It is hard to think of just one thing—even if it is despicable—that Ugandan politicians can’t or won’t do if they are cocksure it is going to increase their chances of getting votes.
They have lied to voters time after time; they have bribed voters; they have teamed up with discredited men and women they know will bring electoral advantage; they have promised voters things they know they can’t and will never do; and they only tell voters what the voters want to hear, not what the voters should and must hear.
This practice is as old as Uganda’s politics. It is common among politicians in government and those in Opposition. In a desperate bid to get votes, politicians have consorted with people that decent and upright Ugandans have contempt for, largely because of their reprehensible behaviour, but the politicians just do not care.
President Museveni appears to be streets ahead of other politicians in this regard, as recent developments have shown. The President seems to have put a whole new meaning to engaging with and ingratiating himself with people he knows are not held in high esteem but have some clout among the youth and can be relied on to woo voters.
A couple of weeks ago, he appointed faded singer Mark Bugembe, better known as Buchaman, to serve as his advisor on ghetto affairs. Buchaman, whose music career has stagnated for years, once worked with ‘Ghetto President’ Bobi Wine who, politically, has become a thorn in Mr Museveni’s side. But Buchaman is part of the hordes of frustrated young men in Kampala who use illegal substances—and what he can do to help Mr Museveni fix ghetto problems and secure votes remains to be seen.
The President’s engagement with the riff-raff continues and appears to have gone into overdrive.
Last week, videos featuring Mr Museveni and a woman named Jennifer Nakanguubi but popularly known as Full Figure, circulated on social media and caused quite a stir.
One twin video I watched begins with an angry Full Figure savaging Mr Museveni for having done nothing for Uganda (which is patently false) and for presiding over a horrendously corrupt administration (which is incontrovertibly true).
The other video, shot after the meeting with the President and paired with the first video, shows Full Figure praising Mr Museveni for his achievements, mainly infrastructure. Such an about-turn! In the video, Full Figure lashes out at the media for turning the spotlight on only government failures and ignoring the President’s accomplishments. She is flanked by Mr Museveni, who is smiling rather sheepishly, in an apparent admission that what he is doing is wrong.
Who is Full Figure and why does it matter that Mr Museveni met her? She has dabbled in music, but she is—to all intents and purposes—a social media ‘celebrity’ famous for being famous and has previously featured in videos where she has said things that can’t be printed in a family newspaper. They bear comparison with some of Facebook posts by Stella Nyanzi, Mr Museveni’s rabid critic who is languishing in Luzira over her criticism.
Full Figure comes dangerously close to being in the same league as Bad Black, perhaps Uganda’s best-known notorious socialite who released a video recently hurling obscenities at Mr Museveni and bragged (in another video) that one of her high-profile punters is a former cabinet minister in Mr Museveni’s government—and a top pro-Museveni singer.
Some are speculating that given how desperate Mr Museveni is for votes, he may even invite Bad Black to State House for a photo op. If that happens, it will be truly and shockingly remarkable.
To be fair, Mr Museveni is not the only politician who has plumbed the depths of political desperation. In 2001, Kizza Besigye teamed up with ex-convict and former Kampala mayor Nasser Sebaggala hoping to woo Sebaggala’s supporters. The strategy did not work; Mr Museveni won the vote.
In the 2016 election, Kizza Besigye was backed by Gen David Sejusa who (in)famously told Ugandans that Mr Museveni stole the 2006 election. Sejusa, who was co-ordinator of intelligence services, said and did nothing at the time the election was stolen, yet he was promising to prevent rigging by Mr Museveni. Mr Museveni still won the election. Politics never gets dirtier than this!
The writer is a journalist and former Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk