There is a ritual that has now become a staple of Uganda politics: In the months leading to presidential elections, the dogs are let out on President Yoweri Museveni’s rivals.
With elections seven months away, the announcement that the hour had arrived was made with the arrest of two presidential aspirants who hope to challenge Museveni’s 30-year-rule.
Ex-prime minister and ruling party secretary-general Amama Mbabazi was arrested near the eastern industrial town of Jinja on his way to address a rally; and Kizza Besigye, a former leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), who is seeking his party’s nomination to be their presidential candidate, was arrested at his home outside the capital Kampala.
Besigye, a former minister and Museveni’s physician during their bush war in the early 1980s, has battled with him three times for the presidency.
Their first encounter in 2001, and the second one in 2006, produced probably the nastiest and most violent elections the country has ever witnessed. Both times Besigye said he was robbed, and went to court.
The courts agreed with him except, they said, the votes that had been stolen weren’t sufficient to change the final outcome. In 2011, saying it was no longer possible to find justice in a court stacked with pro-Museveni judges, he set out on months of leading civil protests.
Beaten like a snake
For his pains he was beaten, as Ugandans would say, like a snake. Since 2001, it is possible even Besigye himself has lost count of the number of times he has been arrested.
Over the next months, it will get worse, not better for Besigye and Mbabazi.
The question is, why does the Museveni government treat his rivals this way? The obvious answer seems to be that, well, “This is Africa, that is another big man clinging to power and tormenting rivals.”
But in Uganda’s case, it is a little more complex. For historical reasons, Museveni is fearful of elections — even those which he knows he can easily win.
This complex, some say, has its roots in the December 1980 polls. Those elections were h