The African nation of Uganda will be heading for a General Election tomorrow, 14 January 2021 to choose a new president as well as members of the House of Parliament. Over ten candidates of different parties will be vying for the presidency of the country, including the incumbent President and Commander-in-Chief of Uganda’s Armed Forces, Yoweri Museveni, who has held the reins of power since 1986 and whose only credibility was that he had been part of the rebel forces which overthrew the ex-dictator and political neophyte, ‘Field marshal’ Idi Amin Dada as well as Milton Obote in the late seventies and early eighties. The 76-year-old Museveni is currently vying for his sixth term in office and though he prides himself on promoting ‘a culture of multipartyism,’ what is obtainable in the country however is ‘multiparty-dictatorship.’ This term – a coinage of cynics – defines a system of government where a leader hides under the veil of pluralism while at the same time, indulges in all crude and unconventional methods to maintain his sole grip on power.
Of all the contestants, I noticed that Bobi Wine, real name of Robert Kyagulanyi and the presidential candidate of the National Unity Platform (NUP) is the only visible opposition leader seen to be flexing his political muscles aimed at scuttling Uganda’s autocracy and to an extent too, its gerontocracy. In fact, it beggars belief that there are more than twenty-six registered parties in Uganda amongst which are the Alliance for National Transformation, the Conservative Party, the Democratic Party, the Ecological Party Uganda to mention but a few. I still cannot fathom out why these parties would choose to act in a staccato manner rather than join forces together to form one formidable opposition group to confront a common enemy: Museveni’s totalitarianism. This, to me, is the only option lacking in Uganda’s present political climate – and true-to-type, President Museveni capitalises on this lacunae to tighten his reins on power. This also accounts for his recent view that ‘the opposition parties are opportunists with no ideology.’
Any keen observer of Uganda’s current politics might be tempted to agree with His Excellency’s observation above, but scratch beyond the surface, and you’ll see that Museveni’s allegation is a big lie that mauls logic and misdescribes the present, because his colossal figure has dominated the country’s political landscape for over thirty-four years to such an extent that he does not provide an enabling environment or that level-playing field for opposition parties to thrive and sell their programmes and manifestos to the electorates. For months on end now, the only opposition leader of note, Bobi Wine and his party members have been molested by the soldiers and Museveni’s secret agents. The musician-turned-politician has also been physically attacked and severely beaten so much so that one of his members was cold-bloodedly murdered just a few days ago by the state’s police. To worsen matters too, all social media network has been blocked and some protesters killed as polling day approaches. Campaigns by the opposition parties have also been banned in provinces and regions were they – the opposition – are said to have massive support. It will be recalled too, that this power-drunk generalissimo had previously mangled the country’s constitution to erase the age-limit clause and pave the way for him to intensify his reign.
The political climate in Uganda is very scary to say the least, but this writer makes bold to say that if President Museveni believes in his oft-exaggerated ‘popularity,’ then the logical thing to do is to allow other parties participate fully in the electoral process without being teleguided, clobbered or ensnared in any way, form or fashion. Curiously too, one will not be asking for too much if televised Presidential Debates are organised for the participating candidates, with doors opened for national and international observers. This will undoubtedly give the election a modicum of legitimacy it presently lacks. If President Museveni fails to ensure transparency or through his gerrymandering, denies the Ugandan electorates the chance to vote for their preferred candidates, then his frequent state-of-the-nation announcements reeled off from State House would be nothing but a farrago of nonsense: a fairy tale meant to lure a baby to sleep. That’s the way I see it.
My heart goes to the thousands of able-bodied Ugandan youths who have never known any ruler throughout these harrowing thirty-four years. They demand the right to exercise their franchise. They also demand freedom and liberties that their counterparts enjoy in Western countries. In short, they need a change for the better. In this vein, my message to Uganda’s disjointed opposition parties is simple: identify to solidify. You are not setting a precedent if you do so, as the West African nation of The Gambia is a case in point. In 2016, seven different political parties buried their ethnic differences and came together in a powerful coalition aptly tagged: ‘Gambia Coalition 2016,’ which eventually defeated the dictatorial, inept government of torturer-in-chief, Yahya Jammeh. This is what is needed in this critical stage of Ugandan politics. Allow the status quo to persist, and Ugandans are in for a real trouble, giving President Yoweri Museveni a field day to continue his human rights abuses and tightening the screws around the necks of his suffering people.
Agbonlahor is a journalist and author based in Manchester. His new novel: Another Poor Cow – the Dangers of Tradition in Rural Nigeria is available in all online bookstores.