Ugandan elections: what you need to know

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Who are the main runners and riders? Uganda’s national and local elections on Thursday see the long-term incumbent president, Yoweri Museveni, (National Resistance Movement) pitted against two leading opposition candidates – Kizza Besigye (Forum for Democratic Change) and Amama Mbabazi (GoForward). This is the fourth attempt by Besigye, the president’s former personal doctor, to win the presidency.It is the first bid by Mbabazi, a former prime minister sacked in 2014 following a dispute with Museveni over presidential succession. Most pundits believe that Museveni – as the head of NRM, which is deeply embedded in local government, the security services and the electoral commission – will achieve a convincing first round victory. The most interesting questions are: by how much? With how much recourse to state resources? And how will the opposition react?

Why should we care about the election?

A win would give Museveni a fifth term, making him one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders. This would delay the question of political succession for another five years, amid speculation that he is preparing the way for his son or wife – both powerful individuals in their own right. Another implication is that by sacking Mbabazi and leaving him to mount a so far unconvincing electoral challenge, the president discarded his best chance to nominate a moderate, technocratic NRM insider to take over. This is something he may live to regret if opposition to his continued leadership grows. It leaves the possibility of a power vacuum and uneasy transition for Uganda, a critical regional state with a key role to play in both South Sudan and Burundi, once Museveni’s powers start to wane – or if he abruptly departs the political stage altogether.

What are the big election issues?

Substantive policy debates during election time are often obscured by the simple equation of incumbent versus opposition. However, Uganda is sitting on a slow-moving demographic timebomb with a 38 million population that is predominantly under 20 – the average age in Uganda is 15. The faltering economy will struggle to create jobs for this growing youth bulge, adding to the estimated 10 million people who are considered “unemployed” (though many are engaged in subsistence agriculture in rural areas). Other policy issues such as development of oil reserves and the army’s recent intervention in South Sudan have featured in debates, but remain abstract to Ugandans struggling to put cassava on the table and send children to school.


Republished from Theguargian.com. Credit: 


Museveni’s 30 years in power have undoubtedly transformed Uganda. When NRM took control of the country through a well-organised rural insurgency in 1986, it ended a prolonged period of civil war, though a counter-insurgency against the Lord’s Resistance Army under Joseph Kony prolonged conflict in the north-east. Uganda subsequently experienced impressive economic growth and for a time was a “development darling”. But both the economy and development have faltered. Corruption is rife and public services are badly resourced and poorly functioning, especially in the health sector. As the memory of what preceded Museveni fades, and the stability he brought is taken for granted, many of the younger generation will question the big man’s continued relevance.


Republished from theguardian.com

Credit: Magnus Taylor is Horn of Africa analyst at the International Crisis Group


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