In Uganda last week, I was taken aback by just how much President Yoweri Museveni’s moral standing has collapsed.
You talk to most people, and they nearly all have a disparaging story — or below-the-belt joke — about him.
Once a leader who inspired awe, now church leaders who used to queue up at State House to praise him and partake of his favours, have joined in disdainful chorus for him to go home.
There were media reports that some MPs are plotting to amend the constitution and return presidential term limits that were scrapped in 2005.
To get the necessary votes for that, Museveni paid MPs $6,000 each. Museveni has been in power for 26 years — longer than all Ugandan past presidents combined, and most of the country’s pre-colonial kings.
Last week, there were also reports that the president has already put together an operation for his re-election in 2016.
Actually, that was old news. As early as November, it emerged that his confidantes were working on an “Akasimo” project. That is a “last term to thank the elder statesman”.
In 2016, Museveni will have been in power for 30 years, and will be 72 years old.
And in a sign of the times, even his age has become a matter for mockery. His critics say he is much older, as his 1944 birthday was arrived at by popular acclaim with the First Family.
Last year, as activists met to celebrate the president’s official 67th birthday, the opposition held a city parade bearing a large birthday cake for him — but to mark his 73rd birthday, because they claimed he had shaved six years off his actual age.
When happened next was a comedian’s dream. The riot police attacked them and destroyed the cake.
There lies a possible explanation for the moves to return term limits. Before 2016, Museveni will have to get parliament to amend the constitution to remove the restriction on someone who is older than 75 being president.
To get that amendment, he may have to accept a return of term limits.
Last week, I drove around Kampala to see new developments.
My mind went back to 1986 when Museveni took power after a five-year guerrilla war, and the wreckage that he inherited.
If one has a sense of history, despite all the corruption, the national epidemic of potholes, and wanton police cruelty against the opposition, the changes that Uganda has gone through under Museveni are truly remarkable.
But that is not the headline, nor is it going to be. Very few people, even some of his supporters, forget that.
To many, Museveni is the father figure of the most corrupt and iniquitous government Uganda has ever had.
In some places, when he comes on TV, people walk off or switch channels.
Now, Museveni seems trapped. He’s hanging on to power hoping, in vain, to salvage a legacy. As someone put it to me, “Museveni has nothing else to do or anywhere to go. So he has retired into the presidency.”
Museveni deserves much better than that. He deserved something close to the prestige that Julius Nyerere took with him into his retirement.
He now looks unlikely to do so, because he is unable to do the simplest thing: To say goodbye.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: email@example.com. Twitter: @cobbo3