Ugandans choose peace over honesty

March 6, 2006

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KAMPALA, UGANDA – Join me along a main drag, congested and potholed as it is, into Uganda’s capital. See the rather ragged election banner of President Yoweri Museveni?

It’s hung like that for weeks, as big as the beer ads here, crooked and torn, saying in not so many words, “Nobody cares.”

Thousands of presidential supporters have seen its damage. The president’s campaign team undoubtedly has. When nearby, Museveni likely has also. Still, there it blows, a testament to the fact that nobody here seems overly concerned about much, least of all that Museveni’s recent election win makes him, in effect, Uganda’s emperor king.

While he once said no African leader should rule more than 10 years, Museveni now reigns for 25, to 2011. “Big Man” is apparently still in the lexicon of African politics.

This is because unlike Canadians, who will turf governments over, say, corruption, Ugandans, remembering yesteryear’s despots, are happy with leaders who allow them to go to bed without getting shot or raped before morning.

“He brought us peace. We love him,” is how our housekeeper, Alice, put it. So let the torn presidential banners blow over potholed roads. And if democracy has to stay in its nappy stage, so be it. Freedom, after all, is relative.

The downside is that one still has to sleep in the bed one makes.

Corruption already puts an estimated $175 million annually into the wrong pockets. Ugandans just entrenched such sleaze as a regime maintenance tool.

By holding their tongues on government neglect of the war-torn north or Uganda’s hydro crisis or rotten health care, voters just tacitly accepted that, too. By re-electing a government that perpetually weakens the opposition, not to mention civic institutions like media and courts, they’ve made it even harder for new leaders to emerge.

And by recrowning Museveni after he changed the law to allow unlimited presidential terms, Ugandans have isolated themselves. International donors, who provide about half of Uganda’s revenue, are already trimming support. Uganda is also out of step regionally, now the only East African country allowing more than two terms.

Ironically, things aren’t all great for Museveni himself because this election was about more than leading Uganda for another five years. It’s about 2013 when the East Africa (EA) Federation – 90 million people in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania – is scheduled to become a political and economic union under one president.

Museveni is eyeing that, but will EA want his Big Man image? Kenyans, for one, are becoming more democratic than ever.

Ugandans, ultimately, could keep their man until 2019. At 75, he’d have to leave by law unless he changes it.

Museveni won his third term largely on the female vote.

In fact, not one woman, my wife included, told me they’d vote for main contender Dr. Kizza Besigye.

My theory is that Museveni’s facial features are softer.

Twenty years since assuming power, this is just his third term because after Uganda’s 1980-86 civil war, Museveni ruled de facto for nine years.

Two five-year terms followed. To clarify from a previous column his desire for “seven more years,” Museveni still has Uganda’s 2011 elections before that potential 2013 EA presidency. Meanwhile, other African presidents are catching third-term fever. Chad’s Idriss Deby has changed that country’s constitution to run for a third. Courting disaster, Nigeria’s president, Olusegun Obasanjo, is considering the same.

Besigye, a former ally who saved Museveni’s life during the civil war, campaigned between jail time, plus 27 court appearances on trumped up treason and rape charges.

And Besigye’s supporters?

At a recent rally, some of them crowded and threw rocks at a military lieutenant’s car. So the officer shot three of them dead. With voter turnout topping 60 per cent, Museveni garnered 59 per cent of over six million votes. Besigye got 38 per cent. International observers acknowledge voting irregularities, but say official results are solid.

Besigye’s camp disputes them.

Is that poor losing? Consider more on how the winners play.

When early polls streamed in and Uganda’s independent newspaper, The Monitor, released its own running tally, the government blocked its website and jammed its sister radio station’s frequency.

As our yard help, Paul, said, “I voted Museveni, not because I wanted to but if he lost, we’d have a war.”

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March 6, 2006 • Posted in ,
Contact Thomas at [email protected]


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