Uganda’s road to 2021 follows familiar script

Saturday May 04 2019

Ugandan musician turned politician, Robert Kyagulanyi (centre) attends court via video link in Kampala on May 2, 2019. The drama in court echoed state efforts to keep a major political challenger in prison as was seen 14 years ago when Dr Besigye faced multiple charges including rape. PHOTO | ISAAC KASAMANI | AFP


Ugandans are watching the re-enactment of a familiar political script as the country moves towards its next general election in 2021

“The manner of arrest, maltreatment and presentation in court of musician cum politician Bobi Wine reads like the same script as was applied to Dr Kizza Besigye once he emerged as a serious threat to President Yoweri Museveni when he first arrived on the scene,” said a senior lecturer at Makerere University, who preferred not to be identified, saying recent developments at the institution mean they have to tread carefully in discussions of political matters.

No change

Mwambutsya Ndebesa, an outspoken political and development historian at Makerere University said, “There has been no change. What we are seeing is a continuation of how we saw the state deal with Dr Kizza Besigye, in fact Ugandans should brace for more. The instrumentalisation of law for power retention is only going to get worse,” he said.

In a Kampala court on Thursday, the prosecution attempted to block a bail application for Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine), who is the MP for Kyadondo.

State prosecutors also attempted to block fellow MPs, saying they could not guarantee Mr Kyagulanyi’s adherence to bail conditions.


He was finally released on a bail of $265.

The drama in court echoed state efforts to keep a major political challenger in prison as was seen 14 years ago when Dr Besigye—then the biggest political opponent to President Museveni—faced multiple charges including rape.

The state at one stage charged Dr Besigye both in the civil court and the military court.

The reach of the institutional hold has been especially apparent in the control of the media space, where the police, resident district commissioners (RDCs) and the regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), have mounted sustained pressure.

While the police, at the command of the RDCs, have broken into studios of at least two radio stations to remove Dr Besigye during live-on-air interviews in Jinja and Mubende, the UCC has applied its regulatory powers to ask media houses to suspend staff or risk cancellation of their licences.

An opinion poll, to be released on Monday, reveals that for the first time, combined numbers for especially the two major opposition figurers, Dr Besigye and Mr Kyagulanyi would pull President Museveni’s totals to below the 50 per cent mark if elections were held today.

The poll, highlights of which The EastAfrican is familiar with, will reveal that in the less than two years since he stormed the political scene, Mr Kyagulanyi has become a serious contender should he seek nomination to run as a candidate: He has indicated that he intends to run for president in the next election.

Main opposition figure

The poll reveals that Mr Kyagulanyi has edged out Dr Besigye as the main opposition figure, but is still below President Museveni in numbers. Dr Besigye maintains a strong showing although behind Bobi Wine.

The other contenders, including Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu whose Alliance for National Transformation party finally secured a registration certificate from the Electoral Commission, are posting single digit percentages or less.

The tilting of the landscape is however not exciting many who think President Museveni can still leverage the power he holds and his relative popularity among the citizenry.

According to Mr Ndebesa, the fact that “a candidate outside of the traditional west—home to Museveni, Besigye, Amama Mbabazi and Mugisha Muntu —a youth constituency, the religious factor where a non-Anglican” has emerged as a major contender, is leaving the outcome of 2021 interestingly poised.