Is Uganda experiencing its 1991 moment?

UPDATE II: Angelo over at TIA offers an analysis of the ongoing situation in the development of Uganda’s oil sector. After months of under-the-table maneuvers by the executive it appears that the Ugandan legislature has finally found its voice. Angelo credits this both on the rise of independents and internal divisions within the ruling party, NRM.

Perhaps in an attempt to deflect from its recent woes the government has also been trying to prosecute those involved in the mega-corruption surrounding procurement for construction projects in the run-up to the commonwealth summit in 2007. Senior officials, including a cabinet minister, have since resigned over this saga.

Many of us thought that the oil money would buy Museveni more time in State House, Entebbe. But the other thing the discovery of oil has done is increase the stakes. It remains to be seen how far Ugandan politicians and their coalitions within and without NRM are willing to go in order to get their fair share of the cake. I would not want to be M7 right now.


UPDATE: Joel D. Barkan has a nice piece outlining Uganda’s and Museveni’s many challenges are potential scenarios of the continuing struggle for accountable government in Uganda.


The early 1990s were a heady time on the African continent. Student riots, mass strikes, opposition rallies and international pressure were causing many a one party African dictator sleepless nights.

By dint of history, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda escaped the winds of change that were sweeping through the continent. Having brought stability to Kampala and most of southern Uganda following the 1981-86 bush war, he had gone ahead to preside over the longest stretch of sustained economic growth in Uganda’s history. Many loved him. He was able to sell his weird idea of no party democracy to the masses. As a result Uganda’s first multiparty elections took place in 2006, a full 20 years after Museveni came to power.

But the long honeymoon for Museveni – the champion of Ugandan security and growth since 1986 – appears to be in its twilight. Since the last elections early this year, protests have rocked Kampala and other major urban centres across the country. Earlier today on twitter Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda argued that Museveni’s success will be the source of his downfall. Economic growth has created a lot of powerful forces with a lot to lose as Museveni continues to restrict political space in his bid to cling to power.

In a new article in the Journal of Democracy, Angelo Izama, another Ugandan journalist, echoes the same claims. The Ugandan masses can no longer tolerate the regime’s sins of misgovernance. High level sleaze in government, economic mismanagement (recent walk to work riots were in reaction to high inflation, partly related to runaway campaign spending by Museveni) and general fatigue with the overbearing Ugandan securocracy have ignited protests by the masses, beyond those called for by the main opposition party.

By all accounts Museveni is in a tight corner, despite his 68% win in the February 2011 polls.

But as many Uganda experts would quickly add, do not count M7 out just yet. The recent discovery of oil in the Lake Albert region is expected to provide a steady supply of cash to prop up the regime into the immediate future. Furthermore, the Ugandan opposition remains divided and unable to come up with a singular message against the regime’s many failures in the recent past.

That said, the cat appears to have been let out of the bag. Like many of his regional counterparts back in 1991, Museveni will have to make significant concessions if he is to survive the latest street protests.

But just how much time does Museveni have?

In my view, a lot of time. This is partly because Museveni has successfully convinced Ugandans – including many in the opposition and media that are opposed to his rule – that he is indispensable. Many, in the same breath, decry the sleaze and economic mismanagement in his administration but admire his regional military adventurism and opportunistic “independent mindedness.”

There is simply no compelling (and credible) replacement for Museveni in the public psyche (yet). The opposition leader Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s personal physician turned foe, is a pale shadow of his former self.

The other reason is Uganda’s weak civil society – a direct product of the country’s tumultuous history since the mid-1960s. Not enough indigenous independent wealth has been created to support a nascent opposition and civil society movement as was the case in Kenya, among other early experimenters with electoral pluralism, in the early 1990s.

Being the adroit politician that he is, Museveni will definitely play this reality to his advantage into the foreseeable future.

For the sake of Ugandans and the hope of a freer East African Community, I hope I am wrong.

Links I liked

A nice piece by Moussa Blimpo on Aid Watch highlights the urgent need to improve general conditions at African universities. On a related note, I totally agree with Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda’s position that Aid should be more targeted – and perhaps at times even to the middle class – if it is to make much impact in Africa. African development in the 21st century will not come from subsistence farmers and vegetable kiosks in the informal settlements. The Continent needs big business. I am not downplaying the entrepreneural ability of those target by pro-poor development initiatives. Far from that, all I am suggesting is that the better educated African middle class have a higher chance of being able to scale up their enterprises and create the kind of firms that will create much needed jobs in most of Africa.

Also, check out Texas in Africa’s posts on the increasingly authoritarian Rwandan government and the goings on in Kivu on the eastern reaches of the DRC. The Ethiopian Strongman Meles Zenawi seems to have gotten away with sham elections (the Ethiopian economy is doing well enough, I guess, so enough Ethiopians still love him) but it is not clear if Kagame will this August or his next door neighbor Museveni next year. Given Rwanda’s recent history the Rwandans will most likely opt for stability at the expense of an open free and fair democratic process. Whatever happened to Kagame, Zenawi and Museveni being the new generation of “enlightened” African leaders….