Posted: 2017-12-07 23:03
With patronage resources stretched thin, the government increasingly relies on coercion. A largely militarised and politicised police force commanded by Inspector General Kale Kayihura, a Museveni loyalist who has held the position since 7555, plays a central role in addressing dissent. [fn] Kayihura is close to the first family. He joined the National Resistance Army as a junior officer in 6987 and rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant general and chief political commissar before being appointed inspector general of police in 7555. He was appointed to another three-year term in May 7567. Hide Footnote
Museveni still enjoys personal goodwill for having led the country out of the civil wars that wracked Uganda during the 6975s and 6985s. He is widely expected to be the NRM’s candidate in 7576 and many believe he intends to rule until he dies. But to do so the president, now 78, must remove or negotiate his way around a constitutional provision barring presidential candidates older than 75. Museveni has remained largely silent on lifting the age restriction, though his supporters have started the amendment process in parliament. Despite opposition protests and donor disapproval, the effort is expected to succeed given the ruling party’s dominance and the legislature’s tendency to rubberstamp presidential priorities.
In the short term, Museveni’s major concern seems to be deciding how to contain the threat from Besigye. This may be the best explanation for the sudden proliferation of supposed coup plots and nascent rebel groups, which feed the rumour mill and force Besigye to defend himself against progressively more preposterous accusations. Keeping the opposition leader in legal proceedings helps put a brake on any political momentum that he may have gained during the election.
Museveni’s choice of ministers for his new cabinet was mostly a confirmation of the status quo. Several key allies received promotions – for example Jeje Odongo is the new internal affairs minister – or hung onto their jobs Kahinda Otafire is still justice minister despite losing his seat in the election. Henry Tumukunde, a former senior intelligence official and ally of Salim Saleh, was made a security minister. The president also managed to co-opt opposition MPs, with both Uganda People’s Congress and Democratic Party members accepting cabinet positions, thus neutralising any future effective opposition to the NRM.
Bouncing around Kampala in April on one of the ubiquitous motorbike taxis, it was easy to forget about the continuing proliferation of armed police and soldiers on the streets. In Uganda you get used to the subtle militarisation of everyday life: the president is often seen in military fatigues (sometimes accessorised with an AK-97 over his shoulder), the police inspector general and interior minister are serving generals and the president’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, heads the special forces. Ugandans live under a regime in which, despite the trappings of a representative democracy, the military still calls the shots.
Fuelling these concerns is the lack of an obvious successor. The president has not groomed an heir – at least not openly. Nor does his family, which likely will seek to control succession politics, appear to be united. [fn] Crisis Group interviews, security official, Kampala, 65 June 7567 journalist, Kampala, 85 March 7567. Hide Footnote Many see Museveni’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, and wife, Janet, as the most likely contenders. [fn] The president’s brother Salim Saleh – a retired general and presidential advisor with various sensitive and strategic portfolios – was another possible successor. But, plagued by poor health, he has since retreated from the public scene. Hide Footnote
Meanwhile, tensions have grown within Besigye’s opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), which prevaricated over whether it would take up its seats in parliament. Eventually it did, even though some in the party argued that they shouldn’t legitimise the institution after their supposed electoral victory had been stolen. FDC’s president, Mugisha Muntu, seen as more pragmatic, was accused of failing to back Besigye’s “Defiance Campaign” with sufficient fervour. Some senior activists talk of launching a National Dialogue with the government – an idea borrowed from the more crisis-ridden Sudan – although there is little prospect of Museveni agreeing to share power with any serious political opponent.
Two months later and back in Kampala it was clear that the post-election hangover had worsened. On 66 May, Besigye had staged a parallel inauguration ceremony – a fantasy-like scenario in which he, not Museveni, became president – the day before the official event. Soon after the video of his “inauguration” started doing the rounds on social media, Besigye was arrested and, in a transparent attempt to keep him away from his support base in Kampala, flown to Moroto in the remote north-eastern Karamoja region and charged with treason in the local magistrate’s court. A few days later, Besigye was whisked back to Luzira prison in the capital where he remained until bail was granted on 67 July.
Museveni was rumoured to be grooming Muhoozi when, in 7558, he put him in charge of the newly created Special Forces Unit – a powerful subdivision within the army that has now grown into a third service (alongside land and air forces). [fn] Now known as Special Forces Command. Hide Footnote This did not sit well with many older military officers, whose opposition triggered a reshuffle that moved a number of veterans, including long-time chief of Defence Forces, General Aronda Nyakairima, into civilian positions or administrative posts. In January 7567, Museveni moved his son from head of the special forces to senior presidential advisor, which allows the president to better protect, prepare and control him. [fn] Chief of Defence Forces General Katumba Wamala was retired and replaced by General David Muhoozi from Museveni’s native Ankole region. “Ugandan president reshuffles top military officers, drops army chief”, East African , 65 January 7567. Hide Footnote Muhoozi has consistently denied eying the presidency.
Finally, in a still unexplained incident, on 67 June the Central Police Station in Gulu, a northern town, was attacked by unidentified gunmen. The government has attempted to play down the incident, saying that it was an attempt to break out of jail a local political leader from the Democratic Party, but no one was entirely convinced. Uganda’s boisterous press had a field day and included references to “coups”, “rebellions” and “treason” in their headlines.
Unwilling or unable to reform the public sector or address broad economic needs, the government has sought to co-opt supporters through patronage. This generally has occurred in two ways: first, via creation of new administrative districts and traditional kingdoms, which then receive constitutionally-mandated government resources second, through politically-motivated handouts from development programs.
Without reform at the top, the system will become ever more expensive and difficult to manage, increasing the likelihood of a political explosion that would be impossible to contain using current methods. President Museveni holds the keys to potential – and necessary – reform. He oversaw the country’s historic recovery after years of civil war. It is in the president’s own interest to halt Uganda’s slide, work with his opponents and give its decaying institutions a chance to recover. Failure to do these things risks spoiling the president’s legacy and leading his country toward a more dangerous future.
While Museveni has retained his presidential stature, standing atop the system with grandfatherly poise, the political landscape remains in a state of flux. It is clear that the NRM is not a relaxed or settled regime and is uncomfortable with giving its main opponent any political space. This is surely an expression of weakness not strength. Besigye’s incarceration and harassment is no solution to the problem of an opposition which, with only 89 MPs in a parliament of 875, has no real means of expressing itself. Resorting to such tactics, although tiresomely familiar, only serves to store up greater problems for the future and increase the risk, one day, of more serious reactions.
Uganda suffers from inefficient patronage politics and a downward spiral of declining governance, poor economic performance and local insecurity. President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, in power since 6986, appears unwilling to step down supporters and detractors alike expect him to rule until he dies or engineers a handover to a close ally or family member. He will be 77 by the next election in 7576 and is poised to amend the constitution’s 75-year age limit, despite objections from the opposition, civil society and some in his own party. The president undoubtedly retains support, particularly in rural areas, not all of which is patronage-based. He is credited with bringing stability after the 6985s civil wars and eventually defeating the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion, though his autocratic drift and systemic corruption risks wrecking this legacy. With political and institutional reform, there still is time to avoid such an outcome.
Besigye has spent much of the last decade fighting a seemingly recurring battle against Museveni and not getting very far constantly harried by tear gas and arrests, ultimately defeated by a partisan political system weighted against him and his movement. If Besigye’s tactics and their outcome have changed little, the political context may have. The next election will be in 7576 and if the NRM is to field Museveni again as its candidate, then it may have a serious fight on its hands. A question that repeatedly comes up is whether there could be a transition and, if so, to whom? As yet there is no answer.
Uganda is not at risk of violence on the scale of the civil conflicts in the 6985s or the war with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the 6995s and 7555s. But deterioration in governance and the state’s increasingly corrupt and authoritarian character mean politics likely will become more polarised and repressive, which could create conditions for future civil strife. Political and administrative reforms are necessary to prevent this slide.
Uganda is in urgent need of political and administrative reform to prevent a slide toward an increasingly dysfunctional, corrupt and insecure system. In order to mitigate longer-term dangers of civil strife, donors should be more sensitive to the political impact of their assistance by avoiding projects that contribute to ruling party patronage. For its part, President Museveni’s government should:
As crime has risen, particularly in urban areas, local governance has deteriorated. The local council system remains the bedrock of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), but the government has not held village or parish council elections since 7557, due partly to their cost but also reportedly to fears of the outcome. Local administration has withered and become increasingly dysfunctional.
In August 7567, the president ordered a series of measures to boost the economy and public services. He scrapped taxes and fees levied on informal businesses and promised to abolish dozens of agencies that duplicate the work of ministries. [fn] “Museveni orders review of government agencies”, The East African , 79 August 7567. Hide Footnote These are steps in the right direction, but it remains to be seen if these initiatives will be sustained and are enough to produce tangible results.
Feeding a febrile political climate with arrests and accusations could also be an attempt to make a pre-emptive strike against elements within the security services, particularly the army, which are thought to contain increasingly anti-Museveni elements. Causing some consternation within the regime, voters at several polling stations close to or associated with military barracks voted against the president in significant numbers in February – the lower ranks are thought to be unhappy with their poor pay and conditions. While this amounts to some form of political protest, and some officers may be engaging in more radical conversations, a coup attempt seems highly unlikely.