In Africa’s political minefield of instability, Uganda is the latest country to recreate a leadership succession farce. Deploying constitutional manipulation, police brutality, and other repressive tactics against the opposition and youths,

Sit-tight Museveni, a brutal blight on Uganda – Punch

In Africa’s political minefield of instability, Uganda is the latest country to recreate a leadership succession farce. Deploying constitutional manipulation, police brutality, and other repressive tactics against the opposition and youths, Yoweri Museveni has won an unprecedented sixth term as president. Even by Africa’s egregious political standards, Museveni’s tainted victory in the January 14 vote plumbs the depth of odium.

Initially adored as a liberator bringing peace to his violence-plagued country, Museveni rode to power in 1986 after leading an armed uprising by the National Resistance Movement. He has now spent 35 years in power. His latest victory awards him another five years, although the original constitution barred him from contesting after 2005. After illegally rewriting the constitution to remove term and age limits, a generation of Ugandans in their late 30s have known no other ruler than this dictator.

In the intervening period, Museveni, 76, has become a brutally divisive president, ruling the East African country with an iron fist just like many of his continental peers. As usual, the election was riddled with anomalies. Citing unsubstantiated external interference, the government shut down the internet system on the eve of the polls, preventing citizens from communicating. That is a well-worn regime tactic to destabilise the opposition further. It was no surprise that the electoral commission declared Museveni winner with 59 percent of the vote. His main opposition candidate, Bobi Wine, received 34 percent.

Undoubtedly, the election was conducted to favour Museveni through the instruments of the state. Wine (real name Robert Kyagulanyi), 38, went practically through hell in the run-up to the ballot. During campaigning in November, police tear-gassed and arrested him. In the protests that followed, police fired live bullets at those calling for the ex-singer’s release, killing 54. Days after the election, Wine’s house was surrounded by security forces. Opposition candidates were all denied paid broadcast airtime as part of the strong-arm tactics.

Furthermore, international election monitors were denied access to the country, but the Africa Election Watch, which claims it had 3,000 representatives there, said the ballot did not “meet the threshold of a democratic, free, fair, transparent and credible electoral process.” The European Union and the United States have raised similar concerns, but the African Union, on whose terrain the charade is playing out, has roguishly remained silent. That sends a dangerous signal to the world and conspiratorial encouragement to Museveni and his cohorts.

He might have started well, but Museveni’s liberator credentials have been washed away by his long years of dictatorship. Before the 2005 transfiguration, he sternly rejected the idea that he would sit tight in office. Rather, he said he would return to his farm after serving the constitutionally agreed terms. He broke his promise. Instead, every election under his regime since 2005 has been marred by rigging and impunity, with a knock on effect on the economy. In spite of years of aid from the international community, particularly the US, youth unemployment is currently 15 percent; 21 percent of the population live in poverty.

Regrettably, Uganda is no stranger to political succession crisis. Milton Obote, who took power in 1966, was deposed by Idi Amin in 1971. Amin, whose regime gained notoriety for its brutality, was deposed after eight years. The years after Amin were marked by leadership instability, with Yusuf Lule, Godfrey Binaisa and Paulo Muwanga spending brief periods in power to no avail. Obote returned to power for five years in 1980. His successors – Bazilio Olara-Okello and Tito Okello — spent a combined 183 days in power before Museveni emerged through a popular uprising in 1986. His tenacious grip on power has rendered Uganda still searching for answers.

It is not only Uganda that is blighted by leadership succession problems, several African countries are dogged by a similar problem. Without strong institutions to resist these manipulative dictators, Africa has lost its way politically to the ‘Big Man’ syndrome ravaging the continent. Unedifying examples include Congo Republic (Sassou Nguesso — 36 years), Equatorial Guinea (Teodoro Obiang — 41 years), Rwanda (Paul Kagame — 20 years), Cameroon (Paul Biya — 38 years), Chad (Idriss Deby — 30 years), Eritrea (Isaias Afwerki — 27 years) and Djibouti (Ismail Guelleh — 21 years). In Gabon, the Bongo dynasty has been exchanging the baton of power since 1967. The late Robert Mugabe established a one-party rule in Zimbabwe and was only forced out in 2017 after 37 years. For 42 years, Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya; the oil-rich country has yet to recover from his violent ouster and disgraceful death in 2011.

Although Africa has a large population, the continent cannot reach its potential economically if there is no political stability and democracy. With a population of 1.3 billion, its GDP of $2.4 trillion (2019) is abysmal. The US has a GDP of $21.4 trillion. For Africa to attain such heights, political freedoms must take root.

The AU has been too cosy with dictators. It should come out boldly against the political brigandage in Uganda. Beyond platitudes, it should rework and implement the African Peer Review Mechanism. In the EU, countries with traces of dictatorship do not gain admission. This is a strong deterrent. After interventions, the AU should devise ways of ostracising the dictators in their midst.

The future belongs to the youth, who constitute a bulk of the continent’s population. To secure their future, they should shrug off the entrenched culture of venerating the leadership that has brought them nothing but abject poverty. African youths should imbibe the culture of protests to force out bad rulers and constantly subject leadership to scrutiny.

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