Uganda’s Elections and Parallels with Egypt

February 15, 2011

As you may know, I am no fan of current Ugandan President Museveni. Elections are being held this upcoming Friday, February 18th, and no one will be surprised when Museveni is elected for another 5-year term, making his grand total of years in office a whopping 30 – right up there with some of the best like Mugabe of Zimbabwe (currently 24 yrs.) and Mubarak, formerly of Egypt (30 yrs.) That is, if nothing happens during what is speculated to be his last 5-year term. After all, he is IS 67 years old.

There are a multitude of reasons he will be elected President again, whether the election is rigged or not, each of which could encompass several days’ worth of discussion, but I’ll just mention a few here. Despite the fact that he did allow a 20-year war to ravage the northern part of his country, he calmed some of the rebellious groups in other parts of the country. He has a large support base both among the Buganda, whom have benefited the most from economic advancements and the Banyankole, his own ethnic group. Both comprise some of the most populous groups in the country. He is expected to win much of the northern vote, which seems surprising since there are so many other candidates from the north who are also running, but it seems that the recent peace has restored some of the voters’ faith, which he had lost. Then, if we look at the other candidates, none of them really exude the confidence that the people need to feel in order to elect a government that can successfully transition through a switch of power in tough economic and political times. I mean let’s face it, Besigye and Otunnu seem to have gone off the deep end, and Mao just never came out strong enough. Of course, we can’t forget Museveni’s new rap single.

We can look at the horrible infrastructure – water and power can go out at any moment in even the swankiest of Kampala’s suburbs, and there are very few roads without potholes that can swallow a whole vehicle. We can look at his marginalization of the north and the devastating poverty and disease that are still rampant. We can look at his faulty democracy where no other political parties were allowed until 2005, and how he removed term limits on the Presidential office. With all of these strikes against his name, I can’t help paralleling Museveni and the NRM government with recently deposed Egyptian President Mubarak. With so many people rioting across the world, I can’t help but wonder if Uganda will be next in line. Here are a few similarities that I noticed:

Propped up by the U.S. Government

One of the most controversial topics in the Egyptian riots has been the role of the United States in Mubarak’s dictatorship. The whole thing exposed how our government props up a dictator in order to have an ally that we paid and signed for in the Middle-East. Not to mention, he could do our dirty work with the terrorists. When the police did use force against Egyptians, their supplies had been given to them by the U.S. government, and the U.S. could never come out and show their support for the people because they wanted to maintain some alliances with Mubarak, should the riots be ineffective.

Museveni’s Presidency has been similar, though perhaps not as extreme. Uganda receives military aid from the U.S., and they do our work by going into Somalia as peacekeepers because Americans are hardly supportive of sending U.S. soldiers on peacekeeping missions in Somalia after the whole Black Hawk down incident. He’s one of many other leaders around the world, whom has questionably democratic practices but is strategically useful to the U.S., regardless of what he may or may not do for his own people.

Unconventional rise to power

Mubarak became President of Egypt after President Anwar el Sadat was assassinated in 1981. Then he held onto that title for another 30 years. Museveni became the President after he led the rebel National Resistance Army in a military coup, helping to depose President Obote and then the Okellos. And he has held onto that title ever since, holding “democratic” elections that can be heavily criticized for their skeptical legitimacy.

Educated Youth and High Unemployment

One of the major points of contention in the Egyptian riots has been the lack of jobs and career opportunities for university-educated youth. People with Bachelor’s Degrees found themselves selling fruit in the market, and they felt the government should do more to provide higher level jobs for them. Uganda’s level of higher education is not the same as Egypt’s, but the number of college graduates is growing, and there are already quite a few boda-boda drivers who hold University Degrees. Not to mention, Uganda has one of the largest youth populations in the world.

Underpaid Government Workers

Even though Mubarak is gone, we all know Egypt has a long way to go in political reforms and in creating a truly inclusive democratic government. So the police and other government workers, who have been underpaid under Mubarak and made a living through taking bribes, have taken up riots in Tahrir Square to be sure their concerns are heard and addressed. They fear that under a new government, bribes will be impossible and they will not be able to make a living wage. Similarly, in Uganda police are paid as little, or less than, $100 a month. I’ve heard about and witnessed countless incidents where it was necessary to bribe a police man or woman to get out of serious trouble. The government will need to raise their pay to ensure their loyalty, or they could go into similar riots.

Fairly loyal military

The Egyptian military fell more or less on the side of indifferent in the riots, though they mostly erred on the side of the people. They were loyal to Mubarak, but also felt the sympathies of the Egyptians. Museveni’s military is a little different. Since he came to power via military coup, much of his military shares his ideals and is very loyal to him. If the people were to riot, the military would definitely err on the side of the government. In fact, they have proven this to be true in the September 2009 riots in Kampala. The military unleashed a shocking amount of force on the small group of rioters in the market, killing around ten civilians. If the Ugandan population erupted into mass rioting, it would likely be much more violent and deadly than Egypt. However, now that the world is watching, Museveni will need to be careful what he orders his soldiers to do. Many Egyptians said they were inspired to carry on because of the sympathy from the rest of the world, and Ugandan rioters would likely receive much the same sentiment.

Both of their names start with “Mu-“

Seems strange that some of the men who have held onto power the longest have names that start with “Mu-“ – Mu-seveni, Mu-barak, Mu-gabe. An area for further research for sure…

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None of this is to say that Uganda will erupt in riots (especially that last one), and we’ll see what happens on Friday, though no one is really anticipating too much action outside the usual vote rigging and intimidation. I just found it interesting that so many of the factors that led to the success of the Egyptian riots match up with the situation in Uganda.

Ugandan voters, I’ll be thinking of you on Friday and how it must feel to vote in this election. I hope that one day soon, the leader the country needs will emerge out of the woodwork, but until then try to push for peaceful reform and demand the services you need from your government. Please vote for who you think will best lead the country for the next 5 years, whether it be Mao, Besigye, Otunnu, or Museveni, and do not allow yourself to be intimidated into a choice that is not yours.

about erin

I graduated from the University of Tennessee in May 2011 with a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. I am currently taking the year off to enjoy a less stressful life while applying for graduate schools in Anthropology. Without sounding too cliche, it's true that we are all life-long learners, but I still miss the challenge and excitement of the classroom. This website is a combination of personal and professional so that anyone who wants to can get to know me better. I will also be keeping up with my blog, where you will be able to read about the life of an undergraduate student about to embark on the real world. Feel free to contact me; I’d love to hear from you!