The rampaging coronavirus may be our preoccupation at the moment, but there is something of an elephant in the room. It is the pre-rigged presidential election of 2021.
Pre-rigged because you cannot have a free and fair election when the incumbent president has ignored calls for an independent Electoral Commission and all electoral reforms; when he orders security forces to crack down on Opposition politicians reaching out to voters; when voters will be bribed openly and publicly; when countries Ugandans (naively) expect to intervene keep saying (and rightly so): “The governance of Uganda is up to the people of Uganda.”
We all know that the election is going to return to power the same man who has led Uganda for nearly four decades. It would be tolerable if it was happening for the first or second time.
Sadly, it is not. It is going to be the fifth time. If we were competing for an award for stupendous electoral monotony, we would have no rivals save Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon, both of which have had the same leaders since 1979 and 1980 respectively, despite holding regular elections.
Many informed Ugandans agree that President Museveni has nothing new to offer—and can barely change anything significantly for the better, especially with respect to the way he runs the country. He himself probably knows it. He knows that he had more gusto and more energy in the 1990s and early 2000s than he has today.
These days things look different. We have seen too many images of him (on the internet) from international conferences showing him decidedly tired and resting (the euphemism for dozing), wrinkles on his once handsome face sticking out noticeably for all to see.
Now let me be clear: Rants like this one are not new and often get ignored. Ugandans who should read them do not even have time for them, as they are too busy looking for food and other basic needs.
What I am saying has been said repeatedly, and it has become something of a song. But as we prepare for the next election, we need to ask one important question: What can Ugandans do to make sure Mr Museveni does not win re-election? Let me ask the question one more time:
What can Ugandans do to rid themselves of a leader who is bent on ruling them forever relying on elections they know are not and cannot be free and fair—and what is the point of voting if they cannot change anything?
If, as seems likely, the President does win, the country and its people will have wasted their precious time and meagre resources—again.
The Opposition is leading the campaign to dislodge Mr Museveni from power, but the odds that they can succeed are zero. Out of desperation, they have even resorted to measures and tactics that every sane Ugandan knows cannot work.
For example, last November, the Opposition was talking of taking Mr Museveni to the International Criminal Court (ICC) over alleged crimes against humanity. It would be interesting to know if they have made real progress.
Plan B for the Opposition has been almost non-existent. If they say they have it, but it does not address the following questions, then it is hard to see how it will work.
Here are the questions: Does the Opposition have a strategy to enable them to talk to and mobilise people/supporters in villages, parishes, sub-counties, districts, where the incumbent President seems to have support?
The Electoral Commission is not independent, and it is impossible that Uganda can have a new independent electoral body between now and 2021. What will the Opposition do about this?
These questions are critical to the electoral success of the Opposition. But I do not think there are easy answers. The Opposition and voters, it seems to me, are simply hoping that a groundswell of support will simply overwhelm the NRM’s candidate and lead to his defeat.
Unfortunately, that is the same kind of hope voters have had since 2001, but nothing has changed for the better.
The President, meanwhile, seems unfazed. He has said many times that people accusing him of clinging to power are unfair to him because he is elected. But the problem, as we all know, is how he gets elected.
Mr Museveni can do Ugandans a big ‘favour’ by allowing the Opposition to campaign freely and letting Ugandans elect people to serve on the Electoral Commission. If he wins after creating a level playing field, then it does not matter even if he clocks up 100 years in office.
The writer is a journalist and former
Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk