Museveni and Besigye both won; one got a State, another the people

Thursday March 3 2016

By Daniel K. Kalinaki

Lawyers representing candidate Amama Mbabazi have gone to the Supreme Court to challenge the Electoral Commission’s declaration of candidate Yoweri Museveni as winner of the February 18 election.
This is a good thing, even if I do not expect them to win. I am not sure that the team had enough time or the resources to gather the evidence necessary to make a compelling case, and the courts have already set a precedent in their previous rulings about substantiality. The value of this court petition, regardless of the outcome, is that it hopefully takes the contest away from the heated streets, to the calm and cool reflection inside court.

Whichever way the Supreme Court rules, it can only offer legal advice to what is primarily a political problem. Anyone looking at events in Uganda over the last couple of weeks would have seen that the problem is not the absence of a functional State or a State able to exercise power; you cannot swing a cat in Kampala without hitting a policeman and there are crowd control teams at almost every corner.

The problem is a lack of legitimacy. Now this is a problem that is as much about fact as it is about perception. Let’s take the much-discussed attempt by candidate Kizza Besigye and other Opposition officials to storm a house in Naguru at which they alleged vote fraud was being orchestrated. Like many, I think it was a reckless move by Besigye in which he needlessly exposed himself to danger – but by arresting him, instead of throwing open the doors to the house, even for just one official, to dispel their fears, the police confirmed to many that there was something to hide – even without evidence to support the fact!

The comedy of errors has continued. Why would anyone expect people to believe that the results of an election, announced while the two leading Opposition candidates were in preventive custody, would be expected to be free and fair?
Or who would expect people to believe that the police have been keeping Besigye under detention for his own safety and not as an attempt to sabotage efforts by the Opposition to collect evidence of electoral fraud or protest the mismanagement of the process?

The Electoral Commission has, to its credit, published results of the election down to the polling station level (and I can confirm that the results from my polling station are as they were read out), but how many people will believe them to be genuine after they did so under threats from donors? Or, for that matter, how many people genuinely believe the EC tale that they did not have trucks to ferry voting materials from their warehouses to nearby stations in Kampala and Wakiso?
Even if you opened all the ballot boxes and counted every ballot paper again on live television, at least half the voters would not agree with the verdict and would allege some form of malpractice.

This lack of faith in government and government institutions is a symptom of a democratic deficit. It can only be cured by deep reforms that redistribute power across institutions, allowing them to earn the trust of individuals and independence from interested parties.
This is not resolved by power-sharing, as some people have suggested, although it might help in the short-term to de-escalate tensions. We are a divided country that needs to agree on some basic national consensus. What we need is not power-sharing between individuals, but power splitting away from an imperial presidency.


Our current situation – where you have an elected president and a people’s president – is a recipe for conflict. Besigye might have won, in the eyes of his supporters, but he has no State. Museveni might have won, according to the EC, but he does not have many of the people behind him. They both need to talk, as a minimum, but only to pave the way for a wider national conversation.

Mr Kalinaki is a Ugandan journalist based in Nairobi. Twitter: @Kalinaki