Uganda Elections 2021 How Ex-Rebel Yoweri Museveni Has Stayed In Power For 35 Years

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Uganda Elections 2021 How Ex-Rebel Yoweri Museveni Has Stayed In Power For 35 Years

Ugandans under the age of 35 – and that is more than three-quarters of the population – have only known one president.

Yoweri Museveni, who came to power on the back of an armed uprising in 1986, has defied the political laws of gravity which have felled other long-serving leaders in the region.

The 76-year-old’s time at the top has been accompanied by a long period of peace and big developmental changes for which many are grateful. But he has managed to maintain his grip on power through a mixture of encouraging a personality cult, employing patronage, compromising independent institutions and sidelining opponents.

During the last election five years ago when he addressed the issue of him stepping down, he asked: “How can I go out of a banana plantation I have planted that has started bearing fruits?”

For this revolutionary the harvest is still not over.

My introduction to the president came in the 1990s in the form of a school play in which the turbulence of the Milton Obote and Idi Amin years was acted out.

The piece climaxed on 26 January 1986, with Mr Museveni’s National Resistance Army liberating the country, bringing an end to wars and senseless killings.

It is this image of the man as liberator and peace-bringer that many Ugandans have been raised on, and are reminded of at every opportunity.

Presidential press-ups

He is also a fatherly and grandfatherly figure.

Many young Ugandans refer to the president by the nickname “Sevo”, and he fondly calls them Bazukulu (meaning grandchildren in the Luganda language).

But the family man does not see himself as a typical ageing patriarch, reclining in his favourite chair with his children and grandchildren fussing around.

In his campaign for his sixth elected term in office, which feels like it started straight after the last election, he has been traversing the country, launching factories, opening roads and new markets.

And with an eye on his relatively youthful challenger, 38-year-old former pop star Bobi Wine, Mr Museveni has been keen to show his vitality. Last April, to encourage exercise during lockdown he was filmed doing press-ups, and then repeated the trick several times including in front of cheering students in November.

“If your father loves you, he has to empower you. In the next five years, ‘Sevo’ will make sure that when we finish school, we are able to get jobs,” 25-year-old Angela Kirabo says, touching on the issue of youth unemployment, which is a major source of concern.

The economics graduate is a proud Muzukulu (grandchild), having grown up in a family supporting the governing National Resistance Movement (NRM). She also served as vice-chairperson of the party’s chapter at university and thinks the president still has a lot to offer after 35 years in power.

Presidential age limits overturned

One of his closest friends and advisors, John Nagenda, says Mr Museveni’s selflessness is one reason for his ability to inspire loyalty.

“He was prepared to die for Uganda. I would say that we are very lucky to have him,” the 82-year-old says.

“Most of the other people that I know who have been presidents, they wanted to do it for themselves; they wanted the glory. But Museveni wants to do [it] for the country and continent… he is an Africanist.”

A woman in a mask in front of a mural

AFP
Uganda’s general election

14 January 2021

  • 18.1mpeople have registered to vote

Source: Uganda electoral commission

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Nevertheless under the original clauses of the 1995 constitution the president should not have run for office again after 2005.

Indeed, before then it was widely understood that he was against staying on in power, brushing off queries about the idea, saying that he would rather go back to his farm.

Journalist William Pike, who at one time was seen as very close to the president and the NRA, described in his memoir how the president was genuinely upset when asked at a dinner in the early 1990s whether he wanted to stay in power for the rest of his life.

“Museveni said: ‘Of course not’, but he was clearly furious at what he considered a real insult. He was not faking it. At that stage he really was not intending to stay on in power,” Mr Pike wrote.

But something changed his mind in 2004, though it has never been clear what exactly that was, and his MPs endorsed the idea that the constitution should be amended to remove presidential term limits.

He had the green light to stand until he reached 75 years of age.

Uganda Elections 2021 How Ex-Rebel Yoweri Museveni Has Stayed In Power For 35 Years

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