In the last three weeks the President has presided over at least two youth-focused gatherings, sat through a late-night afro-pop concert and written at least two back-to-back letters to the country’s young people, whom he describes as his grandchildren.
Not one given to public displays of affection, in one of the letters, the President even went mushy inside with “countrymen and countrywomen”. Hark! The herald, angels sang!
Only a few months ago, a new tax on social media was being justified by the need to shut up the online gossips, digital bullies and lazy busybodies; now the President can every so often be found engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the dimly-lit streets of Twitter and, according to those in the know, keeps a keen eye on the follower-count.
The President’s actions are obviously an attempt to reach out to younger people and recruit them as voters, but there is renewed urgency due to the meteoric rise of a new breed of young politicians, most recently MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine.
There are many ways in which we can explain the Bobi Wine effect seen, at the moment, in almost global protests against his torture and detention: The fact that he is an afro-pop musician whose words are music to the ears of many; that he is a young man with a beautiful family; or that he has the courage to stand up to authority.
But at least three are bankable. First, Bobi Wine’s imperfections, including his musician-era ability to jump 35,000 feet above sea level on a rocket of slow-burning cannabis sativa, rather than damage him, make him more human and accessible to young people dealing with their own highs and lows.
That he has limited governance experience is the very thing that makes him appeal to a young jobless graduate who is somehow expected to have at least five-year’s experience. Looking at many in the current governance cohort, one might ask, what is the worst that can happen?
Secondly, and partly as a result of that, younger politicians are able to reframe the conversation away from the past, where they do not have the experience or the pedigree of having fought in wars, sang in independence day choirs, or survived disease outbreaks, to the future, which they are more likely to shape or at least be part of long enough to bear the consequences of their actions.
Thirdly, these two points above carry the overwhelming weight of demographics. To see this, divide the Museveni regime into the first 15 years up to 2001, and the second up to 2016.
There is no space to argue part 1, but part 2 represented the outbreak of internal opposition to the regime and its consolidation outside the NRM, manifest in the Museveni-Besigye contest.
This fight was about historic contributions, before, during and after the Bush War, and about constitutionalism and the rule of law.
These fights are by no means over – in fact they are still the smouldering embers we see today of torture, extra-judicial killings and so on – but they have been overtaken by very basic ‘meat and potatoes’ considerations by young people.
Consider this: One in two Ugandans alive today was not born or was still running around naked with a bloated, worm-infested tummy and mucus-caked face when Besigye first ran against Museveni in 2001.
To the almost 15 million Ugandans born since 2001, the Bush War is a historical footnote, Aids a disease to be managed, and Joseph Kony a dreadlocked Rasta who’s not dropped a hit since his guitar was confiscated.
But here is where it really gets interesting. In the 2016 election official results, Museveni received just fewer than six million votes. By the time voter registration for the next election closes in 2020, the number of potential new voters since 2015 will be 4.5m – one million more than voted for Besigye in 2016.
In fact, if you add these new voters to the 5.2 million who didn’t vote last time, the number of new voters in 2021 will be higher than those who voted for Museveni AND Besigye combined in 2016.
The good news, for pro-regime folk, is that no single Opposition politician can claim to command this as a block vote. The bad news is that it doesn’t matter: This is a forward-looking demographic which will vote for candidates who speak its language and can offer credible campaign promises based on future prospects, not past glories.
We have seen this demographic disruption in the opposition ranks. It is only a matter of time before it disrupts those in power. Politicians can be tortured and jailed but history shows us it is very hard to detain ideas, hopes and aspirations.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s
freedom fighter. firstname.lastname@example.org