What if Museveni uses anti-corruption card?

What you need to know:

During the last 38 years in power, President Yoweri Museveni has through his speeches, severally admitted that corruption is not only the biggest failure of his government and he recently confessed that his office is a scene of crime when he publicly accused some of his handlers of soliciting bribes from investors for access to the President

Thirty eight years ago, when the National Resistance Movement (NRM) took over the government in Uganda, its leaders presented themselves as liberators who, among other things, were to establish a governance system that is accountable to the people and to serve the interests of the people.

To emphasise their resolve to achieve this, they presented a set of 10 principles and objectives, aka the NRM Ten-point programme, among which, eliminating corruption was listed as number seven.

During the last 38 years in power, President Yoweri Museveni has through his speeches, severally admitted that corruption is not only the biggest failure of his government and he recently confessed that his office is a scene of crime when he publicly accused some of his handlers of soliciting bribes from investors for access to the President.  The President’s admission to corruption in his backyard partly illustrates the extent of corruption in Uganda but also the vulnerability of the systems of the government he has presided over for close to four decades.

On the other hand, President Museveni’s account as a witness in corruption, during his State of the Nation Address, somehow demonstrates his will to expose and punish the corrupt (he stated how the culprit in the State House bribe-taking had been arrested and handed over to the authorities), though his level of determination remains in doubt considering the several incidents when he had the opportunity to fully express himself on the matter but disappointingly failed.

The incidents during the Chogm scam probe when top government officials were indicted by courts for corruption, and his unpopular position on lifestyle audits for all government officials as proposed by the IGG, are some of several cases where he had an opportunity to absolve himself as an anti-corruption champion, only to act contrary to the expectations of the public.

But looking back at his modus operandi, one would not think he can maintain one position, on any matter forever, especially if it is likely to cost him political support. Having dedicated more than half a century of his life to political struggles, the former guerilla fighter has mastered the art of manoeuvre -aligning his interests with the favoured position of the majority voting population. This is the common strategy that has guaranteed Museveni’s political survival.

His shrewdness on political issues came to the fore recently when he suddenly had to deal with the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023, which he had tactically disposed of 10 years ago, with limited damage to his popularity. Parliament, under pressure from religious leaders and wanting to score a point amid accusations of bribery, quickly passed the law and threw it at his table. Sensing the law had popular support from voters and with limited options this time, Museveni signed the law well aware that his decision had serious consequences to his government, which was already listed for donor aid cuts due to a tainted human rights record.

However, his track record shows that for every campaign cycle, the seasoned politician adopts a different issue, on which he rallies political support from voters. This campaign issue usually comes as a theme for his manifesto or in form of a programme designed to win popular support from voters. “Tackling the task ahead” was the tagline for Museveni’s campaigns in 1996; “Prosperity for All” during the 2006 and 2011 campaigns, “Steady Progress”  came up in 2016 while in 2021,“Securing your Future” was the slogan. No one knows yet what Museveni is preparing ahead of 2026 general elections. But, what if Museveni opts to use the anti-corruption card to edge out his opponents this time?

With barely a year to nominations, what if Preisdent Museveni metamorphosed into an anti-corruption crusader; pushed for the enactment of a law to compel the corrupt officials to pay back stolen money, the law comes with stringent penalties including a death sentence for “aggravated corruption,” have several dozens of top government officials sacked and sent to Luzira or Kitalya on longer sentences, and perhaps have properties of government officials sold and money returned to the treasury. Won’t he reclaim the lost love from a section of disenfranchised Ugandans who had already given up on voting due to the stinking corruption in Museveni’s government? Won’t he certainly win with a percentage above 65 in 2026?

In my opinion, the answer is yes because; over the years, the population has increasingly become agitated by the high levels of corruption following consistent incidents of corruption scandals reported in the media. Can President Museveni opt to use the anti-corruption card in 2026? It is more likely because; other campaign issues including his social economic transformation programmes like Emyooga and PDM have not taken off.

Tusiime Apollo is a political writer, SG Uganda Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA)