Birthday politics in Uganda

President Museveni’s plans to succeed himself in 2016 have come under fresh attack. Activists in Uganda staged a mock birthday party, complete with gifts, to celebrate Museveni’s 73rd birthday. Police dispersed participants at the mock party and even seized the birthday cake.

The politics behind Museveni’s date of birth stem from the fact that the Ugandan constitution bars those over 75 to run for president. Museveni insists that he is 68, which means that he will be 73 in 2016 and still eligible to run for president. The opposition maintains that based on its own research the president is 73.

It appears that the latest strategy of the Ugandan opposition is to de-legitimize Museveni using his own rules.

So why should Museveni care if a bunch of activists stage a mock birthday party for him?

The beginning of the downfall of authoritarian systems is when the opposition goes legal on the regime. By highlighting the inconsistencies in the legal structure and challenging the regime using its own rules, the opposition forces the regime to continue tinkering with the very same rules.

But tinkering with the rules creates winners and losers within the regime. Ultimately it is those that find themselves with the short end of the stick that jump ship and join the opposition in an effort to oust the ancien regime.

President Museveni should consult with Kenya’s former President Moi on how events unfolded after the fiasco that was the 1988 mlolongo (queuing) election. It will take time, but kila mwizi ako na siku arubaini (every thief has forty days).

You can find the BBC story on the Uganda protests here.

museveni is on the ropes

With 72 cabinet ministers Uganda reeks of instability. Leonardo Arriola, a Political Scientist at Berkeley, has made argued that African presidents create bloated cabinets to buy off opponents when they feel insecure in power. Uganda’s Museveni might be doing just that. In office since 1986, Mr. Museveni just won another 5-year term in office with 68% of the vote, or so the Ugandan electoral commission would like us to believe.

The opposition parallel vote tallying system was sabotaged by security forces in cahoots with cell phone companies (these companies should be fined in other countries in which they operate…). The main challenger, Mr. Kizza Besigye, claims that the last count he got showed Museveni at 50.8% with him second at 42.5%. The final official tally gave Mr. Museveni a landslide win of more than 40 points.

It is now quite possible that a majority of Ugandans do not want Museveni in power. Given his long tenure and the recent terror events that could have boosted him with a “rally around the flag” effect, his poor performance at the polls should be cause for concern for stability in Uganda. Too bad he will soon have oil money to create even bigger cabinets and buy more tanks and anti-riot gear, if he so wishes.

Ugandans may have to wait for quite a while before they experience their first ever peaceful transfer of power.