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Analysis: Museveni wins big but hurdles await

Analysis: Museveni wins big but hurdles await

Yoweri Museveni secured a widely anticipated fifth term as president of Uganda after a comprehensive but contested victory over his long-term rival.  

The electoral commission declared Museveni, president since 1986, winner with 61% of the vote. Yet the repeated arrest of veteran opposition leader Kizza Besigye and the harassment of opposition activists led to allegations that the vote was neither free nor fair.

Having been defeated by Museveni’s National Resistance Movement for a fourth time, Besigye’s room for manoeuvre appears limited. His Forum for Democratic Change has proved unable to translate sympathy among Uganda’s disenchanted youth into the kind of widespread support that could seriously threaten Museveni’s 30 year rule.

Over the course of an election devoid of substantive policy debates, Besigye was repeatedly taken into police custody and placed under house arrest. Internet and social media activity was terminated on the day of the poll as opposition activists attempted to encourage wavering voters, while polling stations were subject to extensive delays.   

Yet despite the apparent irregularities, Besigye’s call for widespread protests may go unheeded among a dejected opposition. The government maintains an onerous security presence in opposition strongholds, while campaigns led by Besigye in the wake of previous polls have failed to sustain a challenge against the incumbent.

Nevertheless, the disputed election looks set to strain the usually cordial relations that Museveni enjoys with Uganda’s western donors, who previously credited him with forging economic stability and leading the regional fight against Al-Shabaab. Observers from the US and EU criticised the conduct of the poll.

In order to assuage both domestic and international critics, the president may be forced to consider policies that appeal beyond his established support base.  

“He will need to unite the country amid a widening social and political divide, says Bryan Kahumbura, East Africa analyst at Control Risks.

“The ruling party faces a challenge meeting the expectations in particular of a growing young and urban population, with whom it will need to continue to be relevant in order to sustain its strong position.”

The president will aim to keep a close eye on inflation in the months ahead to prevent a rerun of 2011’s “Walk to Work” protests, a popular revolt which sprung up against the cost of living.

“Should inflation spike later in the year as it did after the 2011 elections, larger scale protests over the cost of living championed by Besigye would be likely. Protests would likely be at least at the same scale, if not larger than the “Walk to Work” movement,” says Clare Allenson, East Africa analyst at Eurasia.

Now that Museveni has secured his immediate political future, analysts are turning their thoughts to his long-term succession plans. Having long neutralised alternative power bases within his ruling party, Museveni could push for a dynastic solution.

Young Turks in the ruling party could be sidelined in favour of Mahoozi Kainerugaba, son of the president and a brigadier in the Ugandan army. Unless the NRM’s junior factions are able to converge around an alternative candidate, the Museveni family’s successful brand of political-military rule looks sustainable well into the future.  

David Thomas

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Written by David Thomas

David Thomas is deputy editor at African Business Magazine. He has also been published in the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist and South Africa's Cape Times.

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