Wednesday March 2 2016

Uganda before, during, and after elections. The fire next time?

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

Songs will be sang, books written, poems composed, jokes span, and histories penned on the February 18 election for the next 30 years.
Let’s start – or rather continue.

One of the things that is puzzling is why the regime (I will not say President Yoweri Museveni for reasons I will explain shortly), has upped its torment of Opposition leader and Museveni challenger Kizza Besigye, in total disregard of the law, local, and international opinion.

And Amama Mbabazi too is under house arrest.
Anyway, arresting, tear gassing, jailing Besigye is pretty much a defining feature of the government, but in the aftermath of what looks like an election swindle, it has been taken to another level.
The FDC themselves allege that it is an attempt to prevent Besigye from filing an election petition, hence they claim their agents are being hunted and intimidated to sign forged declaration forms, and those who refuse are being tortured.

Yet, even that doesn’t really add up, because it would be easier and neater to get a pro-Museveni court to knock out the petition on a technicality very early.

Even a cynical and closer watcher of Museveni, but an insightful analyst of the politics of the motherland, told me “kyaba too much”.

Fortunately, he still has head screwed on and gave me his own analysis.

In his view, Museveni has been “knocked off balance” not so much by how the country really voted, but how it has shifted as revealed during the campaigns.

He is sure the country has swung away from Museveni. He is not persuaded it is really pro-Besigye. Rather, he believes Besigye is the “holding candidate” of the people who feel the country has lost its way, and Museveni has no more juice.

Put another way, he thinks Besigye is like the car the leasing company gives you to drive, as they wait for the one you ordered from them to arrive.
I don’t agree with him, but I will put his view out there all the same.

But it’s what he said next, which tallies with what two other folks have suggested, which are more interesting.
They speculate that the result of the election has left Museveni weak, and that a succession struggle has started around him with three factions involved.

Ironically, one of the unsaid things informing this is that the failure by Museveni to organise a clinical election heist, speaks to the fact that he is “losing control”, and therefore less able to guarantee the future of himself and those who revolve in his orbit.
That, therefore, there is a need for more capable hands to assist him meanwhile.

Besigye, they say, has become a pawn in this bigger game, because the faction that can show it’s unafraid to deal with him whatever the consequences, would demonstrate that it has the nuts to stand up to the massive political pushback that is definite to come in the near future.

Although some factions believe that the way Besigye is being treated is barbaric and is radicalising his youth supporters, being reasonable would be interpreted as cowardice, and become a disadvantage.

In this mix, Museveni is trying to catch his breath and find a footing, and showing any sign of compromise would give the impression that he is willing to throw the people who “helped him get his thing this time” under the bus. That would make it hard for him to sleep with both his eyes closed in the future.
Whatever the reality, I got a remarkable note from a young Ugandan that goes much deeper.

“No one has ever seen an election like this.
“The demographic [the politicians] are dealing with is different from anything they have ever seen.
“These guys were 15 when Besigye first stood against M7…they have literally been raised by Besigye…

“In the meantime, as we call ourselves, the ‘children of the revolution’, we are poor, were born with HIV, have gotten a half-baked [education], our parents can’t afford private fees at the university, when we come to Kampala we are only good to be housegirls and boda boda riders…at best we struggle to join the lower ranks of the police and army.
“When our dreams come true we are labour for export to the Arab world.

“Our education has brought nothing but broken dreams for our families in the village…we rarely live beyond 40 and many times our bodies will not be returned home for burial.
“If we are lucky, they are found in some public mortuary after our death.”

I don’t know about you, but reading that I think what we have to fear is not what has just happened in this election. It is what is likely to come from Ugandans like that.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail & Guardian AFRICA (