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Ugandan elections: a generational contest

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Much is at stake as millions of Ugandans from among 18, 103,603 registered voters queue out to vote in Thursday’s historic general elections.There has been tension ahead of the vote with opposition supporters clashing with security forces as the electoral commission banned rallies due to fresh fears over the spread of the coronavirus.

Much is riding on the vote for the presidency which pits veteran leader Yoweri Museveni in power since 1986 and Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu otherwise known by his stage name Bobi Wine.

The gap between Museveni, 76 and Wine, 38 has transformed the exercise into an engaging generational election contest between the old guard and a youthful generation of new politicians who were toddlers the last time change came to Uganda.

Many analysts say Museveni represents all that’s old in Uganda, a country he had dominated since sweeping to power on the back of a “bush war” which toppled independence leader Milton Obote.

Prior to Museveni’s ascendancy to the presidency Uganda had been mired in a seemingly endless cycle of political upheavals including the eight chaotic years under military ruler Idi Amin, who overthrew Obote in 1971.

Following Amin’s ouster in 1979, Obote had returned to the presidency but the residues of instability, corruption and bad governance were “stubborn stains” that refused to be rubbed off the system.

A political vacuum was there to be filled when Museveni’s National Resistance Movement swept to power, promising a radical departure from the past.

After being elected for four five-year terms since Uganda embraced democracy in the mid 1990s, Museveni is running for president again.

During his almost 35-year dominance of Ugandan politics, Museveni has rubbed shoulders with six presidents of the United States and if he wins a fifth term will work with Joe Biden, the new occupant of the White House.

He has promised to accept the outcome of the presidential vote irrespective of which way it goes.

Museveni is widely credited with presiding over long spells of stability in Uganda but has been criticised over failed economic policies, cracking down on political opponents, corruption and a culture of political patronage. 

A recent study by the privacy protection company Surfshark suggests that Uganda is the 15th African country that has restricted social media access due to elections since 2015. 

An internet blackout has been observed on election day in Uganda where long queues have characterised the polls early into polling on Thursday.

Over the past five years, Burundi, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Togo, Tanzania, Benin, DRC, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Sierra  Leone have also restricted access to social media due to elections, according to the study. 

The “new Wine” factor in Ugandan politics

Museveni’s main challenger for the presidency in 2021 has been touted as a breath of fresh air, “a new wine in the old bottle of Ugandan politics”.

Bobi Wine, a pop star turned politician and MP is regarded as the direct antithesis to Museveni not only generationally speaking, but also in many respects.  

The young man which presents the incumbent with his toughest electoral test in decades has a raw energy about him which easily identifies with the youth with whom he shares the same generation.

A defiant Wine appears far from browbeaten despite being on the receiving end of violent crackdowns, harassment, arrests and reported near misses on his life in the months and weeks leading up to election day.

The 20th of at least 33 siblings in a polygamous home, Wine’s humble beginnings seem to be providing him with the inspiration to do the unthinkable  – unseat an incumbent in Uganda, Museveni, a man who came to power when he was just two years ago.

“That alone tells you that Museveni has been here for longer than necessary. The babies of the NRM’s early years are all grown now and can handle the country’s affairs, so its time for Museveni to leave the stage” said a supporter of the opposition National Unity Platform party which Wine leads.

Wine has promised employment to Uganda’s army of jobless youth and tackling poverty while Museveni has vowed to deal with corruption and set the struggling economy in motion again if elected. 

But there is more than this election than just promises and vows – it’s a generational thing.

 By the government’s own estimation four out of six youth are jobless  unemployed, a high figure for a country with Africa’s youngest population.

This may be crucial in the outcome of this generational contest.

Published on 10.02.2021

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