African business, politics and lifestyle
Uganda votes: Fighting talk
Ugandans love to talk. And, unlike in some other African countries, few people are afraid to be heard talking politics. Cafes and bars in Kampala and elsewhere hum to the sound of politicians being loudly verbally skewered.
The politicos themselves are not much different. Rhetoric is being ratcheted up ahead of elections on February 18. And the opposition are not holding back.
Kizza Besigye, the only man with any chance of unseating 25-year President Yoweri Museveni, is leading the charge with predictions of Tunisia and Egypt-inspired public protests should his party, for the third time in a row, say an election has been rigged.
“In our case it’s even more likely that we can get chaos because remember, no leader of our country has ever handed over power peacefully to another leader,” he told Reuters in an interview when asked if Uganda could follow the examples set in North Africa.
“Every president of Uganda has been bombed out of office. As long as there is repression that is sustained for a long time, that pent up anger builds and at some point explodes.”
Uganda is, he has since said, a “ruthless dictatorship.”
Strong stuff, indeed.
Museveni, though, has never been a shrinking violet.
He regularly threatens to arrest Besigye and has suggested that, not only is he aware of the talk of violent protests, but he’s closely watching from whose lips it’s emanating.
“I hear some characters talking about violence during the elections. There will be no violence,” the 67-year-old said last week.
“Whoever attempts will do so at his or her own risk.”
Besigye, perhaps worried potential protesters could not rely on restraint similar to that shown by the Egyptian military, has also had a go at the army, suggesting they would do anything to prop Museveni up.
Many political analysts agree. Uganda’s army rose from the ashes of the National Resistance Army – the rebel group Museveni founded and in 1986 led to victory over a military dictatorship. The president remains close to senior officers and was even referred to as “General Museveni” until 1996.
Despite the threats to arrest Besigye, who was once his field doctor, Museveni has been relatively restrained so far – keeping an often cutting tongue mostly under wraps.
Speculation from opponents as to why ranges from worrying that if violence is sparked it will spiral out of control, to a desire to be seen as less heavy-handed than during the last two campaigns, replacing violence against the opposition with bribes in their pockets.
His supporters say he has just learned to rise above “trash politics”.
He didn’t even weigh in after Besigye said the country’s former despot Idi Amin had done more for the country than he had.
So why is Besigye leading the rhetoric race?
The country’s army chief, General Aronda Nyakairima, suggests he wants to be arrested (as he was during the 2006 poll) to rally his supporters. And a leaked U.S diplomatic cable, though it didn’t name Besigye, said the opposition might try to provoke street violence if it were to lose.
Ugandan political analyst Nicholas Ssengoba told me today that street protests would surely be Besigye’s “wish” were he to think the poll unfair.
But he, along with other analysts, says successful mass action is not as likely in Uganda, which has a less educated, less urbanised and less Internet-savvy population than either Egypt or Tunisia.
What do you think?
Is there something behind the fighting talk? Or is Besigye just speaking the truth? And why is Museveni letting him away with it?
PICTURE CREDITS: (TOP) Kizza Besigye gestures during an interview with Reuters in Arua, 478km (286 miles) north of Ugandan capital Kampala, January 29, 2011. REUTERS/James Akena
(RIGHT) Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni attends a ceremony for his nomination as a presidential candidate at Mandela National Stadium in the capital Kampala October 25, 2010. REUTERS/James Akena