On Saturday 16 January 2021, Uganda’s Electoral Commission declared incumbent President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni re-elected with 58.64%. Museveni’s main rival, popular singer turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu alias Bobi Wine was announced to have garnered 34.83%. Kyagulanyi has rejected the results, terming them fraudulent on the strength of evidence of massive irregularities gathered by his National Unity Platform (NUP).
The NUP is said to be working on an election petition challenging the results.
All indicators are that President Museveni was jittery about facing the first time MP in a free and fair contest if events preceding the elections and whatever happened on election day and thereafter are anything to go by. In the pretext of preventing Kyagulanyi from breaking COVID-19 mitigation protocols, the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) assisted by the police made it their business to either disrupt Kyagulanyi’s public rallies, where he was almost always arrested. At other times, the army and the police shot at opposition supporters, killing dozens in some of the worst confrontations especially in the capital, Kampala.
Seeing that physical meetings were becoming a hard nut to crack, Kyagulanyi resorted to using social media platforms to push his message of change. But then as election day drew nigh, the Ugandan government launched a crackdown by first shutting down Facebook, which it accused of taking sides in the presidential contest, this coming after the site blocked accounts suspected of pushing the ruling National Resistance Movement’s (NRM’s) propaganda. On election eve, President Museveni shutdown the internet, causing a major communication blackhole.
Lasting for five days until Monday 18 January 2021, the internet blockade ensured journalists couldn’t effectively report on the elections, just as it made it impossible for Kyagulanyi’s NUP to coordinate its election day and post-election activities. Further, Kyagulanyi’s and his wife Barbie’s phones were disabled, after which the military barricaded their Kampala residence.
One may wonder why 76 year old President Museveni felt the need to go to such extremes to contain 38 year old Kyagulanyi. The answer to this puzzle is that the ‘Ghetto President’, as Kyagulanyi had christened himself during his showbiz days, had proven to be a formidable threat to the NRM’s 34 year reign. Lacking on what has for a long time been considered the prerequisite for standing up to President Museveni – the history of having fought alongside the NRM during the 1981-1986 bush war – Kyagulanyi had proven that someone who was 4 years old when Museveni and his comrades took power can give the NRM actual sleepless nights.
More importantly, in using heavy handed tactics against a defiant Kyagulanyi, Museveni has played right into the law of unintended consequences. Instead of making Kyagulanyi retreat, Museveni has in fact reproduced for Uganda a better version of his younger self. As a young man in his 30s, President Museveni’s Marxist beliefs made him loath the corrupt political establishment, such that when he failed to make a mark through electoral politics, he resorted to the armed struggle. In his first election, Museveni managed to get only a single MP elected, such a disheartening development which made him opt to pursue power through the bullet.
Going by the yardstick of first elections, Kyagulanyi’s nearly 40 MPs tell the story of a political movement with the potential of leading Uganda in future, with better prospects than Museveni had when he took arms in 1981. Museveni has therefore bequeathed Uganda another young liberator who comes with a better head start as compared to the NRM leader’s trajectory.