Museveni may win but change is inevitable
By Mboneko Munyaga
East African News Agency
If Ugandans had voted for president on 22 January this year, twice opposition contender, Dr Kiiza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change, would have been that man today. A live phone-in poll on state-owned Radio Uganda that day gave Dr Besigye first place, followed by the incumbent, President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) while the other six presidential candidates where completely ignored.
That was a follow-up poll to a similar one conducted by Radio Buganda on 17 December 2010 that gave Dr Besigye a huge lead, followed by Norbert Mao of the Democratic Party, Ms Beti Kamya of the Uganda Federal Alliance came in third and Museveni was fourth!
But the Ugandan strongman is far from vanquished. Some Ugandans say they will vote for Museveni because even if he is voted out, he may refuse to hand over power. Others have simply suffered voter fatigue after the voting for the opposition many times in the past without change.
Yet, the outcome of the 18 February 2011 general election in Uganda could surprise many in East Africa. President Museveni may not necessarily be voted out but his hitherto firm grip on almost absolute power after 26 years in office will definitely be history. Change in East Africa is inevitable and fate may have thrown the onus of that momentum on Uganda.
In almost all the five member states of the East African Community (EAC), official election results have often been followed by cries of fraud, manipulation and other forms of rigging even after polls were declared “free and fair.” Thus, it is in the interests of the entire region that Uganda’s general election results this time around be free from any malpractices, otherwise the people will not accept or tolerate to be represented by people they did not vote into office.
Dr Besigye has added to that sense of mystery after he declared that after going to the courts twice in the past to seek redress, this time he won’t take that path any more. He has not said what he will do but after the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt, the opposition in Uganda could be emboldened to use people’s power in what could be the landfall in East Africa of the wind of change blowing from the north.
Observers have noted with great amusement that Museveni has already started to suffer loss of his total hold onto power. Some of his orders have been openly defied, something that was unthinkable in the past.
Also, after nearly 30 years, his NRM is no longer the unified and disciplined political force it once was. There were reports in 2010 of gun battles at some of the party’s nomination campaigns, hinting seriously that corruption and money could be big factors in the polls, given the country’s massive poverty and setting-in illiteracy.
Once the pride of quality education in the region, primary seven children in Uganda are now said to be hardly able to write their names, a sad state for a country that was also the home of the region’s first university, Makerere University.
Uganda has also discovered oil. In a story typical of the “resource curse” in Africa, reserves are located in the more marginalized and poverty stricken areas, clearly raising the potential for conflict in future if proceeds are not equitably used.
It is not surprising therefore that the US Congress has ordered Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, to make keen follow-up on the conduct of the Uganda general election with clear signs that Museveni is no longer the indispensable darling of Washington.
True, democracy allows any citizen with the relevant qualifications to elect and to seek public office but if Museveni were to read the signs of the times, he would certainly make this his last bid for power.