Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni on Wednesday was sworn in as the country’s leader for a sixth five-year elective term that will see the former rebel leader maintain a 40-year grip on power.
But observers say the Ugandan leader now faces unfamiliar political and economic challenges. Among these are healing a divided population smarting from violent political campaigns and a disputed election result, an economy crumbling from the devastating effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic and high unemployment among the country’s youthful population.
The president will, in this term, also have to address bloated government expenditure and the rampant corruption that has defined his previous administrations.
During his inauguration speech, President Museveni largely avoided these issues and spent a substantial amount of time talking about a united Africa and why the West should leave Africans to deal with their problems in their preferred way.
Among African leaders present at the inauguration were Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Évariste Ndayishimiye of Burundi, Samia Hassan of Tanzania, Alpha Conde of Guinea and Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe. Others were Hage Geingob of Namibia, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo of Somalia and Salva Kiir of South Sudan.
After 35 years in power, President Museveni has been hard-put to implement several matters that his party’s manifesto pledges, including poverty and taking Uganda to the lower-middle-income economy bracket.
But the ruling National Resistance Movement party director of communication Emmanuel Dombo says most of these pending issues will be fast-tracked.
“For the current manifesto, we might not get 100 percent implementation because of several factors, but we could also do more than 100 percent if resources are available,” he said.
Political analysts say the president’s first hurdle will be getting legitimacy both at home and abroad. He was announced winner of the January election, amid accusations of voter fraud by his youthful challenger Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine.
Mr Museveni won almost 59 percent of the vote, with Bobi Wine trailing at around 35 percent.
But the election was marred by violence, with security attacking opposition candidates and their supporters during the campaign period in which at least 54 people were killed.
The opposition rejected the results and several election observers said the process was flawed.
Even President Museveni’s backers, the European Union and the United States, refused to give him the much-needed nod, noting that the election was neither free nor fair.
Prof Mwambustya Ndebesa, a political science lecturer at Makerere University, said the United States — which has already imposed travel bans on unnamed Ugandan top security officials — might not be willing impose full sanctions on the president for the election malpractices because he is a strategic ally in the war against terrorism and security in the region.
“They still need his soldiers in Somalia, and he is key in the war on terrorism and the stability in the Great Lakes Region and South Sudan. But his overstay in power seems to be making them sceptical,” Prof Ndebesa said.
He added that Museveni needs to first seek legitimacy at home, where he has lost a large support base in the central region and a legion of unemployed youth — most of whom were born after he came to power in 1986 — yearning for change.
To achieve this, Museveni will have to recognise and reach out to an opposition that he despises and dismisses as enemies and criminals.
“The talks should address political principles, the freedoms of assembly and association, participation of the military in politics, access to media and the political future of the country, including the reinstating of term limits in the constitution,” said the scholar.
As Museveni was sworn in, the homes of two main opposition leaders, Dr Kizza Besigye and Bobi Wine, were under siege of the military and police. And instead of calming a nervous public, the capital Kampala was also placed under a military siege.
Many young opposition supporters are languishing in jail, arrested during and in the aftermath of the January 14, 2021 general election, on allegations of involvement in subversive activities, which they deny.
At the Wednesday inauguration, former presidential candidates invited rejected the invite, which can be construed to be a refusal to endorse the president’s win, and potentially denting the credibility of the event.
Mugisha Muntu, who contested on the Alliance for National Transformation Party ticket, said: “We thank them for inviting us, but I cannot go to celebrate impunity, manipulation, deception, lies and cheating.”
Bobi Wine said he should have been the one being sworn-in.
“What swearing-in? That is illegal and I don’t take part in illegalities. As far as I know, I am the president-elect,” he said.
Museveni’s NRM won the majority seats in parliament and this, analysts believe, is reason enough not to reach out to the opposition.
If the talks happen, he would most likely be interested in courting individual opposition actors and co-opting them into his government rather than addressing critical issues of concern among the wider opposition.
The opposition seems to be moving on. A week ago, Bobi Wine wrote to the main opposition party presidents requesting meetings on charting a way forward.
Museveni also faces a challenge of creating jobs for the majority of youth, whose disdain for him keeps growing. Many government programmes earlier initiated to promote employment, such as the Youth Livelihood Fund, have not made the desired impact, largely because of corruption.
Museveni has now turned his hopes to industrialisation to create more jobs for the youth and has gone on a spree of opening up industrial parks around the country.
Just last week, the Cabinet approved a proposal to set up 10 more industrial parks across the country, which are expected to create about 250,000 jobs. But this is just a drop in the ocean, considering that more than 75 percent of Uganda’s population is aged below 30 years, with the country having one of the highest youth unemployment rates (13.3 percent) in sub-Saharan Africa.
In his inauguration speech, Museveni also avoided announcing his plans of revitalising an economy shattered by the Covid-19 pandemic. The services sector, which contributes more than 50 percent of GDP, has been devastated. Many small and medium-sized businesses have closed down, while those hanging on are struggling. Large companies have laid off staff and scaled down on operations.
Museveni said his government has this financial year, set aside Ush464 billion ($130 million) to help these groups as soon as the residual lockdown is lifted after vaccinating 4.8 million people.
According to Dombo, to shore up the economy and push for more jobs, the party will this term put major emphasis on four sectors: Commercial agriculture, industrialisation, service sector and ICT.
“We believe if we focus on these and there will be little interruption like we saw with Covid-19.
‘‘We will accelerate development, increase household incomes and create jobs for our youth,” he said.