BY SARAH HOLLOWAY – STAFF WRITER
On Feb. 18 Ugandans held their general elections for President, Parliament, and local councils. The final results of the presidential elections came out to Yoweri Museveni from the National Resistance Movement party (NRM) with 60% and Kizza Besigye from the Forum for Democratic Change party (FDC) at 35%. Though Museveni has been in power since 1986 and has helped Uganda achieve stability in many ways, the validity of this election has been called into question.
Throughout the campaigning process, there were many reports of fraud surrounding the Museveni administration; ballot boxes would show up to voting sites already full, intimidation techniques such as arrests and interrogation were employed, and Museveni frequently arrested his opponent Besigye on accounts of intrigue in order to disrupt his organization. Despite these claims, many feel that Museveni did not need these techniques and would have been legitimately elected. Throughout his presidency, he helped improved Uganda’s economic state, achieved stability in the post-Civil War era, strengthened relationships with the international community, and became a strong ally with other countries in the efforts against terrorism.
Despite these successes, his presidency has had an air of dictatorship throughout his thirty years in office. In 2003, Museveni passed a referendum removing term limits for the presidency; these limits were put in place in 1995 to prevent a dangerous centralization of power and disregard for constitutional norms around a long-serving leader, which has been a common trend in African politics.
Senior and politics major Gray Whitsett, who recently accompanied Dr. Jon Earle to Uganda and Rwanda this past CentreTerm, recounts his first-hand experience with the elections: “At first I was pro-Museveni; he wasn’t stupid or ineffective in his presidency and he had accomplished a lot in Uganda. But after living with my homestay Teso family who called me brother, and hearing them speak of their other brothers being brutally murdered by the government, I changed my support to Besigye and even went to an FDC political rally.”
Before running against him for president, Kizza Besigye was Museveni’s personal physician and one of his closest allies during the Bush administration in the United States. He was compelled to run in an attempt to end the reign of Museveni and the alleged nepotism that came with his presidency. Besigye’s main campaign points were to increase medical supplies, improve and expand primary education, and to build extensive clinics throughout the country; however, due to the frequent arrests he experienced at the hands of Museveni, campaigning was not a smooth process and this hurt him in the polls.
Whether there was fraudulent voting or not, Uganda has five more years of Museveni to look forward to. However, the growing unrest surrounding his position in power may mean this is last term in office. If the rest of the country can find a single candidate to rally behind, there may be a chance Museveni’s reign will end.
“The best chance Uganda has of getting Museveni out of office is to have a multi-ethnic coalition supporting a single candidate. But this will never happen because of regional conflicts that have existed since Milton Obote was in power decades ago. They need to unify to accomplish anything, but they won’t,” Assistant Professor of History and Chair of African and African-American Studies Program Dr. Jonathon Earle said.
With much of the population dissatisfied with the results of this election, it will be interesting to see what happens with the Ugandan government over the course of Museveni’s latest term. Perhaps Museveni’s accomplishments will have been enough to satisfy the people, or perhaps they will be ready to make a change.