Uganda Election: How Presidential Campaign Has Eroded Museveni’s Stature

By Litfeed Writer

As Ugandans go to the polls tomorrow, 14th January, one thing is certain: The incumbent, General Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who is 78, will grab yet another mandate to extend his 35-year reign, making it his sixth elected term. This year’s election has been marred by violence, with nearly 60 people shot dead by police in street riots.

The army, which shot President Museveni’s way into power in 1986, has once again taken charge of what should have been a civilian operation largely guided by the police. Troops have been poured into the capital, Kampala, and others have been deployed throughout the country.

Musician-turned-politician Bobi Wine, 38, a Kampala MP, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu, has had the fight of his life campaigning against the veteran leader. He has during the campaigns been arrested several times and humiliated in public. The opposition presidential candidate’s singular achievement is that he has emerged as the biggest challenger to Museveni’s rule. However, during the countdown, with the election about a week away, he had to spirit his family overseas, saying that he had been reliably informed about a plot to kidnap his children and wife to intimidate and coerce him out of the campaign.

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Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate Patrick Oboi Amuriat has not fared any better, having also been arrested several times on the campaign trail. During one of the incidents, police sprayed his face with some chemical and he had to be hospitalised.

He took over the FDC mantle in this poll from Dr Kizza Besigye, the former aide-turned-foe, who has been Museveni’s most formidable challenger in several past elections. The medical doctor and former soldier colleague has taken a back seat this time around, saying that he didn’t want to share the limelight and take away the focus from FDC candidate Amuriat. There are eight other candidates of whom very little has been heard and might just have been there to swell the numbers.

It has been a pretty intimidating experience for the opposition candidates and hardly the atmosphere that would encourage the people to come out and freely cast their ballots to either reject or extend Museveni’s rule. This army is something of a personal venture, having evolved out of his National Resistance Movement (NRM), a rebel group that drove out the generals who had deposed founding President Milton Obote, who had been reinstalled with the late Tanzanian leader Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s support.

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The NRM morphed into the Uganda People’s Defence Force but there has never been any doubt as to who calls the shots. And a reminder that he may have overstayed his welcome but he will still be around much longer, was signalled by the reappointment of his own 46-year-old son, Lieutenant-General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, as the Commander of the elite Special Forces Group.

This is a well-resourced unit and that has among its responsibilities, presidential guard duties and is at the heart of the operations during this election.

Bobi Wine, who is popularly referred to as the ‘ghetto president’, was first elected to Parliament in 2017, representing a slum constituency in Kampala. Among the tactics used by the government to stop his campaigns is the apparent selective enforcement of the Covid-19 protocols.

President Museveni has dismissed him in several media interviews as an agent of Western powers and organisations, including homosexual groups that would wish to see him out of power as they did in Libya to depose Muammar Gaddafi and also in Sudan.

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Just like last year’s Tanzania elections, in which President John Pombe Magufuli bulldozed his way into his second and final five-year term, amid the repression of opponents and apparent voter fraud, the Ugandan poll has also been keenly watched in East Africa, Africa, and abroad. As some observers have pointed out, no matter the outcome of this election, Uganda will never be the same again. Museveni, the hero and saviour in 1986, has regrettably over the years turned into something of a villain, with the atrocities and repression by his security forces badly eroding his stature.

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