Museveni bid for 6th term: What it means for Uganda’s democracy

Sunday August 02 2020

Yoweri Museveni swears in as president at the Parliamentary Building in Kampala in 1986. PHOTOs | FILE

President Yoweri Museveni this week returned his nomination papers and was duly declared sole presidential candidate of the ruling NRM party for the 2021 general election.

Should Museveni be elected again or declared winner again in 2021 and serves out his full term, he will have ruled Uganda for 40 years by the time this sixth term ends in 2026.

Whatever our views on this now de facto life presidency, it would have a major bearing on national life.
To keep the NRM grip on power, one of the notable results is the inflation of the public political space.

Over the next five years, NRM regime spokesmen and supporters would have to make a greater effort to argue that somehow the people of Uganda just love Museveni and so leave him no choice but keep running.
Since it’s difficult to sustain a myth when the public mood is evidently growing more and more restless, the NRM state would have to respond with both stick and carrot.

This we already see, with the NRM government having to try and extend state largesse to an ever-increasing section of the country.
Upcountry towns that even in the best of times are economically sleepy (Mbale, Masaka, Fort Portal, Mbarara, Soroti, Hoima, Jinja, Lira, Gulu, Arua) and lack most facilities and amenities have recently been granted city status.

In addition, 46 new constituencies were last week approved by Parliament, giving Uganda one of the largest legislative bodies in the world.
So today, Uganda has one of the largest Cabinets, numbers of presidential advisors, and one of the largest parliaments in the world.


All this, for a country whose internal political boundaries are getting subdivided into smaller and smaller units, making it possible for one to walk across three districts in the space of an hour.
Another new trend is the movement away from the clerical and creative professions into politics, with several musicians, journalists, medical doctors and others seeking to contest for Parliament in the 2021 election.

For much of the 1970s to 2000s, politics was frowned upon by Ugandan professionals. Now it is increasingly becoming the most lucrative sector in the country.
Being a Member of Parliament is the most attractive position one can enjoy financially, at least on paper.

The growing Ugandan economy has not delivered the high-paying professional and consultancy jobs that many had expected and politics is the only expanding industry.
Even though this is just speculation, it is possible that as of late 2020, there could be more politicians and political activists per 1,000 people than there are medical doctors, nurses or teachers per 1,000 people in Uganda.

This, of course, will have a bearing on Uganda’s public finances. Several ministry of Finance officials have recently been warning that there simply is not enough money to fund the many new districts.
Senior Judiciary officials have also publicly pointed out that there is a large backlog of cases because there are not enough judges and magistrates to handle the work.

Gridlock and incompetence would certainly increase over the next five years. This the country witnessed during the coronavirus lockdown, when in spite of the NRM government having what it claims is a well-established grassroots network across every town and village, it was unable to deliver emergency beans and maize flour rations to every household in Kampala and the wider Wakiso area, which areas have the best infrastructure in the country.

Next, we examine the political mood in Uganda in a hypothetical 2021-2026 Museveni presidency. There would be a noticeable decline in freedom of assembly and expression.


The NRM era started off in 1986 partly carefree and partly authoritarian.
There was both an air of free speech and open debate, and constant reminders of how those who tried to oppose this revolution had either been “crushed” or would soon be.

Eight years later, starting in 1994, the NRM government started to ease up and take pride in portraying itself or being perceived as open to public criticism and internal debate.

This lasted for a decade until 2004 when once again the free speech environment gave way to the silencing of internal criticism over the question of a successor to Museveni and rumours that his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba was being positioned as his potential successor.
This latter phase has continued apace since then.

The rumours and conspiracy theories about a secret plan by the NRM or Museveni to rule Uganda for 50 years will now be nearer reality than conspiracy theory.
At a time when it is becoming the standard in many African countries to have fixed presidential term limits, Museveni will increasingly be the butt of jokes across Africa and an embarrassment to Ugandans.

Somebody called Mwami Miiro on the Twitter platform noted on Friday July 31: “Nathan in the Bible went and told David what his most secret sin was... Which man of God can face off with our lifetime monarch.”
While sarcastic and typical of social media, this tweet was a comment on a tendency within the NRM in recent years. Debate is slowly dying out and challenging Museveni becoming a rarity.

State institutions are following suit. All this was laid bare during the recent national Covid-19 lockdown.
When Opposition leaders and activists went out to distribute food and other emergency items to the public, the police clamped down on them.

When NRM leaders and activists did the exact same thing, somehow the police did nothing.
NRM leaders, in open breach of the government’s social distancing guidelines, held public meetings at community centres or in churches but even with the evidence captured on video, the police did not act.

The slightest attempt at holding a public meeting by an Opposition leader always led to swift police action.
Since the Black Mamba raid on the High Court in Kampala in November 2005 and after the “Arab Spring” revolts in North Africa in 2011, the NRM state has made sure to clip any large-scale unrest and political agitation before it gets out of control.

The three days of unrest in Buganda in September 2009 were the wake-up call the Museveni government needed.
The clampdown on the news media and increasingly on the much more difficult to control social media would continue apace from 2021 to 2026.

Another trend to watch over the next five years would have to be the growing Museveni personality cult.
While Museveni from the early years of his Fronasa guerrilla group in the early 1970s has always made it clear who is boss, as head of state in the late 1980s tried to act as though the NRM government was a collegiate system, with Museveni as the first among equals.

Gradually, though, and much more visible today has been the growing personality cult around Museveni.
He is now addressed as some kind of father of the nation. Extra care is taken to respectfully address the First Lady Janet Museveni as “mama”.

Young men and women declaring themselves fans of the First Son Kainerugaba are vocal on social media and most openly and proudly declare Kainerugaba as “my next president”.
Even when he arrived at the NRM party headquarters last week to present his nomination papers, NRM electoral officials waiting to receive him stood passively and reverently.


Yoweri Museveni swears in as president in Kampala in 2016.

During his televised Covid-19 addresses to the nation, medical professionals and other government officials seated around Museveni who were much better informed about the technicalities of epidemiology would hesitate over their responses and seem to want to leave it to Museveni to advise them on the next course of action.

Another five years of a Museveni presidency would be characterised by this growing cult around Museveni, the First Family treated like a royal family and everyone shaping their actions and thoughts around the need to please or not offend Museveni.
In foreign affairs, another five years of Museveni’s rule would mean that the complicated relationship between Uganda and Rwanda would remain uneasy and subject to occasional diplomatic flare-ups.

Since there is no sign that Rwandan president Paul Kagame will exit his office any time soon, the 2021-2026 period would be marked by mutual suspicion between Uganda and Rwanda.
Also in foreign affairs, an extended five years of Museveni’s rule while becoming ever more a burden on Uganda would benefit some of Uganda’s neighbours.

Whatever the weaknesses of the NRM government, it at least has demonstrated a certain military acumen over the last 30 years in peacekeeping missions and active combat interventions, from Liberia to South Sudan, Rwanda, the Central African Republic and Somalia.
It is this peacekeeping role by Museveni that has over the years led many international and Western powers to turn a blind eye to the misrule, corruption and election-rigging inside Uganda.

And so, an additional five years of a Museveni presidency would be the classic Arab world-Third world picture: an autocratic ruler is at the helm in his country; there is unrest and growing misrule within the country; but this leader is an asset to international commercial or geopolitical interests (Mubarak’s Egypt, Mobutu’s Zaire, Suharto’s Indonesia, Iran’s Shah).

On his achievements...
lUganda has registered consistent economic progress in the last two decades averaging 6% per year. As a result, we have increased our revenue collection from a paltry Shs5b in 1986 to Shs9.7 trillion in 2014/15.

The NRM has ensured operationisation of the constitutional provisions on ownership of land.

In the last five years, emphasis has been put on developing infrastructure with a view to reducing the cost of production. Paved (tarmac) roads — These have increased from 3,000km to 4,000km from 2011 to 2015.

The NRM has increased access to safe water from crisis levels in most parts of the country to 65% in rural and 72% in urban areas.

The NRM is determined to decisively fight corruption. This is a war that we vow to fight to the end. We will continue pursuing the policy of zero tolerance to corruption through the various legal frameworks and institutions that we have put in place.

We will continue to fund the youth who are not in formal employment to enable them create jobs for themselves and also employ others.

We will continue to work vigorously for the deeper integration of the East African Community and co-operate with our partners in the Eastern Africa region.

The NRM has made great strides in implementing what we promised five years ago. Among them are creating and maintaining the environment in which people have a say in national issues that directly affect them.

We continued with immunisation and reproductive health programmes in addition to taking health services nearer to the people.

The NRM has a sterling record of performance that no other party can measure to. It has stood the test of time and its experience in ensuring peace and security, and macro-economic.