Analyzing the power of incumbency in the East African region
Incumbency in politics is a very strong connotation. Holding elective office means access to a skilled staff, a treasure trove of campaign cash and the sort of name identification that money can't buy. This brings me to the alpha and omega question; can the incumbent especially at the level of presidency lose an election?
It has increasingly become public knowledge that incumbency provides insurmountable advantages, lee-way to unduly influence an election and this power has been completely misused especially in the context of the third world countries. In East Africa for instance, no single sitting president has lost an election. Many people have argued that Moi’s gesture of handing over power to Uhuru Kenyatta who consequently lost the 2002 presidential election was almost as good as Moi losing the 2002 election. Myopically viewed, this argument could pass but a deeper analysis would reveal otherwise.
In Tanzania, only one political party that took over from the colonial masters in 1964 has managed to retain power till today. Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) was a mere transformation of Tanzania African Union (TANU). Actually most people have referred to the change as mere rebranding because CCM remained with the very TANU structures including the leadership. Julius Nyerere who was the first Tanzanian president, handed over power to his party member Ali Hassan Mwinyi who later handed over to party colleague, Benjamin Mkapa and consequently to the current Jakaya Kikwete.
Rwanda and Burundi have had a history of coups and genocides that have led to regime changes. Until 2000 did both countries embrace fundamental electoral processes. When Burundi went to its first multi-party polls in 2005, Pierre Nkurunziza who was a decorated coup star won the election and has been re-elected since then, till today. Rwanda’s story is not any different; Paul Kagame came to power after fighting a civil war against the Hutu government in Kigali in 1994. Since then, Kagame has entrenched himself in the political society of Rwanda, organized two elections; 2003 and 2010 which he has undoubtedly won with landslide margins of over 93%.
Uganda is not an exception to the already identified scenarios in its neighborhood. After a purged history of political turmoil including civil/political wars and coups mainly driven by selfish interests, Yoweri Museveni assumed power in 1986; his government instituted a process to collect views from the grassroots to develop a constitution. In October, 1995, a new constitution was promulgated which enshrined the Movement system of governance. Since Museveni’s grand entrance to the helm of Uganda’s politics, he has consecutively won all the four elections that have been organized under his administration since 1996.
The incumbents have in unhampered way derived their illegitimate stronghold from the existing weak state organs such as parliament, the judiciary; their unchecked access to public resources; their unbridled personalization of governments and the prejudiced state security apparatus and civil service.
It is important to understand that the incumbency advantage reflects the collective irresponsibility inherent in most of our selfish governments. Not even comprehensive political reform processes (not backed by force) would dislodge an incumbent president. Throughout the history of East Africa, I explained, power has posed an enigma to mankind. It has appeared overwhelming and humanity has always been driven to the point of despondency by the tyranny of political class in power. The political man remains the eternal tenant who never pays rent. As proven by history, only bullets, armies and jittery citizens rather than the ballot can depose the comfortable tenant.
The ideal would essentially be that, the power of incumbency only comes to bear when the incumbent has performed and has done things that the people are benefitting from. Well, this not what it is around our beloved region. As political analyst Gwada Ogot says: Hey Jake, “there is no vacancy in the government house, back off!”