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Exit riveting poll season, enter oil diplomacy and its big money

Monday January 25 2021
NRM supporters.

National Resistance Movement (NRM) supporters on January 21, 2021 celebrate President Yoweri Museveni's election victory in Kampala. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni just won his eighth term (including two unelected ones) in what many agree was the most violent poll in the country’s history, and possibly in East Africa since the turn of the century.

And, in keeping with peculiarly Ugandan tradition, the youthful close rival who seemed to fire the imagination of a country, musician-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi (more commonly known by his stage name Bobi Wine) is battered, and under unofficial house arrest, with dozens of police and troops laying siege to his home.

Wine has rejected the election as rigged, and some of the “evidence” coming out, now that the blockade of the Internet has been lifted, is embarrassing — if true.

Museveni's actions against election rivals, however, and statements in the heated aftermath of balloting, are important because they are pointers to how he and his government are likely to act regionally.

The most intelligent and least violent election of the Museveni era was on February 18, 2011. The political situation descended into brutality only weeks later when, to protest alleged fraud, Besigye launched the “Walk to Work” protests. Museveni brought the hammer down.

Nevertheless, the mood around the 2011 poll was chirpy. Museveni waxed about East African integration and pan-Africanism immediately.

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One of the outcomes of that cheerfulness was that the rapprochement between the Ugandan and Rwanda leaders after their relations had been soured by the two countries’ clashes in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, got underway in earnest.

By mid-2012 Museveni and Rwanda President Paul Kagame were all buddy-buddy again, exchanging cattle, and visiting for sleepovers.

This time, with the smudgy ink on the tally sheets barely dry, he was rattling the sabre, threatening to rain fire on rivals and their supporters who might be planning to cause trouble, and warning a country in the region that he claimed had sent "agents to come and meddle in our politics". He didn't identify the country, but analysts think he was referring to Rwanda.

As it happens, President Kagame has been signalling that he might step down in 2024. If by then, the stand-off between Rwanda and Uganda that plagued the region in 2019 is still on high, domestic politics could make it hard for him to leave. For Museveni, then, this aggressive posture ensures that he wouldn’t be left alone looking ever more out of place, as the only leader who has been in office for decades.

But it might also suggest Kampala’s unease with the way the politics to succeed Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2022 is playing out. The Building Bridges Initiative has created a partnership between Kenyatta and opposition veteran Raila Odinga, which could give the latter a say in the succession.

Kampala has never been comfortable with the Odinga side of Kenyan politics, and right now Deputy President William Ruto certainly has more friends in Museveni’s court.

Tanzania President John Magufuli, would help lift the dark mood in Kampala and improve regional spirits if he was to throw everything he has at ensuring the Uganda pipeline to Tanga is up and running.

Big oil money in the pocket has been known to grease diplomacy and bring cheer to politics.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]

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