Inside Life: Yoweri Museveni’s stifling grip on Uganda [Opinion]

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There must be something in the air, something in the food and something in the palaces that they live in that makes African leaders not want to leave power when their time is up. In Uganda, a leader is clinging to power by all means possible.

Yoweri Museveni has been the President of Uganda since 1986. He came into office through a military coup with a promise to return the country to democratic rule as soon as it was possible. Well, we can say he did return Uganda to democracy because he is running for his sixth term in office in 2021! Museveni ruled as a military dictator from 1986 till 1996 when he was elected as President. Right from then he has been sitting pretty tight as civilian dictator for 33 years, the familiar story of a liberator turned oppressor.

I always assume that African dictators rule by a playbook, a set of instructions and rules to follow if they must stay in power. When they meet each other at African union meetings and on state visits, they hold private conversations and whisper the codes to each other on how to suppress opposition and stash looted funds in western havens.

Museveni rules by the same playbook of brutal crackdown on the opposition, the disappearance of political enemies, the use and manipulation of instruments and institutions of the state for personal gains, constitutional amendments for tenure prolongation, age limit removal and other activities geared at entrenchment in power. For 33 years, Museveni has been holding Uganda by the jugular.

To his credit, Museveni has been successful in a few areas, the most widely noted accomplishment being his government’s successful campaign against Aids. Also, an affirmative action program for women has encouraged female education and participation in politics. But these achievements pale into insignificance in the face of Museveni’s brutal grip on power.

The life of an African dictator is a rollercoaster ride. Sometimes I imagine myself as an African dictator and wonder how I would live. I tell myself that it’s not the kind of life that I would like to live. How do you function effectively in a situation where everyone around you is afraid of you? A situation where everyone says Yes to you despite their reservations, a life where you have unfettered access to the treasury where you splash public funds on whatever catches your fancy, a life where you create enemies and have to watch your back at all times, a life where you know that people around you are only with you because of what they are getting/can get from you. Nobody loves a dictator!

The opposition is a major feature of the system of government called Democracy, every democratic government must have opposition to provide checks and balances in the system but curiously African dictators like Museveni who say they are practicing democracy hate opposition and do everything they can to suppress and destroy opposition voices.

64-year old Dr Kizza Besigye has been the major challenger of Museveni at the presidential elections in 2001, 2006, 2011, and 2016. But he has lost every time. Each election result has been hotly contested and challenged with serious allegations of rigging by Museveni. Besigye has faced harassment, physical assault and detention several times at the behest of Museveni. He has stated he won’t be running in 2021 for president and has resolved to seek democratic change by other means.

38-year old singer and lawmaker Kyagulanyi Ssentamu popularly known Bobi Wine has emerged as the foremost challenger to President Museveni in the 2021 polls. His People’s Power movement is popular with many young people and they are lining behind him. Wine himself has had a taste of what it means to stand against a dictator. He has been harassed, beaten and detained while his rallies have been disrupted and broken up many times by the Ugandan army loyal to Museveni.

I don’t think Museveni will relinquish power, he has become so used to it that life without him as President of Uganda is unfathomable to him. As the January 14 general elections approach, Museveni will become more brutal, there will be intensified crackdown on opposition and dissenting voices by Uganda’s most powerful institution – the army. It is up to the people of Uganda to effect a regime change or to continue to remain under the life presidency of Yoweri Museveni. One thing is certain, African dictators do not give up power easily and Museveni won’t be the first to break the record.

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