The struggles in Uganda should be a warning to SA

Bobi Wine outside his home as security forces surround his property on Friday in Kampala, Uganda. Wine alleged that the forces beat a member of his staff shortly before the media arrived. Wine unsuccessfully challenged sitting President Yoweri Museveni in last week's election.
Bobi Wine outside his home as security forces surround his property on Friday in Kampala, Uganda. Wine alleged that the forces beat a member of his staff shortly before the media arrived. Wine unsuccessfully challenged sitting President Yoweri Museveni in last week's election.
Image: GETTY IMAGES/ LUKE DRAY

It has been frustrating for many people who watched the election in Uganda and hoped the young and courageous Bobi Wine would make some kind of political breakthrough.

Surely there would be an overwhelming victory against Yoweri Museveni, who has been president of the country since 1986, a full 35 years in power?

As much as I think Wine is courageous, I did not expect him to win. It was announced that Museveni won by capturing 59% of the vote. The young Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, a musician and MP, reportedly received only 35%.

The reason I did not expect Wine to win is not because of Museveni himself, but because I suspect the Ugandan army and other political factions are the real forces behind the scene, blocking popular democracy for the sake of their own survival.

Museveni has deep entanglements with the Ugandan military. He emerged from within its ranks himself, having come to power after a coup that toppled Milton Obote in 1985.

However, when I looked at Museveni this week, I saw a tired old man.

He reminded me of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as he tottered towards the end of his life — a dictator who literally and figuratively lacked teeth.

At some point, even a once fiery dictator succumbs to old age and becomes a mere figurehead for other forces within the party and the security apparatus that prop up an old leader for their own purposes.

After all if Museveni lost, then many people, especially those in the army, would likely lose access to power and influence over state resources.

Wine’s accusations that all is not well in Uganda are compelling and one can't deny the harassment he has endured at the hands of his country’s security forces.

Wine has consistently said there had been fraud in the election and that he was relentlessly intimidated by the Ugandan army and police.

A video of his wife, Barbara Kyagulanyi, being manhandled and partially disrobed in a scuffle with the Ugandan police went viral across the world.

The video was shocking evidence that the family is being aggressively targeted. This would be the equivalent of the SA police or SA National Defence Force unceremoniously dragging John Steenhuisen’s partner out of their home as the DA contests national elections.

Wine provided evidence in video footage of military officers and police entering his property and chasing away journalists near his house. His Twitter account reported that “It’s now four days since the military surrounded our home and placed my wife and me under house arrest. We have run out of food and when my wife tried to pick food from the garden yesterday, she was blocked and assaulted by soldiers in our compound”.

It would not be too far-fetched to speculate that Museveni himself may be ordering this harassment.

As with Mugabe, I can imagine that there are power brokers in the Uganda system who do not see themselves able to survive a new administration, which would bring in sweeping changes if Museveni were to leave.

The trouble for postcolonial Africa has always been that the public service is the only reliable source of income, job security and business opportunity. This problem of inability to survive outside political parties and their factions is the single greatest problem facing almost every African state, including our own.

In South Africa, this is what elite Afrikaners did by using the National Party to effectively capture the state for the purposes of creating mass employment and business opportunities for poor and working class whites.

The ANC adopted the same model but is largely failing because the trouble for African political movements is that once in power, they are not driven by national survival but by individual political survival.

The struggles of Uganda are thus not really different from what is happening in our own political culture. If anything, it is an insight into what can eventually come if we are not careful.


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