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37 years of one presidency begs the question: is Uganda really a democracy?

By Simon Mwebaze 

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV. 

Uganda received independence from the British on October 9, 1962. Thereafter, the country saw several presidents that would last a term or two or less. Some of these presidents included Milton Obote, Idi Amin (popularly known for the film “The Last King of Scotland”), and Godfrey Binaisa.  

But among all the Ugandan presidents, there has been one anomaly that has stood the test of time in the “democratic” country: the reign of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. The current president captured power in 1986 with the help of his political party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM). Since then, the party, along with their leader, have been in power, marking 37 years in 2023.  

This begs the question about what made the difference for the current president. There are factors that facilitated this 37 years’ reign.  

Flimsy opposition is one of the greatest factors. In the past, when some opposition parties were unhappy with a reigning government, they went to war. These included the reigning government and that of Idi Amin who used coups to take power. The current opposition parties seem more of a show and display their resistance through marches, debating on TV shows, and parliament halls.  

Additionally, many of the opposing political parties have no clear direction for the country. They have become obsessed with “removing the dictator” without setting clear plans for the struggling sectors including health, education, and infrastructure.  

Not too long ago, the leader of the second most popular political party from the last election, People Power, was questioned about fiscal policy tools. His response displayed his ignorance on one of the most core government components. He later went on to sing a song about the interview. Incidents like this explain the skepticism people have about changing governments. 

Military control has also been core to the current President’s reign. Few people will argue against the fact that the country is controlled by the army and the army is controlled by the president. He ranks as a general, a rank higher than five other lieutenant generals including Salim Saleh (his brother), Moses Ali, and David Tinyefuza.  

Why is this important for his reign? Other presidents who fell to coups separated themselves from the army. Besides Idi Amin, who was overthrown by the combined forces of rebels and the Tanzanian army, most other presidents did not care about army control. Even Amin had a fairly longer reign than most other Ugandan presidents due to this fact.  

The corrupt parliament of Uganda served as another factor in keeping Museveni’s reign alive. The institution expected to protect and serve the rights of Ugandans is arguably one of the brightest examples of absolute corruption. They have had several scandals from oil and gas contracts to levying unfair taxes hikes. But one of the worst sins of Uganda’s parliament is amending the constitution to remove term limits and later, age limits for presidential candidates. These amendments have allowed the current President to “legally” run for as long as he wants even after the previous age limit of 75 years.  

At the sight of a bribe, Uganda’s parliament has consistently betrayed the people they are meant to represent. What makes it even worse is that the number of parliament members regularly increases. This makes it easier to gather enough support to pass laws that work in favor of the current government. Additionally, even the opposition is privy to corruption and often follow suit on such amendments at the right price.  

It may go ignored that Uganda is one of the most influential countries in the East African region. It’s not so much because of the merit of the country but the alliances the current president has created throughout his long rule. President Museveni has been seen at the center of settling several regional challenges in countries including South Sudan, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is one of the elders of the region, and many other African leaders pay respect to and often listen to when he speaks. This has created valuable regional alliances that have supported him in remaining in power as his stay is essential to regional stability.  

Additionally, this stability is vital to international countries that have interests which include minerals, oil, and gas in some of the countries that Uganda provides stability to. Some of the international stakeholders in those African countries include the United States, United Kingdom, and China. 

While it’s easy to criticize the 37-year-reign by Uganda’s current statesman, the picture is much larger than a mere free and fair democratic election. The reasons go far beyond the borders of Uganda, into the region, and abroad.  

More so, while change may seem great as an idea, many countrymen remember the days before where the country and region were plagued with violence. Many of those that experienced it do not want a return to those days. 

Therefore, despite the rabid corruption, people prefer peace and stability. This has been the central message and fulfilled promise of the NRM party.

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Simon Mwebaze

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