President Museveni is striding a muddy path on inauguration day, today, May 12, as he begins his six consecutive term in office, that will extend his long rule to 40 years in 2026.
He faces a blend of problems, unanswered questions and huge public skepticism about his potential to deliver on his promises
Governing especially in Buganda and more-so in the capital, Kampala, will be hard, given the underlying shifts in loyalty and the youthful electorate that voted overwhelmingly for his closest challenger in the January 14 2021 general election, Robert Kyaggulanyi aka Bobi Wine. Kyagulanyi was the presidential candidate for the opposition National Unity Platform, NUP.
Buganda has been one of Museveni’s strongest voting blocs since 1986 when he took power. But losing a big layer of support here suggests the president may have to walk a precarious political path to be able govern and to calm the escalating political tensions in the region.
Museveni polled 5.8 million votes of the 9.9 million votes cast while his main challenger polled 3.4 million votes. The Electoral Commission’s official data shows NRM got 35 per cent in the central region while Kyagulanyi’s NUP, a new player on the political scene, snapped up 62.01 per cent. The NUP revolution also torpedoed many ministers in Buganda.
But instead of calming a nervous public, the capital, Kampala, finds itself under a military siege as the president cracks down hard on political opponents. Many opposition youths are languishing in jail, arrested during and in the immediate aftermath of the January 14 2021 general election. Many are accused of involvement in subversive activities, which they roundly deny.
The president’s actions have drawn wide international condemnation. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged Ugandan authorities to take immediate steps to end the ongoing abductions by suspected state agents and cease the unlawful detention without trial of opposition supporters.
For the first time in his 35 year rule, the president is having a hard time selling his re-election victory as an ultimate result of a free and fair election exercise. His American and European backers have refused to give their much needed nod of approval to an electoral victory they see as having been attained through the use of excessive force and repression.
Last month, the US announced an official travel ban against unnamed high profile government officials shining critical light on an increasingly important question: How damaging are the existential consequences for such banishment for the country and certainly the sanctioned individuals?
Many regimes have collapsed under the weight of international isolation. Can Uganda survive the isolation using a bullish approach to push back against her critics? Museveni has increasingly warned foreigners against meddling in the internal affairs of Uganda.
He is convinced foreigners are pushing for regime change in Uganda and propped up the opposition in the last elections.
Though no names were mentioned, at least we have an inkling of who must be on the travel blacklist. When Congressmen began pushing the outgone Donald Trump administration last October for a more muscular response to what they described as “human rights abuses in Uganda and the country’s slide toward authoritarianism, the lead campaigners brandished a list of errant Ugandan officers that should be sanctioned.
The list featured mainly men in security and law enforcement jobs with all the tools of coercion, who were at the frontlines of enforcing law and order in the run up to the January 14 2021 general elections.
The congressmen asked for seven military officials to be personally sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky sanctions programme including; Gen. Peter Elwelu (Commander of Land Forces, for his role in 2016 killings in Kasese), Maj. Gen. James Birungi (Commander of the President Museveni’s elite force – the Special Forces Command [SFC]), Maj. Gen. Don William Nabasa (former SFC Commander), Maj. Gen. Abel Kandiho (Director, Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence [CMI]), Maj. Gen. Steven Sabiiti Muzeyi (former deputy Inspector of General of Police and now General Manager Luwero Industries), Commissioner of Police Frank Mwesigwa and Col. Chris Serunjogi Ddamulira, the Director of Crime Intelligence in the Uganda Police Force.
And last month, the U.S Secretary of State, Anthony J Blinken announced that the US government had imposed visa restrictions on Ugandans involved in undermining the democratic process in Uganda.
In a statement posted on the U.S Department of State website, Blinken said, “The government of Uganda’s actions during the recent electoral process undermined democracy and respect for human rights. Today I am announcing visa restrictions on those believed to be responsible for or complicit in undermining the democratic process in Uganda including during the country’s January 14th elections and the campaign period that preceded it.”
The statement further said the Uganda government’s actions represent a continued downward trajectory for the country’s democracy and respect for human rights as recognized and protected by Uganda’s constitution. “Opposition candidates were routinely harassed, arrested and held illegally without charge. Ugandan security forces were responsible for the deaths and injuries of dozens of innocent bystanders and opposition supporters as well as violence against journalists that occurred before, during and after elections.”
The president’s vitriolic public speeches and hardline actions paint a picture of someone feeling embattled and pushing hard against his critics.
Kyagulanyi used his address last week at his home to vow to continue pushing for the ouster of President Museveni. He said his work has been made easier because Museveni is facing resistance from all directions.
“Museveni will not be able to sit on that (presidential) chair properly; he will just squat on it because he has been surrounded. When you hear that his people have been denied visas to America, to you, it might not sound like a big thing but to them it’s big because that’s where they go for treatment and shopping,” Kyagulanyi said.
But Morrison Rwakakamba, the newly appointed board Chairman of the Uganda Investment Authority, believes the international community will come around like it has always done.
“The international community takes President Museveni very seriously because they have worked with him for very many years. If there are diplomatic glitches the government will be able to solve them. Those pains can be healed from a diplomatic point of view,” Rwakakaba said, adding that as the political temperatures cool down, Museveni will begin to talk to all protagonists.
“The president is reaching out to the opposition, you see him meeting NUP people, they formed an alliance with UPC and I think he’s ready to listen and engage and he has that special skill. That’s why he has been able to lead for so long,” Rwakakamab said.
Can he deliver on promises?
On page 289 of the 2021-26 ruling NRM manifesto, the party states that since 1996, it has been writing very good manifestos that swayed Ugandans to keep it in power. However, the party claims weaknesses in implementation have taken the shine off the good ideas.
Now as the party gets another mandate to lead Uganda for the next five years ending 2026, opponents are not very optimistic about the future. According to people interviewed by The Observer, the next five years of President Yoweri Museveni are going to be more of the same.
Makerere University’s Mwagusya Mwebesa while speaking about what he expects of the new term of office for Museveni, simply quoted former Prime Minister and 2016 Presidential Candidate Amama Mbabazi’s poetic four word sentence “MORE OF THE SAME”.
In the 294 page manifesto, the NRM talks largely about getting the country into the middle income bracket. All the priorities listed explain how the party is going to improve household incomes. The theme of the five years is securing Uganda’s future.
The manifesto notes that the NRM has met most of the goals and aspirations of Ugandans.
“We have made giant steps in our endeavor to improve the quality of life for all Ugandans. We have built a firm foundation to steer the economy for social transformation and economic take-off into self-sustaining growth. Under the leadership of the National Resistance Movement, our democracy has deepened and blossomed to full maturity, to the extent that anyone can now dream of leading Uganda. At every definitive stage in our long journey, the visionary leadership of NRM has always championed progressive policies and programmes to steer the country forward,” the manifesto notes.
“This is an epic journey to our destiny and while it might be replete with challenges, it is full of hope and promise,” it adds.
In the last six elections the party has won, it has been coming up with different manifestos many of which according to opponents remain unfulfilled.
“Through our successive visionary manifestos, we have rallied Ugandans around our strategic policies that best serve their diverse aspirations and enhance their welfare. When NRM sought, for the first time, your support and mandate to lead this country in 1996, our promise was “Tackling the Tasks Ahead.”
Over the years, you have renewed this mandate and enabled NRM to make steady progress in taking Uganda to modernity through job creation and inclusive development. We are now ready for take-off. The theme of our manifesto this term is “Securing Your Future,”
The manifesto also talks about five priority areas that the party is going to vigorously focus on. These include; creating wealth and jobs, delivering education and health, ensuring justice and equity; protecting life and property and achieving economic and political integration of the East African Community.
Joel Ssenyonyi, the spokesperson of the National Unity Platform, said President Museveni has not kept many of his promises.
“When you are a leader and your preoccupation is about staying in power, all your focus will be on how to fight off those who are after your seat as opposed to service delivery. All the resources are channeled towards buying off the opposition and neutralizing others. That’s why security has a very big budget to buy weapons and teargas. Not much is put in the health sector and education,” Ssenyonyi said.
According to the 2021/22 national budget, at least Shs 4 trillion out of the Shs 44 trillion will be spent on security and defense.
To Ssenyonyi, therefore, the continuation of the Museveni presidency means; “more death to people who are opposed to him, more death to people in hospitals because there is no medicine, bad education, more corruption, more wasteful expenditure, and the more the country sinks in debt. That’s why for us we are committed to keep fighting until we kick him out. He’s been terrible; he’s only going to get worse.”
Kira Municipality MP and outgoing Opposition Chief Whip Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda said it’s unfortunate that President Museveni, who has clocked retirement age, continues to cling on as head of state.
“You are going to see some few faces in his cabinet; his friends who have been grumbling will be in just for pleasure not for performance. You have someone with no drive, someone who is past the retirement age of Uganda. This swearing in ceremony for him is not a day for assuming the responsibility of moving the country forward but a wedding to celebrate,” Ssemujju said.
He said they will fight until Museveni is out of power.
“One engineer told me that a building can collapse under its own weight without external force. I see Museveni eventually collapsing. Actually for me my fear is what will befall the country after Museveni has collapsed. I get to think that probably he might not finish this term. He’s an old man and with pressures in government we might have another African head achieving his dream of eventually dying in office and the transition from Museveni whenever it comes is something the country should begin preparing for. Unfortunately, I don’t see any preparations,’ Ssemujju said.
Unlike the naysayers, NRM surrogates still believe in Yoweri Museveni and his capacity to deliver on his promises. David Livingstone Zijjan, the MP-elect for Bugembe County in Jinja district, said for the three weeks he spent at Kyankwanzi under the tutorship of Museveni, he was convinced that this time round he is really passionate about serving the people.
“He’s passionate about government functioning and leaders playing their role. You could hear his heartbeat telling us to go back and work for the people. He was emphasizing commercial agriculture after ekibalo [calculation.] I’m very hopeful that things are going to change for the better,” Zijjan said.
He added that it’s also unfair to saddle all the responsibilities of transforming Uganda on the president yet there are other leaders across the country with similar mandates.
“I don’t look at Museveni as having failed because at some point he has been frustrated by some people in leadership and the rampant corruption. But amidst all these, he has done a better job compared to previous regimes. But nevertheless, this time we are keen to see how the cabinet looks like because it seems the president acknowledges the biggest percentage of the population are young people who feel unrepresented,” Zijjan said.
Rwakakamba says the energy the president has put in industrialization and job creation is testimony to the good things yet to happen.
“The president is laser-focused on jobs through industrialization and manufacturing and you can see the last cabinet meeting approved the establishment of 25 industrial parks each hosting 100 industries which are expected to generate 250,000 direct jobs,” Rwakakamba said.
He adds that those accusing the president of having slept on the job for the last 35 years and waking up now to start creating wealth for Ugandans don’t appreciate the challenges he has been dealing with.
“Remember at the beginning it was the reconstruction of the state, and then you had insurgencies in different parts of the country for almost 20 years. There was limited time to focus on wealth creation and the core needs of the people when you still have an existential threat. I think now there is a clear focus on industrialization and household income and at the end of the day, he will deploy the bureaucracy to be able to implement the agenda because he’s not running the country alone,” Rwakakamba said.
He added that despite the recent political upheavals emanating especially from the January election that have seen over 1,000 people arrested and more than 50 killed in antigovernment protests, if there is a solution to the economic problems then inadvertently there would be a solution to the political question.
“Economic issues are intertwined with the political issues because then you will not have people rising up against you because they don’t have opportunities. If we sort the jobs through the industry, I think the challenges of Museveni and the NRM will have lessened,” Rwakakamba said.