History repeats itself as NRM’s Museveni cruises to another victory

Sunday January 17 2021
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President Museveni wields a spear and shield, a symbol of power, during campaigns in Luweero District in November 2020. PHOTO/ FILE

By Isaac Mufumba

This result takes to six the number of wins Mr Museveni has registered in all elections that have been held in the last 41 years.
Mr Museveni was always going to be the man to beat in this election.

This may have been the fourth election that Uganda has held since 2005 when citizens voted in a referendum to return the country to multiparty democracy, but conditions that were pertaining in the run up to this election were not very different from what was pertaining in 1996 when Uganda held its first direct elections under a no party dispensation.
Dr Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, then president general of the Democratic Party (DP) who stood as the candidate of the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC), and Mr Muhammad Kibirige Mayanja of the Justice Forum (JEEMA) challenged Mr Museveni for the job.

In the paper, ‘Money and Power in Uganda’s 1996 Elections’ which was published in the African Journal of Political Science, Mr William Muhumuza says the IPC “candidate was disadvantaged right from the start”. The electoral law and history were simply not on his side.
Mr Muhumuza argued that the 39-day period that was given to candidates to campaign in 39 districts played into Mr Museveni’s hands as it would not allow his opponents to make inroads into the country.

Besides, Mr Muhumuza argued, Mr Museveni could continue enjoying privileges such as the presidential helicopter where his opponents had to make their journeys by road, often having to go through difficult and at times impassable terrain and roads.

Back then, Mr Museveni had a few months prior to the election traversed the country to popularise a poverty eradication programme, the entandikwa credit scheme, under which government made available Shs6.8b from which soft loans were to be given out to applicants from some revolving fund.
A few months prior to the elections, Mr Museveni handpicked commissioners and the chairperson of the Interim Electoral Commission (IEC).

Different times, same script
Mr Museveni’s opponents in the 2021 race had just over 60 days in which to campaign in Uganda’s 146 districts and did so by road. Mr Museveni on the other hand continued to enjoy the privileges such as the use of a presidential helicopter which enabled him to hop from one point to the other.


Just like the case was in the run up to the 1996 general election, Mr Museveni late in November 2016 appointed Justice Simon Byabakama Mugenyi to succeed Mr Badru Kiggundu as chairperson of the Electoral Commission (EC).
Mr Kiggundu’s term had expired on November 17, 2016. Mr Kiggundu presided over a referendum and three controversial general elections. Two of those elections, 2006 and 2016, were contested in the courts of law.
Prior to the 2011 elections, Dr Besigye declared that he would not return to court to challenge the outcome even if the election was stolen. 

“This time we are not going to court. Our court is the people,” Dr Besigye declared. However, Dr Besigye did contested the election in a different way – through the walk-to-walk protests, which were also about the spiralling cost of living.
In naming Justice Byabakama along with his deputy Aisha Lubega, and Commissioners Peter Emorut, Stephen Tashobya, George Piwang and Mustapha Ssebagala, Mr Museveni kicked members of the civil society and the Opposition, who had been calling for changes to the mode of appointing an EC, in the teeth.

The European Union’s (EU) election observer missions have in three different reports compiled between 2006 and 2016 also recommended that the EC be picked in a more transparent manner involving civil society and the public.
The argument remains that Mr Museveni should not be the one hiring teams to organise elections in which he is a player.
Again, like it was in 1996 when he traversed the country before the election was called, Mr Museveni embarked in May 2019 on “field tours” to “sensitise the public on poverty alleviation”.
The tours took him to West Nile, Bunyoro, Tooro and parts of northern Uganda where he was endorsed as the NRM’s sole candidate.

Changing like a Chameleon
Mr Museveni’s has over the years proved to be quite versatile. His position on anything can change so fast depending on the circumstances, something he owned up to in 2000 while campaigning in Wakiso for the retention of the Movement system ahead of the first referendum on the restoration of multiparty democracy, which was held on June 29, 2000.

Back then he equated himself to a chameleon which changes colours depending on the environment in which it finds itself in.
“A wise politician should be like a chameleon to change colour when necessary. When I am at Wakiso I have no problem, I can be like a dove. But when facing my enemies and murderers, I turn into a lion,” he said.
Mr Museveni attributed the army’s two-time deposition of former president Milton Obote from power to failure to read situations and adapt to them.

In 2005, ahead of the second referendum, he took the lead in campaigning for a return to political pluralism, which he had been against since 1986 since when he took power.
Shortly after his victory in 1996, Mr Museveni told journalists that he would not seek another term in office, but changed his mind in the run up to the 2001 elections, which he said would be his second and last term in line with the Constitution. 

But the Constitution was amended in 2005 to scrap term limits, which handed him a free ticket to contest again.
Mr Museveni in an August 2016 interview with NTV’s Patrick Kamara advised against maintenance in office of leaders aged 75 and above, saying those who “want very active leaders” should be going for “the ones below 75 years of age”.
“Are you saying you wouldn’t go beyond 75 years yourself, sir?” Mr Kamara asked.
“Not at all. Certainly not,” he responded with finality.
On December 20, 2017, Parliament voted to amend Article 102(b) of the Constitution to remove both the lower and upper age limits of 35 and 75 years, which pave way for him to continue contesting.

When he first assumed office, Mr Museveni was critical of leaders who overstay in power, saying “the problem of Africa are leaders who overstay in power”. 
A few days shy of 35 years since he first made the remark, Mr Museveni has just won an election that will facilitate his stay in office for a record 40 years and he believes that leaders can overstay for as long as the people “still love them”.

Changing messages 
The tenacity stretches to campaign messages, names, views on monetisation of politics and the mode of campaigns.
Mr Museveni’s campaign messages have been changing with every election cycle. In 1996 he talked of modernisation and consolidation of the gains of his first 10 years in office, before he talked of the need to accomplish a mission in 2001.

In 2006 he talked of “prosperity for all”, which changed to “accelerated prosperity for all” through “better service delivery and job creation” in 2011. In 2016 the talk shifted to “taking Uganda to modernity” through “job creation and inclusive development”. That changed to “securing your future”.

Mr Museveni has chosen to either tweak the order or simply add another name during every election cycle.
In 1996, he changed his name from ‘Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’ to ‘Kaguta Museveni Yoweri’ which took his name to the top of the ballot paper ahead of his opponents Ssemogerere Kawanga Paul and Kibirige Mayanja.
It was Museveni Kaguta Yoweri in 2001; reverted to Yoweri Kaguta Museveni to take his name to the bottom of the ballot in 2006; Yoweri Museveni Kaguta in 2011 and; Yoweri Kaguta Museveni in 2016. In the run up to the last election, Mr Museveni added his childhood name Tibuhaburwa, which took his name to the bottom of the ballot paper.

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NRM candidate Yoweri Museveni (right) arrives in Masaka City for a campaign meeting in December 2020. PHOTO/ FILE

Constitutional Lawyer, Mr Wandera Ogalo, told Sunday Monitor in a previous interview that the changes are aimed at giving the candidate a sequential advantage, which makes for easy identification on the ballot.
“Changing of the order [of names] can be informed by the advantage that comes with it because majority of the voters are illiterate. They don’t know these candidates and can’t differentiate. But if you are the first or last one, it is easy to tell them to vote the last person on the ballot,” he said.

Money in politics
In October 1990, Mr Museveni told the defunct Africa Events Magazine that the use of money in elections was not democratic, but that thinking changed along the way, which seems to have set the stage for the monetisation of politics, starting with the 1996 elections.
Mr Henry Kyemba, a retired politician and former member of Mr Museveni’s Cabinet who contested the 1996 general elections, indicates that money bags started flowing from the Movement Secretariat to the constituencies.

“The secretariat identified some Movement candidates who received financial and logistical support to help them with the elections and I definitely received some support,” Mr Kyemba said.
The provision of financial support continued. NRM flag bearers were in the run up to the 2016 elections provided with Shs20 million and Shs43 million in the run up the just concluded election.

Prof Sabiti Makara, who teaches Political Science at Makerere University, argues that money has been a major factor in Mr Museveni’s wins and long stay in power.
“He uses a little money here and there. Each village, for example, received Shs300,000 before the election. If it had been another party that had given the money it would have been another issue. It would have been called a bribe, which it is, but since it is the ruling party that gave it out there is no problem,” Mr Makara says.

Different campaign approaches
The versatility seems to have been extended to the campaign methods too. The NRM has over the years moved on from the combination of the kakuyege (door to door campaigning) and public rallies to the adoption of entertainment for purposes of catching the votes.
The approach at rallies also changed. In 2006 and 2011, for example, Mr Museveni often appeared like a candidate campaigning against his own political party. Many were the times when he would summon Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) and district chairpersons to answer for shortcomings in service delivery.

Commissioning projects
The just concluded campaign saw Mr Museveni add the commissioning of various infrastructure projects to the vote-catching tactics.
By the time the campaign closed on Tuesday, he had commissioned more than five roads, six modern markets in Soroti, Tororo, Busia, Lugazi, Kasese and Entebbe; two power substations in Mbale and Mukono; and a water transport vessel all worth at least Shs.1.366 trillion.
Last week, he commissioned Isimba Bridge, which connects Kamuli to Kayunga, the newly refurbished Kayunga Hospital and a fruit processing factory in Arua District.

In 1996, the police barred Dr Ssemogerere and his team from opening up campaign offices, claiming that it was a breach of Article 269 of the Constitution. But even now, 19 years since Uganda returned to political pluralism, the police are still operating in a “no party” mode. 
Together with other security agencies, they invoke provisions of the Public Oder Management Act (POMA) to impede activities of Opposition parties.
Police are always at hand to ensure that politicians aligned to the Opposition are not allowed to address the public. They will either arrest them or unleash tear gas and live ammunition as was seen during the just concluded campaigns.

Prof Makara believes that this is only a part of Mr Museveni’s strategy. 
“Mr Museveni wins by all means. He will use some money here and some violence there. He uses State security to intimidate his opponents. Other candidates were not allowed to address rallies and crowds, but there have been several instances where he has been seen addressing crowds. If it is him addressing crowds it is okay, but when it is the others teargas,” he argues.

Election controversies
All previous elections under the NRM have either ended in or have been the subject of controversy. In 1996, Dr Ssemogerere refused to “accept the result as valid” on grounds that the election had been marred by intimidation of voters and use of a doctored voter register. 
The claims were lent credence by IEC commissioner Charles Owor who conceded that there had been “fundamental flaws in election”.

The outcome of the 2016 general election, just like those of 2001 and 2006 before, were the subject of legal challenges amid complaints that they had fallen short of standards. 
Interference by security agencies has been a constant in all complaints raised by Mr Museveni’s opponents. The question is, can Uganda ever have a controversy or violence-free election?

Prof Paul Wangoola, a former member of the National Consultative Council (NCC) which served as Uganda’s Parliament in the immediate post-Idi Amin era, does not think it possible while Mr Museveni is president and a major actor in elective politics.
“There can never be free and fair elections under military rule and we are under military rule. We are captive. Elections are just a motion without content. It is motion through which we taken to give this new dynasty of military rulers legitimacy,” Prof Wangoola says.