Given the political news coming out of Uganda, one might be forgiven for thinking that that country will be holding elections this year even though the reality is that the general election is planned to be held there two years away. President Yoweri Museveni has already clinched his nomination to as the presidential candidate for his ruling NRM party. A disputed opinion poll showing the level of support of the president and his longtime political rival, Kiiza Besigye declining while that of the musician turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine as rising.
Some opposition politicians have rejected the poll’s outcome, saying it is “useless, ungrounded, shallow, and fake”, and who can blame them given the unpredictability of these opinion polls since Donald Trump and Brexit. Also, the timing of these opinion polls is always interesting in the African context. However, regardless of the obvious doubts any sane minded person would have about opinion polls, they are indicative of some elements within a particular society at a given time.
President Museveni’s government has since changed its tactics to deal with the rising political threat that is Bobi Wine. It has adopted the far too familiar, depressing approach of beatings, endless arrests, stopping his music concerts, and his songs-some of which are very political-have been banned. His processions are constantly disrupted as well or outright banned.
And the legal battles are mounting as well. One legal battle took Besigye more than a decade to conclude. Bobi Wine has a very rough long road ahead.
That is not to say the old political arch-nemesis in Kiiza Besigye has been spared the stick because of the new kid in town. He has been forcefully removed from radio stations to prevent him from speaking. President Museveni has labelled the activities of political opponents as actions contrary to one of NRM’s point programmes, that of “restoration of security of person and property”. He penned a long piece where he argued his political opponents were spreading misinformation and full of lies through their rallies and processions, about the progress Uganda has made since NRM came to power in 1986.
Given Uganda’s bloody past, and successive unstable governments, President Museveni warned that tolerating such “bogusness” led to other countries paying a heavy price in the likes of New Zealand, Sri Lanka, France, Belgium, and even referenced the Rwandan genocide.
Security is a staple political theme in many African countries, and as some recent studies have shown, many on the continent can tolerate their liberties being chipped away by the state in the name of security, and in almost every election in this region, it comes up again and again from ruling party politicians against their political opponents. Voters are reminded that the stability or peace enjoyed by them is courtesy of those in power.
It is such a familiar message.
And in Uganda’s case, there are many voters who cast their votes his way because of their memories of the past and their conviction that he is the only person who can tame the competing interests of the security forces.
Bobi Wine presents a curious case in Uganda’s political landscape. He is not from Western Uganda, a region where most of the more established political enemies and former allies of President Museveni hail from, that from Kiiza Besigye to Amama Mbabazi and some in between. He does not belong to the past, and presents the aspirations of the generation that has never known any other political leader in Uganda but the current one. He won his political seat in parliament as an independent but one who has managed to rally support to his cause.
He no longer presents only grievances against Uganda’s ruling elites and for his vision to be realized, power has to change hands.
The more conventional opposition politicians have not rallied to his side; they are wary of his rise as well. Will he really be able to win the country? Or is he a flame flickering wildly before it goes out?
Between him and President Museveni, at least he has time on his side if he does not go out.