Museveni became president in 1986 with a message of democracy, free and fair elections, freedom and prosperity for all contained in the ten-point program which he dropped in 1987 in favor of structural adjustment program (SAP) with stiff conditions. The unpopularity of SAP which was being experimented in Uganda after some countries like Ghana and Chile had found it costly and adjusted it, and the threat of terrorism in the East Africa region created a pretext for Museveni to introduce measures that have trampled individual freedom. In 2002, an anti-terrorist law came into force with a broad definition of terrorism as the “use of violence or threat of violence with intent to promote or achieve political, religious, economic and cultural or social ends in an unlawful manner”.
Painful structural adjustment at home and Uganda’s intervention in countries of the greater lakes region including alleged genocide of Hutu in DRC and plunder of Congo’s resources made Museveni unpopular, causing him to become authoritarian in order to cling to power because in a free and fair election he would lose.
In 2011 elections a combination of disenfranchising Ugandans, allowing foreigners to vote and pumping too much money into the economy during the campaign enabled him to be re-elected but with serious problems. The results have been rejected by supporters of opposition parties and their presidential candidates who did not concede defeat. Too much money in circulation has contributed to high prices of goods and services beyond the means of the majority of Ugandans. Sham elections and rising prices have brought Ugandans to the streets in peaceful demonstrations calling for a transitional government to arrange another round of free and fair elections and government intervention to reduce prices especially of fuel and food.
Museveni has responded with brutal force which has resulted in deaths including of women and children, many injuries and detentions. Museveni’s argument for using excessive force on peaceful demonstrators is that he will not allow national stability to be undermined and has refused to ease suffering caused by rising inflation arguing that the causes are external beyond government control. Museveni is believed to have miscalculated the mood in the country and abroad and has looked out of touch with reality. And some commentators are questioning whether western support for Museveni for so long is in the interest of Uganda’s development or stability.
Museveni’s increasing unpopularity at home and abroad was demonstrated by the massive welcome Kizza Besigye received on Museveni’s inauguration day of May 12, 2011 when he returned from Nairobi, Kenya where he had gone for treatment after he suffered injuries caused by police brutality. The inauguration ceremony was attended by far fewer dignitaries than he had invited. Those who showed up included Moi former president of Kenya and President Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
Security brutality meted out to Ugandans for their peaceful demonstrations has been condemned by some western powers and institutions. The media such as magazines, news papers and TV stations including many that supported Museveni has deserted him for his authoritarian behavior and policies that have violated individual freedom and turned Uganda into a failed state.
In an article published in Financial Times (US edition) of May 23, 2011, it has been recommended that “Before it is too late, Uganda’s allies should be urging him [Museveni] to prepare the ground for his successor … Mr Museveni could safeguard his own legacy by charting the transition himself. The suggestion by cronies and some western officials that he is irreplaceable as a force for stability in the region was always self-serving. In light of the uprisings in the Arab world, it sounds absurd.
“It is no coincidence that three states in sub-Saharan Africa most immediately at risk in catching the contagion from farther north are led by useful strongmen backed by the west: Uganda, Burkina Faso and Djibouti, which hosts French and US military bases”.
Ugandans in the opposition feel strongly that Museveni has destroyed Uganda’s economic, social and ecological foundations that he should be persuaded or forced to step down before the situation gets worse.
Ugandans are urged to continue peaceful demonstrations because they are effective when mounted by determined and fearless people with or without a leader. In Spain, the socialist governing party has suffered crushing defeat in regional and local elections and routed in areas it has run since the 1970s. Despite ban, youth demonstrations continued protesting unemployment of 45 per cent and contributed to the party’s defeat.
And in Georgia, in spite of police use of tear gas and rubber bullets, hundreds of peaceful demonstrations continued to demand the ouster of President Saakashville for stifling reforms he promised when he came to power in a bloodless coup in 2003. They also protested continuing poverty and unemployment.
Many Ugandans in the diaspora are working hard through inter alia demonstrations, radio broadcast and consultations to create an external enabling environment for peaceful demonstrations in Uganda. And we are getting positive response including from governments, institutions and media that were staunch allies of Museveni. The wind has shifted in support of Ugandans seeking democracy and freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom to live in dignity. We Ugandans have no choice but to push on until Museveni and his NRM destructive system are out of power.