John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Uganda: Museveni’s Power

by John Campbell
May 11, 2011

Police spray Ugandan opposition party leaders with coloured water during demonstrations in the capital Kampala, May 10, 2011. (James Akena/Courtesy Reuters)

Uganda’s governance is on a downward spiral, and Yoweri Museveni, the Big Man president, may be in trouble. Already in power for twenty-five years, Museveni has been spending money profligately on prestige projects while food and fuel prices continue to rise. The Ugandan leader has reportedly spent millions in public money to conduct his less than credible presidential re-election in February, allocated over $700 million to purchase six Russian fighter jets, and used an estimated $1.2 million to host his fifth-term inauguration tomorrow. Museveni reportedly invited Omar Al-Bashir to attend the ceremony, though it’s unclear whether or not the Sudanese leader will show. In the meantime, the Ugandan Bureau of Statistics released new figures that indicate a sharp increase in the official food inflation rate from 29.1 percent in March to 39.3 percent in April.

Last week, the Ugandan police beat and pepper sprayed the most prominent opposition politician, Kizza Besigye when he tried to take part in a peaceful anti-government demonstration.  Subsequently, he went to Nairobi for medical treatment. He had planned to return to Entebbe and potentially participate in another anti-government demonstration this week. At the time of writing, however, Besigye was not on the last Kenya Airways flight out of Nairobi, as Ugandan authorities reportedly said they would not allow the aircraft to land if he was on it.

Despite pressure from the walk-to-work demonstrations and the deterioration in security, Museveni could muddle through. The Western media is concentrated in Kampala and Entebbe, so it is difficult to judge from its reporting the degree of disaffection in the rural areas. Museveni has also lashed out at the local press and some photo journalists have reported harassment, which may limit local media coverage of future demonstrations.

Ugandan politics also has a local character made up of multiple ethnic, regional and religious allegiances, so Museveni has built a robust patronage network to control the country—and remain in power. While Museveni may have ostensible support on certain issues (he did usher in free primary and secondary education in 1997 and 2007, respectively), his use of corruption and patronage politics allows him to control multiple, competing groups at the same time. To that end, it remains to be seen if the walk-to-work campaign has enough widespread support to override the incumbent’s patronage system–or whether it can promise anything markedly better in terms of services, jobs, and development. Given the brutal crackdown of late, it’s unclear whether the majority of Ugandans even believe Museveni can be toppled.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by IK

    I read about my continent every day and I feel like crying. Africa more than any other continent has been blessed with the best of resources and environmental stability, however, there is little to show for that. We have here in Africa inteligent and hardworking people, quite well educated who can move the countries of the continent forward but the forces that have kept her down is very battle ready. The African political class can only remain relevant if the underdevelopment persists, they know this and would prefer that the continent remains the scorn of the world just to maintain their power. A poples’ revolution is inevitable but it may still take decades or centuries

  • Posted by John

    Museveni is a threat to the region.

    Good thing the world finally recognizes dictator Museveni for what he is. Ugandans have always known this while the West continued to wine and dine him. Safe houses have been the staple. Abusing opposition leaders and the hapless has always been his modi operandi.

    His response to the demonstrations: amend the Constitution to deny bail to suspects of economic sabotage, murder, rioting (read demonstrators) and hostile media, among others before they are convicted. It sounds like a joke until you of course recall that in 2001 he absurdly (so we joked) introduced a bill to remove presidential term limits from the Ugandan constitution and went on to bribe legislators to pass it, a move that exposed him as a consummate liar and the biggest political fraudster East Africa has ever known- but cemented his president for life project.

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