The battle lines had been clearly marked even before the polls opened; that it would be a two-horse race – Yoweri Museveni versus Bobi Wine.
The other nine candidates were insignificant in an election that was the most violent by far since the country gained independence from the British in 1962. Despite turning up in droves to elect a new president it is already clear that at the end of the vote-counting Museveni will be declared the winner.
Shortly after the polls closed, Wine’s polling agents and coordinators in at least 22 districts were being pursued by the military and police in contravention of electoral procedures. This kind of intimidation only showed the extent to which Museveni can use his powers, albeit unconstitutional, to suppress the opposition even on polling day.
With results expected on the weekend, many Ugandans, particularly the unemployed youth, hope that Wine’s victory would bring about the much-needed change in the country. They relate to Wine in many ways because he comes from the ghetto, just like them.
Besides sharing so many things in common with Bobi Wine, the youths are tired of a system that has failed to create job opportunities. With a dilapidated health system, rampant unemployment, and poverty, many want a change of leadership.
Even graduates are now underemployed. Some choose to work as maids and cab drivers in Middle East countries because they see no future back home. The rampant corruption, impunity at the highest levels, and gross human rights violations have created a hopeless situation in a country that the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once described as the “Pearl of Africa.”
Museveni has become the state, and the state is Museveni. Like all the other dictators, during elections, he has the final say in all state affairs. Nothing can be sanctioned without his consent.
In a bid to edge out election monitors from opposition groups, Museveni ordered the suspension of social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp after Facebook closed accounts linked to government officials and bloggers spreading misinformation.
Despite using the same platforms to rally Ugandans on the benefits of keeping fit, by himself doing 30 push-ups in April 2020, this time, he knew how crucial the same social platforms would be in disseminating information on polling day.
Bobi Wine’s party, the National Unity Platform (NUP), had developed an app, UVote, that his agents would use to monitor election results. Museveni knew well that he would not rig his way out without switching off the internet and banning social media platforms like he did in the previous elections of 2016. He knows only too well the power of these media tools.
Museveni — a master of violence
Since 2000, elections in Uganda have been characterized by violence in all its forms. As a former guerilla leader, no one knows better how to unleash the military against a defenseless population than Museveni himself. He has personalized the army to serve his interests.
Before the election, Museveni deployed top military generals across the country to take charge of security, gather intelligence, and ensure a peaceful election. On the contrary, it was the military that brutalized the people that it was meant to protect.
In addition, he reshuffled top police bosses and brought a military general Paul Lokech, nicknamed the Lion of Mogadishu, a title the Somalis gave him for expelling al-Shabaab Islamists in their capital. Ugandan forces are part of the African Union’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
He also recalled Ugandan troops from Somalia and instead deployed them in the streets of the capital Kampala to engage not with terrorists but with opposition supporters.
Ideally, troops from missions abroad are supposed to be reintegrated back into society after counseling and receiving necessary support. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of experiences in war zones. Museveni knows well that they are not trained to deal with civilians and the damage that they are capable of doing.
Since their deployment, video clips of the soldiers battering civilians have been shared on different media platforms. With security personnel deployed in urban areas that are opposition strongholds, there’s no doubt that we will witness bloody scenes in the coming days.
Why Museveni will emerge the winner
Museveni has used various methods to stay in power. Among them cronyism, nepotism, and denying the opposition any opportunity to work with his ruling party. He perceives opposition groups as enemies of the state and agents of foreign interests. He has also successfully bought off some key opposition figures with huge sums of money and awarded some with ministerial positions in his government.
On several occasions, Museveni has accused Bobi Wine of serving foreign interests and promoting homosexuality in a deeply conservative country and where LGBT+ groups face widespread persecution.
Despite such flimsy accusations, Bobi Wine has captured the attention of many Ugandans and across Africa because of his daring calls for Museveni to retire. Still, Museveni enjoys some support in rural areas that credit him for peace and stability. Therefore, he can count on his support base there.
Lastly, as usual, Museveni ensured that the electoral commission is composed of loyalists who will do as he says and announce results in his favor regardless of the people’s choice. It would be the biggest story of the century if Uganda’s electoral commission declared Wine as the winner of the election in 2021.
For now, Bobi Wine can start plotting his comeback in the next elections in 2025, when Museveni perhaps will be too frail to stand again, which I highly doubt. For his mission is to leave power once he has united Africa, which is an impossible mission.
Isaac Mugabi | DW Africa reporting, Obinwannem News