No, not Trump, Cruz, Clinton, or Sanders. It’s a tough choice, but I think I would vote for Kizza Besigye. After all, this is his fourth attempt at running for office.
Of course I’m talking about the Ugandan presidential elections, happening tomorrow. I have to apologize for bringing you here on false pretenses, but before you stop reading, I want to remind you that you actually know more than you think about Ugandan politics (I promise).
First off, there’s Idi Amin. You might recognize his name from the movie, or perhaps his full title: “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of all the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conquerer of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in particular” (and apparent heir to the throne of Scotland).
Amin became president after the end of British colonialism and set the standard for human rights abuse and corruption among African leaders. He was deposed in 1979 and died in exile in 2003.
The other Ugandan you know is Joseph Kony, whose name you probably recognize from another movie. Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a guerrilla movement made infamous for its use of child soldiers by Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 movement. Unlike Amin, Kony is still alive and continues to wage war against the Ugandan Government.
There is a third character that connects these two, but he has so far managed to stay out of the spotlight (no movie). Yoweri Musevini is Uganda’s current president, who goes by the title “The Old Man with a Hat“.
After Amin, Uganda went through a decade of turmoil in which a number of different leaders took control. In 1986 Museveni’s National Resistance Movement launched a coup, and Museveni became Uganda’s (unelected) president. In 1996, Museveni opened Uganda to democracy, immediately winning a landslide victory. While the last three decades has seen significant progress in Uganda’s economy and health care system, Museveni has held on to his power through a combination rigging elections, bribing supporters, and silencing political opponents. He won elections in 2001, 2006, and 2011, adjusting the constitution 2006 to remove term limits.
Tomorrow, Museveni will run for a fifth term, entering his 31st year in power. Forecasters give him as much as a 98% chance of victory. Of the seven candidates running against him, there are two that pose a slight challenge:
One is Amama Mbabazi, who was Uganda’s Prime Minister from 2011-2014. Mbabazi severed ties with Museveni and is now vying for the country’s top office as an independent, on a “Go forward” campaign. Mbabazi has the influence of a political insider, but has made a significant enemy out of the powers that be.
Musevini’s main challenger is Kizza Besigye, who has ran (and lost) against Museveni in the last three elections. Besigye used to be Museveni’s personal physician but left to pursue politics. Over the course of his campaigns, he has been arrested more than six times (when I wrote this yesterday it was five), been beaten, tear-gassed, and had his rallies broken up by police. Now he’s running for the fourth time. This guy is determined.
Uganda has never had a peaceful transfer of power. To me, it seems like a great idea to vote for Besigye, the noble underdog. But then again, my hypothetical vote doesn’t put my family or job in danger, nor will I get a much-needed bag of food if I vote with the majority. Electing Museveni is also a better option than Amin, Kony, or a civil war. There is nothing easy about the choice that Ugandans will make tomorrow.
The takeaway here is twofold:
First, for most of you reading this in liberal democracies, take a minute to be thankful for things like term limits, legitimate contest between candidates, and (fairly) peaceful elections.
Second, shining a light on corruption weakens it. By reading and taking time to understand Ugandan politics, you are exposing the corruption that suppresses truth.
Also, a shout out to Comoros, Niger, Benin, Congo, Chad, Djibouti, Sao Tome and Principe, Zambia, Cape Verde, and Ghana, all African democracies who will be choosing a president before the US does!
Finally, if you want to get a more nuanced picture of Uganda’s political situation, I would suggest Sverker Finnstrom’s Living with Bad Surroundings.