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Uganda’s Unsettled Future PDF Print E-mail
Written by Tristan McConnell   
Saturday, 25 March 2006 08:14

There are hopeful signals of a new pluralist politics, but Uganda's democracy remains fragile after Yoweri Museveni's latest victory, reports Tristan McConnell in Kampala.

To no one's surprise President Yoweri Museveni has won again. The incumbent Ugandan leader achieved 59% of the vote in the Thursday 24 February election, thus avoiding a run-off with his main challenger Kizza Besigye who polled 37%. This gives Museveni the mandate to lead Uganda for a further five-year term. When he completes this next term he will have ruled for a quarter-century.

Ugandans crowded around portable radios to hear the chairman of the electoral commission announce the official results on Saturday afternoon. Museveni's victory was greeted with cheering and singing as sporadic crowds took to the streets clad in the yellow of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), blowing whistles and hooting horns.

The jubilant sounds of Museveni's supporters could be heard from Besigye's house in Kampala where the mood was sombre. Besigye was telling assembled journalists that his party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), rejected the results in light of its evidence of massive rigging, widespread electoral malpractice, and intimidation.

These claims run contrary to the reports of independent observers including the European Union, whose election observation mission on 25 February called the elections "well administered, transparent, competitive and relatively peaceful". There were numerous examples of ballot-boxes not being sealed, of voters' fingers not being inked after polling and of names not appearing on the voter register but these are down to incompetence rather than anything more sinister. Max van den Berg, head of the mission, said: "Despite the technical shortcomings, we have not observed any patterns of wrong-doing during the elections."

Beyond Kampala

While election-day was pretty much peaceful and people voted freely without the army trucks at polling stations that characterised the 2001 elections, the pre-election period was more problematic. Everyone except the government acknowledges that the political playing-field that provided the context for the elections was far from level. Besigye's own campaign had been severely disrupted by a spell in jail followed by numerous court appearances on charges of treason and rape. There were also incidents of violence which resulted in the deaths of three FDC supporters.

The defeated candidate maintains that "all options are open" for responding to what he considers to be an illegitimate process and – as in the past – Besigye refused to rule out street protests or even force of arms which he always maintains is a constitutional response to dictatorship.

No one believes Besigye will copy his former friend and comrade Museveni who called elections in 1980 illegal before disappearing to the bush to fight a guerrilla war that brought him to power in 1986, but many fear civil unrest and a security clampdown.

Besigye called on his supporters to stay calm but this plea fell on deaf ears as, on the other side of town, a group of disappointed FDC fans outside the party headquarters threw rocks at a passing truck full of NRM supporters. It was the trigger riot police had eagerly awaited and they responded with volleys of teargas and rubber bullets. The incident was quickly over and Kampala has remained peaceful since.

But Kampala is not Uganda. "To win Uganda", one expert put it, "you need west, central and women." Almost every district in the west, southwest and central regions voted Museveni (with the exception of Kampala where Besigye is very popular with the urban underclass and the emerging middle class alike).

The west is key. Besigye is from Rukungiri, Museveni from Rwakitura, both in western Uganda. The area is Museveni's traditional stronghold and Besigye failed to make a significant dent in the president's support. If Besigye had succeeded in co-opting the support of other ex-NRM bigwigs such as Eriya Kategaya and Miria Matembe – former ministers from the west ejected from Museveni's inner circle for failing to support his constitutional removal of presidential term limits in June 2005– he would have found a stronger following among the predominately rural voters.

Museveni also commands great support among Uganda's female voters as he has claimed the credit for emancipating them, even appointing a woman as his first vice-president in 1994, Specioza Kazibwe. The president is fond of rolling her out at political rallies to prove his credentials as the women's choice.

Besigye's hopes of winning the female vote were dashed by his appearances in court earlier this year on rape charges. Although likely to be found not guilty when the judge gives his ruling on 6 March, the very accusation was enough to plant seeds of doubt about his character.

The results are not all bad for Besigye, however. His 10% increase of support since he last challenged Museveni in 2001 included comprehensive victories in northwest and northern Uganda, wresting the West Nile region from Museveni and defeating the Uganda People's Congress (UPC) in its traditional stronghold. He also ran Museveni close in the hard-fought eastern region.

Ending and beginning

This election signals the end of Uganda's old-style sectarian politics, as the candidates for Uganda's two oldest and most traditional parties were crushed at the polls.

The founder of the UPC was the country's first post-independence prime minister (and later president) Milton Apollo Obote. Obote was popular in his northern Ugandan homeland where the Acholi and Lango people never had it so good as under his two periods in office (1962-71 and 1980-85). But for forty-five years (including two decades of exile in Zambia) he ran the party as a family business centred on his own personality cult, and when he collapsed with kidney failure in October 2005 at the age of 80 he left it hopelessly divided.

Unable to agree among themselves on a successor, the UPC elders anointed Obote's widow Miria as party president. Miria's only qualification was having the right surname. It proved not to be enough as she received only 0.82% of the presidential vote.

For as long as Museveni has been in power, northern Uganda has suffered from the brutality of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, and the years of NRM rule have seen a steady deterioration of the northerners' lot. Today 1.6 million of them survive in sprawling camps for internally-displaced people. These marginalised citizens shifted their support to the FDC, pinning their hopes for an end to Museveni's rule on Besigye.

The Democratic Party (DP) did slightly better than the UPC, with its candidate receiving 1.58%. Its elderly leader Ssebana Kizito has performed poorly as mayor of Kampala and failed to convince as a president-in-waiting. Ssebana even struggled to find support among the DP's traditional Buganda and Catholic constituencies.

These could be good signs of Uganda's movement towards a pluralist democratic system, holding out the prospect of the demise of parties relying on ethnic divisions to command support, and the emergence of the more inclusive FDC as an opposition force that may take the government to task in parliament. But as with so much in Uganda, it all depends on Museveni.

Over his twenty years in charge, corruption has become pervasive thanks to Museveni's style of governance through patronage. Meanwhile, the threat of the military being left off the leash is kept in the wings as a means of intimidation. Museveni has become less tolerant of criticism, turning his back on some of his oldest friends and instead surrounding himself with unquestioning loyalists, many from his own clan, and a significant minority related to the "first family" itself.

None of this bodes well for the future. Ugandans may make it through the coming weeks without bloodshed and the FDC could yet emerge as a serious and organised political party rather than just a collection of "anyone-but-Museveni" activists. If so democracy will have taken a step forward. But if the security forces are employed to clamp down on the opposition and Museveni stacks his new cabinet with sycophants from his own tribe, Uganda will have plunged off the path to democracy and will once again be trapped in autocratic, "big-man" rule.

Tristan McConnell is Uganda correspondent for Africa Confidential. He also writes about Uganda for British newspapers including The Sunday Telegraph

This article is published by Tristan McConnell, and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.



26th IPRA Conference in Sierra Leone Ends on a High Note

The International Peace Research Association (IPRA) successfully held its 26th General Conference on ‘Agenda for Peace and Development: Conflict Prevention, Post-Conflict Transformation, and the Conflict, Disaster Risk and Sustainable Development Debate’ in collaboration with the 10TH Dealing With Disasters Series, Northumbria University (UK)and Sakarya University (Turkey) and  the University of  Sierra Leone at the Bintumani Conference Centre in Freetown, Sierra Leone from November 27 to 1st December 2016.


Business News


The Parliament of Sierra Leone on Monday 04th December 2017 debated and ratified two additional agreements aimed at improving and expanding Ports facilities in Sierra Leone to be at par with international best practices.

Presenting both Agreements prior to ratification, the Minister of Transport and Aviation, Balogun Koroma said that the additional Agreements are geared towards addressing some of the concerns raised by MPs, in respect of expanding our Ports facilities to accommodate larger vessels, and the issuance of license with the view of combating money laundering, contra-band goods, and attracting more funds for Government.

Hon. Dr. Bernadette Lahai, Minority Leader of the House, also supported the ratification of the two Agreements, saying if our Ports are not developed, we would not be able to attract huge vessels; thus the need for the continuous improvement of our Ports facilities.


Media News

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Mr. Rod Mac-Johnson, former Lecturer Fourah Bay College, former Director of Information Ministry of Information and Communications, Former Director Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA), Former Chairman Independent Media Commission (IMC) and stringer French News Agency  etc. is on vacation and Mr. Cyril Juxon Smith Director Information and Communications House of Parliament, former Acting Director General Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) and former UNESCO Media Consultant  is in the United States of America to attend the funeral of his father.

Speaking at the Ambassador’s residence on 4821 Colorado Avenue, Washington DC  Mr. Rod Mac-Johnson said “Thank  you Amr. Stevens for accommodating us in the middle of your tight schedule, and also to discuss with us in a homely spirit.




Your Excellency Sir,

For over a month now, since the ECOWAS Regional Court in Abuja, Nigeria handed down their landmark opinion on the Vice President, Samuel Sam-Sumana’s appeal law suit against his “unconstitutional removal” from power by your APC government, having been legally sanctioned by the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone, I have been taken, both by extreme trepidation and satisfaction, as I continue my reflection. In their ruling, (in resume,) the ECOWAS Courtoverturned” the Sierra Leone Supreme Court’s seemingly “compromised” opinion that saw Mr. Sam Sumana arbitrarily or constitutionally deposed from his position as the duly elected Vice President of Sierra Leone (alongside you,) midway your second presidential tenure in 2015; just after the infamous Ebola viral epidemic devastating scourge on Sierra Leone. The ECOWAS Court ruling therefore “ordered” the immediate reinstatement of the vice president, furthering that all backlog of his remunerations and emoluments be accorded him, from the time he was sacked, to date; along with his claim for damages of U. S. $ 250 million.

Upon the ruling by this higher regional court, I have had to do some very sober reflections and musing over the “political manoeuvres” and intrigues that originally erupted from an internal APC party wrangling that proceeded to the Sierra Leone parliament, and had to eventually culminate into what most objective and independent legal minds considered a “blatant travesty of justice and breach of our constitution.” This ruling also brought a legal embarrassment to the Sierra Leone justice system in the sub region, continent and world over. And whereas I would not want to meddle with the political ramifications and implications of that higher regional court’s “legal opinion,” I would like to briefly examine the moral and economic considerations, as I objectively see them. This then obviously takes me back to my caption question that I would summarize as “Who Pays the ECOWAS Court’s Ruling Charges??”


View Point


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Mr. President,stress is increasingly becoming visible in the conduct of most Sierra Leoneans; hence stress is a pressure or worry caused by the problems in somebody's life.

Before 2007 elections, protestation songs by Emmerson Bockarie, Innocent and "Dry yai crew" assumed the role of the opposition parties against the Tejan Kabbah-led SLPP government. Today, public transport cabs/buses, ghettos and the ‘Ataya base’ have now assumed that position in venting out frustrations against your APC led government.


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In his brief statement before officially handing over the award to the outgone Minister, Dr. Marah gave a brief overview of the introduction of performance contracts in 2014 by His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma that set in motion the process of enhancing and operational mandates in various MDAs. It is against this background that the Ministry was among the five best performing Ministries based on the outcome of the Ministry’s Performance Contract Assessment Report for 2016/17 (Performance Tracking Table – PTT) in the country.

Dr. Kaifala Marah lauded the relentless efforts of Dr. Samura M.W. Kamara, during whose tenure the Ministrydeveloped and articulated, for the first time ever, a comprehensive strategy to guide and re-invigorate the national approach to foreign policy and international cooperation in a rapidly changing global environment.


Society -Local News

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The Meeting was attended by representatives from Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, the Comoros, Congo, Cote d’ Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, the Niger, Nigeria, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, the Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.




The Ambassador of the State of Israel to the Republic of Korea, His Excellency Ambassador Chaim Choshen today 4th January 2018 paid a courtesy call on Sierra Leone's Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, His Excellency Ambassador Omrie Michael Golley, at the Sierra Leone Mission in Seoul, the South Korean Capital. 

Ambassador Choshen, who was appointed as Ambassador of Israel to South Korea in August 2016, expressed his appreciation for being warmly received by his Sierra Leonean host and counterpart, and stated that his Government was very keen to expand its relations with Africa, citing the examples of Official Visits in recent months by the Israeli Prime Minister Mr Benjamin Netanyahu to various countries in Africa.

Recounting the recent Official Visit of His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma to Israel, Ambassador Omrie Golley stated that the recent visit of President Koroma underscored the importance that his Government was attaching to expanding Sierra Leone's ties with Israel, particularly in the economic sphere.



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For a man who has a solid track record as a disciplinarian, Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio continues to attract many voters who feel the country needs a strong and disciplined leadership.

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