Yoweri Museveni, along with other guerilla leaders ousted Idi Amin in 1979, with the backing of Tanzania. He went back to the bush in 1981, after an election which he claimed was rigged and formed the National Resistance Army to launch a guerilla struggle. He finally took power to become the President of Uganda in January 1986. Museveni wanted to unite Uganda and rid it of sectarianism and pledged to bring “fundamental change” and not just become a “mere change of guards.” Museveni argued that electoral party politics split underdeveloped countries along ethnic and religious lines and so he promised to provide a different kind of African leadership with a new system of politics in Uganda, the “Pearl of Africa.”
After Museveni came to power, Uganda’s economy began to grow and his commitment to tackle poverty was lauded. Furthermore, primary school education enrolment improved and the HIV level dropped because of an effective anti-AIDS campaign. In 1996, Museveni’s popularity was affirmed after winning the presidential elections with a resounding 75% and was described by US President Bill Clinton as the head of a new breed of African leaders.
His public image however began to crumble when Uganda and Rwanda invaded neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo in support of rebels fighting to overthrow the government. His image has further weakened due to his position to pursue military means rather than negotiation against the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda, a problem which he had said would be dealt with “in a short while,” but one that continues till today, affecting millions of people and causing instability.
Interestingly, on Thursday, Museveni called for national reconciliation and said “the spirit of forgiveness could even be extended to Idi Amin” and that “we should not squander an opportunity of reconciliation.” The call for reconciliation came during the state funeral of former President Milton Obote; a man Museveni overthrew following a bitter war. Museveni’s gesture has surprised many Ugandans and more so his comments on forgiving Amin.
Museveni indicated that need for national reconciliation became apparent after “We reviewed the turbulent history of Uganda and we saw the need for reconciliation,” and that “Since the resolve of reconciliation is a lot stronger, we have to review the position of the late President Idi Amin.” It is yet to be seen how this would effect the ground situation but it has given hope and is seen as an opportunity to heal a violent past and to address unresolved issues to enable Uganda move into the future.
At a time where politics is defined by power, Museveni’s change of attitude reveals that grace remains an essential art of realpolitk, without which there is no future. Perhaps grace can be critical yeast in encouraging just political relationships.