Tribal fear likely to stall Museveni rivals

Thursday March 12 2020


By Karoli Ssemogerere

Uganda’s presidential stakes in 2021 have a growing list of interesting contenders. The most serious ones are, of course, the incumbent, President Museveni, 75, the FDC supremo Dr Kizza Besigye, 64, former Security Minister Henry Tumukunde, 61, and Kyaddondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu, 38.

The incumbent and Dr Besigye have faced off in 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016 so they are fairly well known on the electoral field. FDC forms the official Opposition in Parliament. NRM has a majority of more than 350 Members of Parliament and a big number of independent Members of Parliament. In many parts of the country, winning the NRM nomination amounts to winning the election so when NRM announces its primaries, it will in effect be dictating the terms of the 2021 election result. Crossing from NRM to the Opposition or running as an Independent after losing the primary even though technically possible, carries a lot of risks. Very few are heard from.

This is where the answer mostly lies on the overall outcome. Uganda is a hybrid system, presidential-parliamentary, where government business is resolved through Parliament. This has worked in various ways in different countries. A few parliaments in Africa are closely controlled. Ghana has 169 MPs from the ruling party and 106 MPs from the Opposition. Ghana’s official reaction is a Cabinet of 110 ministers. This outcome masks a much closer presidential election where the two parties, NPP and NDC scored 54 per cent and 46 per cent respectively. In fact, the country is shaped into two dark hues of green and blue.

In Kenya next door in 2017, the difference between the two electoral juggernauts Uhuru Kenyatta, 54 per cent and his rival Raila Odinga, 45 per cent was significant, but the election could have gone the other way with just more 60,000 votes. In Parliament, the result was much closer, Jubilee won 34 out of 67 seats in the Senate and 171 out of 340 seats in the National Assembly. Bigger and smaller scenarios exist in Zambia, etc.

On paper, all these parties are in close contention for power. Actually, the politics of the handshake in Kenya reflect an attempt to avert yet another gridlocked election. In 1997, when Kenya went multi-party, the election results were fragmented rather than gridlocked. It has been necessary, even if humbling, for former Prime Minister Raila Odinga to consider joining hands with Uhuru, especially given that Uhuru has a battle for supremacy in his backyard with his deputy William Ruto.

So applying the same lenses, what is the likely outcome in Uganda? First, the Opposition urgently needs to go back to the drawing board. How many MPs can the Opposition realistically get elected to Parliament? Unofficially, a number of FDC MPs want to retire or have lost “communication” with headquarters without crossing the floor even though Uganda’s laws are somewhat strict openly defying their party leadership.
Uganda’s Opposition in Parliament is blended between FDC and the older parties DP (15) and UPC (6) even though UPC, the party that led Uganda to independence, will go into 2021 into cohabitation with NRM. This magnamity, the President can afford, he is seating on a generous bank of 350 MPs.


Uganda’s electoral politics under Museveni has been soured by unrealistic soaring electoral rhetoric, most of it unachievable. It has also been dominated by unnecessary and illegal use of force to force a few political points. Lastly, it has been dominated by use of money. That Uganda’s economy has developed “resistance to drugs” from Washington D.C. is a question of concern. At election time everyone is at the party. Clerics, social interests who are all important vocalists in the campaign.
So the question to each of the new contenders, how are you planning to realistically dent NRM’s supermajority in Parliament? Minority governments haven’t worked in Africa at least. This question is yet to be answered by anyone, Henry Tumukunde inclusive.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Lawand an Advocate.