Can Muhoozi beat Besigye and Bobi in a free and fair election?

Musaazi Namiti 

What you need to know:

Gen Muhoozi is a political carcass and the handlers political hyenas

Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s handlers keep telling Ugandans that he is hugely popular. They have led many to think that if he runs for president, he will be highly electable and would easily beat Opposition politicians we know are popular but are not allowed to talk to people and campaign freely during electoral campaigns.

The handlers have tried to back up their claim of the soldier’s popularity by drawing our attention to images of his recent tour of eastern Uganda (Mbale and Kapchorwa) where he is seen addressing large crowds. They claim he is popular among young people. It is tempting to ask if this is irrefutable evidence of Gen Muhoozi’s popularity. Can he, for example, beat Dr Kizza Besigye and NUP leader Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, in a free and fair election?

I have singled out the two politicians because their popularity has been tried and tested. Many Ugandans believe that if all the elections we have held since 1996 were free and fair (devoid of rigging, ballot stuffing, intimidation and suchlike), the two men would have already assumed the reins of power. They are, after all, the only politicians who have posed a credible challenge to President Museveni’s 37-year rule.

While Gen Muhoozi has the right to run for president, he does not seem to tick the popularity box properly. And it is not clear if he can use Luganda effectively in campaigns, like Mr Kyagulanyi and Dr Besigye. More importantly, the metric we have on which to gauge his popularity — crowds — is notoriously unreliable.

Two examples illustrate how crowds can be very deceptive. In 2015, former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi attracted crowds in Mbale, and many commentators said he was going to give Mr Museveni a run for his money. But Mr Mbabazi’s proportion of the vote in 2016 was so bad that it embarrassed him out of politics. Mr Mbabazi petitioned the Supreme Court, but it is hard to believe irregularities were responsible for his shockingly poor showing.

In 1996, the late Paul Ssemogerere, who was Mr Museveni’s main challenger, ended his campaign in Mukono and drove back to Kampala in a convoy with cheering, delirious supporters, which attracted a huge crowd and caused a massive traffic jam on Jinja Road. Ssemogerere could not believe his eyes and was convinced he was on course to becoming the next president. He finished a distant second and even failed to win in his own constituency.

For Gen Muhoozi, the crowd deceptiveness goes up several notches. The attention he is getting may wow him, but it is comparable to one that young women give to upwardly mobile, handsome men. The men see admiring glances and conclude the women have real romantic interest in them, yet in reality many will be looking for financial and iPhone opportunities. Or other material things: cars, trips to Dubai or Mombasa.

They are interested in what they can get from the men, not the men themselves. Gen Muhoozi is, in a manner of speaking, a political carcass and the handlers political hyenas.

He and his handlers will obviously insist his popularity is solid. If it is, we should put it to the test by doing the following. Let the government implement the electoral reforms the Supreme Court proposed, appoint a new and truly independent Electoral Commission, keep security forces out of the entire electoral process and allow Dr Besigye and Bobi Wine to be in the race unhindered.

If Gen Muhoozi emerges the winner, we will conclude he is genuinely and hugely popular.

Mr Namiti is a journalist and former Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk



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