Thursday, May 6, 2021

Museveni’s grip on Uganda: ‘he doesn’t believe in change’

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When Yoweri Museveni was first sworn in as President of Uganda in January 1986, he was already looking to the future – his own. “No one should think that this is happening today. . . is a simple change of guard, ”said the bush hunter-turned-president.

Fast forward 35 years and history proves him right. Despite his promise not to stay in power too long, there has been no changing of the guard since. Uganda’s electoral commission on Saturday said Mr Museveni, now 76, had won a sixth term, though his main opponent, rap singer Bobi Wine, said the results were rigged and he would have won a fair competition.

“Museveni after committing the vilest electoral fraud in history, resorted to the most despicable forms of intimidation,” Mr. Wine tweeted after the Internet was restored on Monday following an orderly shutdown by the government last week. He is still under house arrest in Kampala.

Initially hailed as part of a new generation of African leaders by the international community, critics increasingly compare Mr. Museveni to other elderly autocrats such as Teodoro Obiang in Equatorial Guinea or the late Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

In the absence of a succession plan, the president seems to have convinced himself that it remains essential for the future of his country. “There isn’t a lot in the world that I don’t know,” he said in an interview with Channel 4 news last week. “Uganda is doing very well. We are a very strong system because we know what we are doing. “

Less ideological than some freedom fighters, such as Mugabe, Mr. Museveni was quick to adopt a mixed economy model that saw production increase tenfold during his tenure and helped maintain foreign aid to flow. He called on Indian entrepreneurs previously ousted by dictator Idi Amin to restore a minimum of stability that was sorely lacking in the tumultuous decades following Uganda’s independence in 1962.

Yoweri Museveni was first sworn in as President of Uganda on January 1, 1986 © The LIFE Images Collection / Getty

Yoweri Museveni after voting Thursday in Kiruhura, Uganda

Mr. Museveni after voting Thursday in Kiruhura, Uganda, © Badru Katumba / AFP / Getty

During his early years, Mr. Museveni was also praised for his openness to AIDS and a mass prevention campaign that brought the epidemic under control. But while it has regularly held elections to bolster its so-called democratic titles, political protests have become increasingly violent. Western powers, though disenchanted with its use of coercion to maintain power, reluctantly treated it as a force for regional stability. Uganda has pursued a generous refugee policy and has provided peacekeepers to regional hot spots, including Somalia.

According to the IMF, more than 12% of Ugandan government spending comes from grants and foreign funding. “The country as a whole relies heavily on funding from development partners for a number of infrastructure projects, social services and credit for capital investment,” said Priya Manwaring, Ugandan economist at the International Growth Center of Kampala.

Although Mr. Museveni continued to milk foreign aid and military assistance, he has repeatedly made fun of foreigners for what he alleges to be interference in his country’s internal affairs and more recently has criticized for allegedly supporting Mr. Wine. Uganda on Tuesday accused the United States of subversion after its envoy attempted to visit the opposition politician. “[They think] the problem with Uganda is that I’ve been in government for a long time, ”Museveni told Channel 4.“ It’s our advantage. So we don’t agree.

Livingstone Sewanyana, who heads the Uganda Human Rights Initiative Foundation, said Museveni was convinced Uganda would collapse without him. “He doesn’t seem to believe in succession; he doesn’t believe in change, ”said. “He doesn’t believe in democratic means. Everything revolves around him.

Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, a Kampala-based political scientist, said Mr Museveni’s longevity threatened to undermine his achievements. “He unified the country to some extent, but the longer he stays, the more the country seems to fracture.”

At a weekend press conference, held from his home, surrounded by Mr. Museveni’s troops, Mr. Wine called on Western donors to review their aid to Uganda. A senior American diplomat, who provides nearly a billion dollars in aid a year to Uganda, recognized the dilemma of assisting an autocratic regime, if it is useful. “He should have retired gracefully some time ago,” he said.

Bobi Wine addressing a press conference held at this house on Friday

Bobi Wine at a press conference at his home in Kampala on Friday © Luke Dray / Getty

Security forces near Bobi Wine's house on Saturday.  He remains under house arrest

Security forces near Mr. Wine’s home on Saturday. He is still under house arrest © Sumy Sadurni / AFP / Getty

There are few clear signs that Mr Museveni’s grip is loosening. Opponents said he dominated the courts as well as the security forces. They accuse his government of both corruption and nepotism – his wife, son and brother hold senior positions in the administration.

Mr Museveni acknowledged the frustration of the country’s youth, many of whom supported Mr Wine, although he warned against any attempt at a Sudanese uprising. “Whoever brings violence will be defeated,” warned the president.

Mr Museveni said he still had a mission to accomplish, but would discuss succession plans with his party when the time came. Mr. Golooba-Mutebi, the political scientist, said it was unlikely. “Officially, there is no succession plan that anyone knows about,” he said, adding that if Mr. Museveni were to die suddenly, infighting would follow.

Sporting a military jacket and wide-brimmed hat, Museveni said over the weekend that he would not rule in the interests of elites or foreigners, but in the interests of the Ugandan people.

Some of his supporters, who took to the streets wearing the presidential party’s yellow colors, seemed to agree. Mr. Wine, for his part, did not. “He’s a dictator because he’s been in power for 35 years,” he told the Financial Times. “He believes he’s supposed to be president for life.”

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