Could coming campaigns also mark a step toward transition?

Sunday January 5 2020


By Bernard Tabaire

This year is one of politics. Elections are almost a year away. It therefore follows. Like most election cycles before, we will see more of the same, except in a more widespread manner.

Money will flood the electoral landscape. Tens of billions of shillings will float around. The politically astute will pocket quite a bit. More than before, votes will simply be bought. Uganda, after all, is not a poor country despite officialdom’s narrative to the contrary.

Social media will be used more than before as a channel for sharing political information and as a platform for campaigning. It will be used for the good — to spread a candidate’s campaign message quickly and widely, to react to opponents, to mobilise attendance at campaign events, to raise money, to receive feedback solicited and often unsolicited from the public.

But it will also be used in unsavoury ways — to smear opponents, to spread false information, to create and circulate fake news, to engage in hate speech, to trade insults, to troll.

For the general public, it will be a field day making fun of politicians and their campaigns. Journalists will work overtime to help the public make sense of what the heck is going on not daily, but probably hourly.

Information will be moving and swirling very fast. Newsrooms will need thorough online operations.
There is more. Given the animosity between Uganda and some of its neighbours, we cannot discount the potential to hack the election’s electronic systems.


Some of the neighbours could do with regime change in Kampala. The Russians did it to the United States in 2016. They are reportedly still at it all over the world where they have interests. They set the example. It can be followed in this region as well.

If we are not sure about potential hacking by a foreign power, we can be sure we will have violence. We are not incapable of having electioneering without violence, we have just failed as a country to will ourselves to avoid it.

And it is violence that inevitably results in a death or two, often more. Totally unnecessary. This surely is something we must not tolerate. We must hold the politicians and leaders accountable. No election is worth losing a life over.

But because this bad stuff happens, it has a chilling effect: the disruption of economic activity. Our elections come with so much public tension and fear and uncertainly that businesses pause their decisions to borrow, to expand, to hire.

Tourism personality Amos Wekesa reckons the sector goes to sleep for a minimum of six months around election time. People never risk their lives visiting Uganda during the electioneering period. Never mind that every politician claims he or she wants jobs for “our people.”
How can you want jobs when you are busy chasing them away?

This coming election, unlike previous ones, may also lead to concrete steps toward the transition from Yoweri Museveni as president. If we assume that Mr Museveni does not want to die in office, then maybe he is already working at managing the transition that cements his legacy and assures himself, his family and associates continued good life.

These things remain a gamble as we are seeing in Angola, but worth a try, nonetheless.
So, might former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who challenged his boss for the presidency in 2016, be the man to take over? The two men appeared together looking relaxed at one of the president’s farms on New Year’s Eve.

How might the switchover happen? Around 2024, Mr Museveni could step aside, and Mr Mbabazi takes over as interim president so that he enjoys the advantages of incumbency heading into the 2026 elections. Or Mr Museveni could announce him as his successor and then campaign hard for him to win the 2026 elections.
Regardless, we need a peaceful transition.
Happy New Year to us all.

Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.