Why popularity in politics matters more than experience, competence
By Musaazi Namiti

As the countdown to next year’s election continues, we are paying more and more attention to Ugandans who are gunning for big political jobs, mainly the presidency and parliamentary seats.

The issue of experience and competence keeps coming up. And it should. People want to be certain and confident that they are going to be led by individuals who will deliver and make things happen. It makes a great deal of sense, and it is only to be expected.
Many Ugandans, especially on social media, have said times without number that some aspirants—we do not have candidates yet because nominations have not started—are too young and inexperienced.

I agree with those Ugandans, and since I am a mature man (with flecks of grey in my hair), I easily notice the youth, immaturity and inexperience in our aspirants—probably more than the average man and woman does.
Yet I find that when we dwell at length on inexperience and immaturity, as we have, we lose sight of what politics is.

As I have previously argued in my opinion essays in this newspaper, politics, like religion, goes hand in hand with emotion. Some would even argue that politics and emotion are a bit like car and battery—inseparable. There is not much objective thinking in politics.
I may be stating the obvious, but I think that political leaders in many places are always going to be individuals that people want in power, not necessarily the best fits, not individuals with vast experience of life and proven ability to lead.

If politicians with practical experience gained, for example, from public and high-profile jobs they have held in the past cannot win elections—and we know perfectly well that many just cannot—it goes without saying that they cannot hold positions of political leadership. They are electorally useless. They cannot become MPs; they cannot become presidents. And, crucially, they cannot lead Uganda.

By contrast, individuals who are capable of winning elections—it does not matter that they are young and inexperienced, are semi-literate or that they consort with drug abusers or have been drug abusers themselves—will always be in positions of political leadership. They will run the country; they will call the shots.

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Uganda has men and women that I know many voters agree can lead the country and probably manage it better than the current president, . But can those Ugandans be elected? Can they win presidential elections? Can they appeal to and excite voters?

As things stand, I doubt that Uganda’s veteran politicians, the ones with the requisite political experience—think Dr Kizza Besigye, Nobert Mao, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, Cecilia Ogwal, Olara Otunnu, etc—can beat Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, also known as Bobi Wine, in a presidential election.

We have held presidential elections since 1996, and we have had some really good presidential candidates. But the good candidates never get anywhere. Voters themselves have been heard saying: “Well, he is good and his manifesto is great, but he cannot win.”

Good manifestos do not win elections. Academic qualifications from world-class universities do not either. Letter-perfect English cannot win an election. Voters vote for you because they like you, because you are popular, because you say things they want to hear, although most of those things can be bare-faced lies, rhetoric, half-truths or falsehoods.

We have many politicians who have and are capable of doing the things mentioned. They are chosen by voters. That is what the voters want. True democracy respects decisions of voters.

Mr Namiti is a journalist and former
Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk
musaazihnamiti@gmail.com @kazbuk

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