Uganda’s 2016 Elections
A Case of Unbearable Necessity
Watching Uganda’s [newly elected] president prattle on about how one local newspaper was biased against him ostensibly summarized the recently-concluded Ugandan election quite handsomely: first, Yoweri Museveni, 71 really does not give two hoots about what anyone thinks about him; second, Uganda’s president for the next five-year period is in the throes of celebrating a deserved victory, and three, in this day and age of social media and all other forms of messaging, leaders are still quite capable of making a good number of their own citizens feel powerless.
You see; a great many Ugandans went out to vote for both their president and member of parliament. They stood in line for hours — at least those in the urban areas like Kampala — and some were able to vote, albeit hours and hours later. But for others, the images of just a few days before Election Day were seared in their mind’s eye. The putative leader of the opposition, Kiiza Besigye — Museveni’s former confidant, doctor and soldier — had been arrested and detained twice in one day. In the ensuing fracas, someone had been shot dead by either the police or security forces. Some Ugandans deemed the dead youth a hero, while others simply said he was a murder victim — senselessly killed due to circumstances that had unnecessarily gotten out of control.
The reality is that Yoweri Museveni would have won re-election quite comfortably without kids meeting their ungainly end from a bullet. He’s still widely popular and considered the man who brought peace to the country, allowing people to sleep comfortably — unlike erstwhile leaders like Milton Obote, and of course, that Idi Amin. While his NRM government has been accused of widespread corruption and incompetence, Museveni is, somewhat, immune to these things. He is seen solving disputes — major or minor — and he’s seen talking about real things that actually happen. People see roads being build and factories with supply chains coming online. Uganda is doing brisk business with other African countries, and it does not matter that the country’s credit rating has been termed ‘unstable’ by an agency. No. People in Uganda are working their tails off, and in 2015, the country was considered the world’s most entrepreneurial country by a credible agency.
But those who know President Museveni refer to him as a masterful manipulator. He is just as wily and he is stern. During the above-mentioned gaggle with the press, he mentioned democracy and the modicum of freedom of speech. Yes — people can say whatever they want. People can write whatever they want. This writer is Ugandan and is not afraid of saying whatever he wants about Museveni. There’s a chance that nothing will happen to anyone of us. However, when it comes to staying in power, Uganda’s 10th president does not mess around. A quick look at Uganda’s power structure says woe be tide to anyone that threatens Museveni’s legitimate power. People like Kiiza Besigye will receive the brunt of the state apparatus, simply because they pose a significant threat to Museveni personally, and to all those who serve at the will of the president. Case in point: Uganda’s police force. They are, perhaps, the best example of who will come after you should you mess around with the office of President [Museveni]. This is who people are really afraid of. Under the management of a military general, it seems as though they have a mandate and sheer force to implement things that would rain pain down on those who dare to question the president’s law and order. Besigye tried and is currently still under house arrest. It does not matter that his wife is head of Oxfam International. She and everyone else can say whatever they want to say. Kiiza Besigye is a Museveni Enemy, and he will not be tolerated.
It helps that Museveni’s political party continues to maintain majority status in parliament, and that a whole host of those close to the governance structures are considered well-to-do. This is how wealth and resources have managed to make it down to the grassroots. Someone becomes a Minister, and soon, they have a new house in the village. This new construction does something to the villagers, makes that Minister’s neighbors happy since there’s a chance that the house will have electricity. That is Museveni’s work, some will say. Coupled with the fact that they can sleep peacefully at night, it really does not matter that their prospects for jobs or getting to middle class status like Uganda Vision 2040 portends are quite laughable. And when election time comes around, the festivities around rallies and watching people make promises they cannot really fulfill is enough to get people to the booth to pull the lever for their beloved leader. That’s it — and Museveni keeps on winning — minus hands being down.
The post-election press conference concludes as ceremoniously as these things usually go. The press are, somewhat helpless, in this situation. No one wants to suggest to the president that there was unnecessary overreach by his security forces. There’s a real fear for actually speaking out. So, it seems as though everyone will go back to being Ugandan as soon as all social media functions are back. Hopefully, the police will stop patrolling the streets and searching cars going in and out of Kampala. Perhaps, they will just let people to go back to their ordinary post-election lives, knowing full well the true meaning of life presidency.