Polls apart: On Uganda under Museveni

Uganda under Museveni needs to reinforce the people’s faith in democratic processes

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s 76-year-old leader who has been in power since 1986, won another five-year term in the January 14 presidential election, but the contested result has pushed the country into its worst political crisis in decades. According to Uganda’s Electoral Commission, he won nearly 59% of the vote, while his main rival, Robert Kyagulanyi, a pop musician better known by his stage name Bobi Wine, secured 34%. Mr. Wine has alleged voter fraud, which the government was quick to dismiss, while putting him and several other leaders of his National Unity Platform under house arrest. The government cracking down on the opposition is not new, but this time, there were widespread reports of state repression of Mr. Wine’s movement in the run-up to the election. He was detained several times, his rallies broken up by security personnel, and the Internet shut down and social networks blocked before the election. Mr. Museveni’s government refused to accredit election monitors from the West, saying the U.S., after its election crisis, did not have the authority to monitor the elections. Observers from Africa have documented irregularities, including illegal opening of ballot boxes and arrests of members of civil society groups observing elections.

According to Ugandan law, Mr. Wine has 15 days to prove election irregularities, which is unlikely to happen as he is under house arrest and party offices have been raided by security personnel. The Internet was restored almost a week after the shutdown, but social media platforms, which his campaign used to connect with the public, are still blocked. It appears that Mr. Museveni, whose National Resistance Movement came to power by waging a guerrilla war in the 1980s, seems determined to prevent Mr. Wine even coming close to power. Uganda has long been torn by coups and violence before Mr. Museveni’s rise. Even after Idi Amin, the infamous dictator, was overthrown in 1979, politics remained volatile and violent. Mr. Museveni, when he captured power, promised reforms and stability. Consolidating power rather quickly, he offered a stable government and made Uganda an ally of the West in the fight against radicalism in East Africa. But his grip on power tightened and he forcefully kept the opposition below the radar. In 2005, Mr. Museveni amended the Constitution to remove the presidential term limits and in 2017, signed a law scrapping the age limit of 75 for presidential candidates. He might continue in office, but his greed for power and disregard for a fair electoral process and rights, coupled with economic woes, have already left cracks in his support base. Mr. Wine, in a short span, has emerged as the President’s most potent political rival. Mr. Museveni must realise that short-circuiting the democratic process might force Uganda to repeat its history of violent transfer of power.

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