Democracy & Division in Uganda
The long awaited return of multi-party politics in Uganda finally arrived in February 2006. After two and a half decades of a contained political system under the incumbent President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) government, the lifting of restrictions on political parties coinciding with the removal of presidential term limits allowing Museveni to seek re-election past the previous two-term limit.
With main opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye, a former high ranking NRM bush war fighter and Museveni’s personal physician during their guerrilla struggle of the early 1980s standing against his former comrade-in-arms, the stage was set for what many people had hoped would be the first real multi-party vote in Uganda’s post-independence history.
Besigye, the popular leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party was dramatically arrested just weeks before nationwide campaigning begun. His subsequent trial for what later turned out to be spurious rape charges, along with several dozen other men on treason charges for allegedly having links to a shadowy rebel group while at the same time facing terrorism and weapons offenses at a military General Court Martial, greatly impeded his ability to travel countrywide and canvass for votes.
Museveni, who undoubtedly remains popular in large swathes of rural Uganda where many still see him as the bringer of peace and stability after he overthrew both Idi Amin Dada in 1979 and then the military junta of Tito Okello in 1986, won the election with 59% of the vote against Besigye’s 37%. In the capital Kampala, Besigye won with a land slide, prompting battles between opposition supporters and riot police following the announcement of the result.
In spite of Besigye contesting the outcome alleging fraud, intimidation and voter disenfranchisement and the Supreme Court voting in agreement over these irregularities, the court voted 4-3 in favour to uphold the result. Museveni was sworn for another term, that come Uganda’s next election in 2011, will have seen him in power for a quarter of a century.