Running scared, Museveni becomes more determined to cling to power
By Charles Kamya Ssentamu
As his popularity wanes further and another election looms around the corner, Uganda’s wily dictator Yoweri Museveni is getting more brazen in his attempts to keep power at all costs.
The man who has in the past made his imperial and life presidency ambitions clear by assigning himself such titles as “Sabagabe” (King of Kings) and declaring that he would not leave power until Africa is united; on July 26, unveiled reforms to the electoral law. Coming just hours short of a deadline ordered by court three years ago, the proposed changes were tabled by Attorney General William Byaruhanga before parliament in five bills.
In total defiance of recommendations by the Supreme Court which sought to clean up the electoral process however, Museveni has instead used the opportunity to table proposals that will either polarize the nation so that elections are held without any reforms taking place; or if they are rammed through, ensure an opaque process.
Among the highlights, cameras and phones are prohibited from the polling area. This is understood to be his insurance against oral evidence – which the courts will accept in election petitions going forward. Continuing in the same vein, members of the security services such as the army and police will now cast their ballots five days ahead of the general public.
According to veteran politician and former Democratic Party President Paul Ssemogerere, the latter measure can serve the purpose of either intimidating servicemen into block voting to show their loyalty, or making them available to act as a machine of intimidation and disruption of the general vote.
Also presiding officers will now have license to declare results in the presence of only five people at a polling station as opposed to the past where you needed a bigger number to represent every candidate. That gives the Museveni-controlled presiding officers leeway to declare fake election results, outside the prying eyes of the public.
Besides the obvious contradictions by a man who claims to be popular, the latest move exposes Museveni’s growing desperation. Right from the first elections under his own 1995 constitution, Museveni who had lost miserably during his presidential bid in December 1980, has lived in mortal fear of fair competition. His tactics have varied from creating legal hurdles that hobble his opponents, to crude violence, intimidation and bribery.
Museveni lives in apparent fear of the very people he claims always beg him to stay on. The truth is that he has never won a free and fair election in his life. During the 1996 elections, his campaign messages evoked grim memories of the chaotic past when they displayed skulls of victims of the war that brought him to power. Radio ads that were seen as a veiled threat that he would not let go featured the terrified wails of women and children against soundtracks of staccato gunfire.
In January 2001 facing a serious challenge from his bush-war doctor turned critic Kizza Besigye, Museveni unleashed violence that left scores of Besigye’s supporters either dead or nursing lifelong injuries.
In one incident in Namanve an army vehicle plowed into a throng of Besigye supporters who were returning from a rally. The incident took place in the evening and the villain switched off the vehicles lights to maximize his carnage since in the dark, his victims would suffer spatial disorientation.
After hearing a petition filed by his main challenger in 2006, the Supreme Court agreed that the election had not been free and fair. But in a decision of four to one settled not to overturn the results. The use of violence would be repeated during the 2011 elections leading to an incident in which Kizza Besigye almost died after a policeman emptied several canisters of pepper spray into his eyes and nasal passage.
Ashamed of a repeat, Museveni resorted to using bribery by diverting public money to his campaign effort. But bribery appears to have reached its limit as restive youth rally around candidates of their choice even after picking his money.
Efforts to intimidate new kid on the block Robert Kyagulanyi the leader of the People Power pressure group with spurious charges including treason, have fallen flat. Not one voice has lent them credibility.
It has all left Museveni a very scared man.