Paul Jacob

Yoweri Museveni has ruled Uganda since 1986. He seems to have started out as rebel, graduated to reformer, then segued to political monopolist. He's no Idi Amin...but he's no George Washington, either.

In Museveni's Uganda, competing political parties are banned; all citizens are regarded as belonging to a single party, the so-called Movement. "I happen to be one of those people who do not believe in multi-party democracy," as Museveni once put it. On the other hand, he is also credited with market reforms that have been applauded in the west. But even if we accede to the notion that Museveni is somehow an "enlightened" despot, rather than a particularly nasty, cannibalistic type of despot, that is no excuse for removing term limits on the presidency as he is now trying to do.

If Africa is not the continent, Uganda is not the country within that continent which should be making it easier for power-lusters to set up shop permanently. Even if their present leader is a quasi-okay guy, Ugandans can't expect Museveni to live for another 100 years. And what if the next leader is more like Amin than Museveni? In any society supposedly governed by the rule of law, the principles of governance must apply without favor. The goal is to promote the common welfare, not a single career politician's special convenience.

No such considerations burdened the rhetoric of Fox Odoi, the president's lackey and hatchet man, when he recently attacked Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala for venturing into the secular realm by voicing his support of term limits. Odoi told reporters that he has "spent some time now going through the pronouncements of the holy father--the pope--and I have failed to get his stand on this subject [of term limits], so where does the cardinal get his views?"

In other words: stick to your knitting, priest.

Cardinal Wamala has argued that dropping presidential term limits would increase the risk of dictatorship. (Correct. This is Uganda.) Odoi doesn't respond but merely belittles the cardinal for opening his mouth at all. In an opinion piece for the Kampala Monitor, there's more of this from Odoi: "[T]he Roman Catholic Church, in all its divine teachings has no position on presidential term limits. It does not even have a position on the papal term limits." Which also means that it would be wrong for the cardinal to publicly say it looks like rain. After all, the Farmer's Almanac has not yet been incorporated into church doctrine.

My American readers don't need to be told that politicians should not be telling church leaders to stop "frolicking in the realm of politics." But, alas, there is a parallel between Odoi's off-point denigration of term limits and the off-point denigration of term limits we get here in the U.S. For rarely, either, do the stateside critics of term limits directly engage the substantive case for this reform--i.e., the kind of case regularly presented in my Common Sense e-letter, which is read by all well-informed advocates of term limits in the U.S., Uganda, and the world over.

Instead, the career politicians and their allies are always muttering, mantra-like, that "we already have term limits, they're called elections"--as if no evidence had ever been presented to show that incumbents enjoy special advantages over challengers and, to boot, are more likely to be seduced by the trappings of power the longer they're in office.

But the United States isn't some kind of banana republic, where childish fallacy can win the day. Is it?


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.