Uganda, People Power and the Bobi Wine Factor
As yet, it is increasingly becoming clear that Bobi Wine has galvanised the opposition to unite behind him as the sole opposition candidate, in the 2021 Ugandan elections. This is unprecedented, writes Epajjar Ojulu.
Although the next Presidential elections are scheduled for February 2021, President Yoweri Museveni and musician and legislator Bobi Wine are already on an unofficial campaign trail.
Both of them are taking advantage of the by-elections, for constituencies created after a redemarcation exercise, to rally their supporters.
Museveni, 74, has been in power for 34 years, longer than any President in Africa except Cameroon’s Paul Biya, Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema and the Republic of Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso.
In April this year, his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party declared that Museveni will be the party’s sole candidate for President.
Bobi Wine, 37, a political upstart, born (Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu), will be, as of now be his main challenger, as so far none of half a dozen other political parties has indicated an interest in fielding a candidate for the Presidency. Instead, leaders of the main parties, including the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) of Dr Kizza Besigye, the Democratic Party of Norbert Mao, are openly hobnobbing with Bobi Wine, who has helped their candidates win at least five parliamentary elections in different parts of the country since last year.
With the opposition parties behind him, it is increasingly becoming clear that Bobi Wine has galvanised the opposition to unite behind him as the sole opposition candidate. This is unprecedented in the history of elections in the country, where the opposition has largely been fragmented.
Should this unity continue, then it will be a showdown between Museveni and Wine, who, since he stormed into the political scene two years ago with a landslide victory in a by-election for Kyadondo East constituency near Kampala, continues to climb the political ladder. He is popular across the country, especially among the youth, who comprise about 80% of the voting population, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics.
The Western world has lost its influence on Museveni to the Chinese, who are bankrolling the country’s development projects. In the past the West, especially the European Union and the US, funded over 50% of the country’s national budget. That is no more. According to the finance minister Matia Kasaija, the country will fund over 80% of its national budget.
As a result Museveni is not accountable to donors, as was the case before. He also has no regional pressure to contend with. Museveni’s power lies in his firm grip on state institutions.
However, according to some commentators, Bobi Wine will face massive obstacles in the run-up to the polls. “He will be harassed, detained and prevented from campaigning. Demonstrations by his supporters will be violently dispersed, the way they did to Kizza Besigye’s supporters in the past elections,” claims Ms Prossy Kuteesa, a scholar at Ndejje University. Besigiye was perhaps Museveni’s fiercest opponent, until the rise of Wine.
Museveni on his side, says security forces have to maintain law and order, accusing opposition supporters of fomenting chaos. “We shall not allow elements in the opposition to disrupt peace,” he has warned.
It will be interesting to see how the campaigns unfold and whether the support for Wine goes beyond a desire to see a change in the presidency or whether the public is willing to trust national politics to an as-yet untried activist.
However, perhaps an even more essential aspect to the forthcoming election is the tilt of the playing field. There are few, including Museveni supporters, who really believe the election procedures are above board or that attempts to challenge the results are fair.
Skewed electoral laws
At issue are the highly skewed electoral laws. They were considered so badly tilted that in 2016, the Supreme Court ordered the Attorney General to institute reforms before the next elections.
In his submission the Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe ruled that the current laws had made it technically and legally impossible to hold free and fair elections. The Supreme Court has dismissed petitions by former candidates Dr Kizza Besigye (2001, 2006 and 2011) and Amama Mbabazi in the 2016 polls, but has always done so after faulting the electoral laws.
The Chief Justice issued 10 recommendations to the Attorney General to table before parliament for electoral law reforms. He made it clear the next elections should be conducted after electoral law reform.
Among the key reforms is prohibiting the giving of donations by all candidates, including the President. In past elections, the President has handed out donations during campaigning. The Supreme Court also wants a law prohibiting public servants, including the police and the army and stateowned media, from involvement in political campaigns. The court order follows credible evidence of meddling in polls, including the alteration of poll results by public servants in the districts.
The Chief Justice also noted the difficulty petitioners meet when seeking redress from courts of law against electoral malpractices. According to the law, all evidence must be presented through written affidavits within 30 days after the elections.
“How can one collect written affidavits from across the country within that period,” asks Joseph Ongoon Oging, a Kampala constitutional lawyer, adding, “Clearly that law stifles justice.”
As part of the reforms, the Supreme Court wants verbal evidence to be submitted and witnesses cross-examined during the hearing of election petitions. The court also wants submission of evidence to be done within at least 60 instead of the current 30 days.
Although the Supreme Court gave the Attorney General up to the beginning of this year to institute those electoral law reforms, the order had been ignored until two Makerere University professors, Fredrick Jjuuko and Frederick Ssempebwa petitioned the Supreme Court to declare the Attorney General’s failure to implement its ruling as contempt of court. Although the Supreme Court did not indict the AG for contempt of court, it ordered him to immediately act on its ruling.
In July, the Attorney General William Byaruhanga tabled before Parliament some amendments but the opposition has cried foul, saying the AG had not only ignored the Supreme Court recommendations but used the opportunity to propose new legislation clearly targeting individuals in the opposition, especially Bobi Wine.
However, AG Byaruhanga denies the allegations. Despite his denial, a summary of the bills containing the proposed amendments clearly ignores the key recommendations of the Supreme Court.
Although Museveni’s 35 years in power have seen the economy grow, remarkably big income disparities and massive unemployment among the youth, comprising 80% of the population, alleged corruption and nepotism are tarnishing his success record.
It is this section of society that comprises the majority of the population behind Bobi Wine.