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Ugandans await Museveni’s guard of honour

Ramathan Ggoobi

Ugandans await Museveni’s guard of honour

All leaders that left the stage at the right time enjoyed a guard of honour, not humiliation by their colleagues. Mr. President, time is running out for you to join this club!

The year 1986 had many historic events. For the first time, the Beatle records went on sale in Russia on March 29; a “Big Bang” occurred in the United Kingdom when Margret Thatcher’s government suddenly deregulated all financial markets on October 27, sparking off a global trend that forever changed the face of the world economy. In the same year, Joaquim Chissano was elected President of Mozambique on November 3rd, to succeed Samora Machel.

However, in his right hand, at the steps of Parliament, and took oath as President of the Republic of Uganda. Ten months later, another youthful football fighter, Alexander Chapman Ferguson, was unveiled as Manchester United manager on November 6.

The arrival of both young men caused a lot of excitement and euphoria in Kampala and Manchester respectively. In Kampala, Yoweri Museveni was taking power at a time when the economy, the infrastructure, the security of life and property, and generally the socio-political and economic well-being of whole he country were total ruins.

In Manchester, the supporters of United had endured two barren decades without celebrating title victory. The would be football club had turned into a club of drunkards, and old Trafford had metamorphosed into a theatre of depression contrary to its supposed moniker of “theatre of dreams”.           

Museveni vs. Ferguson

Both Museveni and Ferguson embarked on their difficult jobs of rebuilding Uganda and Manchester United respectively almost at the same time. To both, the beginning was not that easy. In Uganda, there was lack of consensus on some key areas of macroeconomic management, in particular the choice between a closed and open economy.

The NRM government chose a closed model and opted for a revaluation which turned out to be a mistake as this fuelled more macroeconomic instability and worsened external volatility. Inflation galloped at 358% and the GDP growth of 1% was largely driven by the subsistence sector. Ugandans started to question the ability of their bush-war heroes to economically liberate them beyond the gunshots of the preceding regimes.    

At Manchester, Ferguson took over a team too “depressed” to win anything. His first game was a 2-0 defeat at undergoes Oxford United on November 8, 1986, followed seven days later by a goalless draw at newly promoted Norwich City.

In September 1989, when Ferguson’s United suffered a humiliating 5-1 away defeat against fierce rivals Manchester City, and this coming on the heels of an early season run of six defeats and two draws in eight games, a banner declaring “Three years of excuses and it’s still crap…Fergie out,” was displayed at Old Trafford. Going for the FA Cup third round against a good Nottingham Forest side, Ferguson was given that game as his last if his team failed to win. He won 1-0 and as they say, the rest is history.

Mr President, I have taken you through all this football history for two reasons: first, I understand you enjoy this beautiful game. We vividly remember the day you pulled on shirt number 7 at Namboole National Stadium in a UN charity game. Secondly, looking at Ferguson’s time at Old Trafford, one may be forgiven to think that the two of you were separated at birth. You simply have a lot in common.   

Fergie and Museveni’s sons]The two of you have a lot in common beyond the tenure of your offices. Ferguson is the most successful manager in United’s long history and equally you are the most successful President of Uganda. Like you, Ferguson was more successful in the 1990s winning trophies year-in-year-out. ]As if you were twins, towards the end of the twentieth century as you were asking Ugandans to give you a last term, Ferguson promised United’s fans he would step down as their club manager, only for both of you to eventually seek endless terms.  

Coincidentaly, like in your case, things began to turn against Ferguson and he won no titles for about three years. Many pundits started to ask him to step aside. This was also the time you faced unrelenting pressure both here and abroad (from donors) not to remove term limits from the Constitution and to “give Uganda a chance by stepping aside.” Both of you refused to relent.     

Like you, Ferguson has been accused of nepotism when he employed his son, Darren Ferguson, as a player in the very Manchester United team that he was managing. Darren played 30 times in United’s midfield in the early 1990s, and although he was not that talented, his father gave him enough games to qualify for a Premiership winner’s medal at the end of the 1992/93 season! Compare that with Brig. Muhoozi’s roles in the UPDF, where the media has reported that you keep creating for him opportunities in combat missions to enable him shine where he hasn’t played any key role.   

Just like Ugandans believe today how you are preparing your son to take over the presidency in the near future, Ferguson prepared his son, against all odds, to emulate him as a football manager. Today, Darren is the manager of Peterborough United, a League One (English 3rd division) football club. His team was relegated from the Championship (2nd division) on the day his father announced his retirement.      

Secret to Fergie’s success

However, Mr. President, although you and Ferguson have a lot in common, there are also notable differences in your leadership styles which might separate you in history books. Unlike you — who loves to stick to particular “players” even when it is obvious they have outlasted their usefulness — Ferguson never found it difficult to get rid of players whom he thought were no longer good enough. At times he carried out near total overhaul of his team.

Like all geniuses do, when it came to cleaning house, Ferguson started with the members of his team whom we thought were untouchables and indispensable. He didn’t mind how good we (and themselves) thought they were. Some like Roy Keane were even his close friends. Few could contemplate a Manchester United team without David Beckham, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane, Dwight York, Andy Cole, and Yap Stam.

Only Ferguson knew that for him to have a chance to surpass Sir Matt Busby as Manchester United’s greatest manager of all time, and to keep the club on top of English football, he had to work not with the so-called untouchables but with fresh, hungry, and energetic young men.
He replaced the Beckhams of this world with talented young men like Cristian Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, and other budding fledglings. And as pragmatism never lies, Ferguson and Manchester United have been celebrating unprecedented success they had failed to win with the so-called super-players.  

Time is running out!

Another difference between you and Ferguson is that unlike you, the Scot knew the right moment to say “Thank you to Manchester United, let me start enjoying watching you rather than suffer with you.” Although both of you have kept your cards close to your chests for far too long, Fergie seized a right moment to pull out his ace.

Mr. President, on several occasions you had such moments and you squandered them. Now you can see what is happening in your life. Every single day, very unpalatable events roll out. All your friends and comrades in struggle are distancing themselves from you. Others have started to ‘undress’ you. Your family, the one possession you had jealously guarded in those hey days, is being attacked and injured from all directions.   

Finally, while announcing his retirement last week, Sir Alex Ferguson, said, “The decision to retire is one that I have thought a great deal about and one that I have not taken lightly. It is the right time. It was important to me to leave (Manchester United) in the strongest possible shape and I believe I have done so.”

Mr President, because Ferguson took the right decision to step down on the high, he was a strong voice in choosing his successor, his compatriot David Moyes. This is what your idol, Julius Nyerere, also did in Tanzania; Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki in Kenya. Each of these leaders deservedly enjoyed a guard of honour, not humiliation by their colleagues, because they left the stage at the right time. Mr. President, time is running out for you to join this club of the greatest! We really feel we owe you a guard-of-honour.



Ramathan Ggoobi is Policy Analyst, and Researcher. He lecturers economics at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) and has co-authored several studies on Uganda's economy. For the past ten years, he has published a weekly column 'Are You Listening Mr. President' in The Sunrise Newspaper, Uganda's Leading Weekly

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