for long but because of what I would call “family overreach.” Contrary to the sentiments of many Ugandans, those who have taken power in Zimbabwe – the army and most likely with former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa behind it – have not raised Mugabe’s longevity as an issue. Instead the attempts to purge ZANU-PF of its “historicals” precipitated the military intervention.

Thus Mugabe has been sidelined (I am avoiding using overthrown) because his wife was wrecking the foundation on which her husband’s power rested i.e. the old guard of ZANU-PF in both the political and military sphere. Indeed Mugabe has not been overthrown by the army. He had already been overthrown by Mrs Grace Mugabe.

The old man had been reduced to acting merely in the interests of his wife rather than the interests of the political and military structure that was a repository of his power. This is a coup against Grace, not Robert. In sidelining Mugabe, the political and military structure of ZANU-PF has reasserted its power.

Mrs Grace Mugabe has been ambitious, brass, reckless and arrogant. Yet she knew little about the dynamics of power. Like most people, she thought power in Zimbabwe resided in Mugabe. She did not appreciate that Mugabe, like any other leader in the world, cannot hold power singly.

Leaders act as representatives or faces of power. Their personality compliments and reinforces that power but it is never the foundation of it.

Once the structural foundation on which that power rests shifts, the face of that power loses it. Leaders wield power by making a series of bargains with the most powerful social forces in their societies.

An effective leader is not the absolute ruler who decides singly on the destiny of a nation (as western media and academic propaganda on personal rule in non western societies posits) but one who is a good referee to the competitions among powerful interests.

That is the source of Museveni’s or Vladmir Putin’s power, not their personalities. Personality does not create power, it buttresses it.

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