Museveni Set for Re-election in Postwar Uganda
Ugandans go to the polls on February 18 for what will be only the second multi-party elections since President Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986. He won a landslide victory in the first democratic presidential and parliamentary ballot in 2006 – although much has changed since then.
The LRA insurgency is over, the economy is the focus of attention and the opposition are better prepared. Blake Evans-Pritchard, IWPR Africa Editor, believes the upcoming polls will be more closely contested – but suggests Museveni will ultimately triumph again.
How have things changed in Uganda since the last election was held?
The Uganda of 2011 is very different to that of 2006. In 2006, the country had just emerged from two decades of brutal civil war, which had exacted a huge toll on the civilian population in the north. It was not until 2005 that the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA – Uganda’s notorious rebel army led by Joseph Kony – was successfully chased out of the country.
At the time of the 2006 presidential and parliamentary election, thousands of people were still confined to camps for internally displaced people, IDPs, and the massive effort to return them back home had yet to begin. Now the focus in the north is less about ending the rebel insurgency and more about bringing development to the region.
This means that people’s priorities have changed. They are not fighting for peace anymore, but for economic expansion, jobs and a better life.
The other big change is that in 2006 opposition candidates were not fully prepared to contest an election against the incumbent president.
This was the first time that a multi-party election had been held in the country for a generation, and the tendency was for the opposition to focus on the failings of the incumbent government rather than policy initiatives of their own.
Is the outcome of the election inevitable?
It seems pretty certain that Museveni will win another term in office. Uganda’s multi-party system is still in its infancy, and thus affords the incumbent president huge advantages over the opposition. In particular, while Museveni remains in power he can continue to run his campaign out of government offices, use official transportation and has an abundance of manpower at his disposal. He also continues to draw a state salary while campaigning.
Moreover, for the past five years, Museveni has been in a position to lobby for his re-election in a way that members of the opposition have not been. Some suggest that the resurfacing of roads in key parts of the country were a way of winning votes.
This said, though, there could still be some surprises and two strong opposition candidates have emerged.
One is Kizza Besigye, a former colonel in the Ugandan army. He is standing for the Forum for Democratic Change, FDC, and was the 2006 runner-up with 37 per cent of the vote. A charismatic politician, Besigye is particularly popular among younger people, who are less enthused about maintaining continuity than their parents are.
The other main candidate, Olara Otunnu, is widely regarded as flag-bearer for grievances in northern Uganda, which will be an important battleground in the coming election as opposition candidates find it harder to win votes from their traditional supporters. Having worked for eight years at the United Nations, Otunnu also has strong international credentials, which are important to the Ugandan people.
What are the issues that will decide the election?
The end of the 20-year rebel insurgency in the north of the country has changed the shape of elections in Uganda.
The north has traditionally been an important opposition stronghold, but the end of the civil war and the influx of development money into the region have led to a more favourable perception of the ruling National Resistance Movement, NRM.
It is true that opposition politicians still enjoy a great deal of influence in the region, but the outcome is not as certain as it was in the past.
The Baganda, Uganda’s largest ethnic group, are also likely to play a pivotal role in the forthcoming election.
The traditional kingdom of Buganda stretches across the country’s central region, and includes the capital Kampala. Historically, leaders of Uganda have always tried to win support from this ethnic group.
In 2006, the Bagandan vote was an important factor in securing Museveni another term in office. This time around, their support for the NRM is less obvious.
In 2009, the Baganda clashed with security forces in Kampala after the government prevented their king from visiting a part of their territory.
Furthermore, the Baganda strongly oppose a controversial bill backed by the government, which seeks to regulate the activities of traditional leaders.
On top of all this, you have the traditional ethnic attachment that always dominates politics in Africa. This means that Museveni is likely to do well in his homeland of western Uganda.
Speaking more broadly, many Ugandans are now looking to the future of their country – which means that they are particularly concerned with economic development and carving out a better life for themselves and their children.
Any politician that can convince the Ugandan people that this is what they stand for should do well.