By The Independent
Museveni’s bid to lift the presidential age-limit, the bad and worsening economy, land grabbing, poverty-driven insecurity, and growing elite impunity of those close to power and brutality of the security forces, especially the police are some of the issues most pundits that The Independent spoke to predict will dominate 2017.
Many cite the high profile shootings seen at the end of 2016 like that of Maj. Sulaiman Kiggundu, and that of Kenneth Akena, which involved the Kanyamunyu brothers, and the December late night security raid on the Nakasero Mosque in Kampala.
All these will play out against the dominant theme of Museveni’s struggle to cling on to power, not by seeking more popularity but by clipping the growth of alternative centres of power; especially politicians and traditional leaders.
“I don’t foresee a stable and peaceful year because of all these issues either remain unresolved or are met with brutality from security operatives,” says Livingstone Ssewanyana, the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), “Museveni will still resort to excessive force to stay in charge.”
Ssewanyana says the political instability and political intolerance seen since the February 18, 2016 elections is only increasing and there is not hope that things will get better in the short run.
“The harassment of the opposition and the killings in Kasese for example demonstrate the growing dissent,” he says, “We are likely to see more conflicts in other parts of the country.”
He also adds that there is likely to be tension over the land issue because of the current land grabbing reports and how government is planning to hand the issue of compulsory land acquisition.
Government plans to amend Article 26 of the Constitution, which provides for prior payment of land before possession; fair, adequate and prompt compensation.
In the proposed amendment, where the parties are unable to agree on the fair and adequate compensation, the government shall deposit in court or with any other competent authority the value of the property as evaluated by the chief government valuer and take possession of the property pending determination by the court or other competent authority of the disputed amount of the compensation.
The amendment, which continues to stir debate, was first proposed by the ruling party’s parliamentary caucus and, on paper, is intended to prevent situations where land disputes end up delaying public projects. Opponents to it claim the amendment is legal cover for powerful individuals in the government to grab land with impunity.
Ssewanyana is concerned about such growing tension between the haves and have nots. He says although increasing economic hardships and income disparities are likely to lead to increased crime levels, he does not expect any government intervention to better the economic outturn. He says this is majorly because the country remains largely import driven. He adds drought worsening the situation.
Dr. Sabiiti Makara, who teaches Political Science at Makerere University, agrees.
“The economy is in a bad state and it could be worse in 2017 and that without a doubt affects the politics because it will create more anger and more resistance against the regime.”
Makara says one of the issues that he expects to cause draw public anger is Museveni’s push to extend his rule by expunging the age limit from the constitution that currently bars him from contesting after 2021.
He says clashes between security forces, army, and police are likely to continue as Museveni pushes to remove all obstacles to his stay in power.
Makara says that because Museveni’s party, the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) dominates parliament and all other institutions, he does not expect the country to be run any differently than in the past.
But even ruling party stalwarts like Elijah Mushemeza, a former Vice Chairperson of the ruling party’s Electoral Commission, see dark clouds ahead.
For Mushemeza, who is currently a research fellow at the NGO called Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), poor governance, corruption, and the government’s bad handling of the agricultural sector are the big problems of 2017. He also says external pressures on Uganda will continue to have an impact as capital inflow to African countries like Uganda continue going down because trading partners–the European Union and China–are going through an economic recession.
“2017 could be worse and one can only imagine what will happen with the agitation already becoming unmanageable,” he says.
He says the situation is worsened by Uganda’s increasing appetite for imported goods and services while exporting little or nothing.
“Even areas where we have a comparative advantage like tourism and agriculture, we are having problems,” he says, “Tourism is being affected by our governance issues; defiance and the state’s response to it.
“What happened in Kasese and how the police and the army responded to it has scared away tourists.”
In agriculture, he says, Uganda has been disorganised by climate change and failure to pay enough attention to the sector in terms of quality, quantity and tapping the market.
He also says the government has not handled corruption as it should have.
“We should handle it the Magufuli way because it is creating for us more problems and making the electorate to lose confidence in the government,” he told The Independent, “So because of these issues, we must be headed for tougher times in the long term.”
For this situation to be averted, he says, government must deal with these issues. “We must deal with corruption very firmly and we must review our expenditures and spend on priority areas,” he said, “Government-opposition relations must also be reviewed because this stance is costing us.”
Museveni’s long stay
For renowned human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, the problem the country faces in 2017 is a result of what Mushemeza and his ilk support; Museveni’s long and continuing grip on power. Museveni has been in power 31 years.
According to Opio, this is too long. Yet Museveni appears keen to extend his rule even beyond 2021.
Of this, Opio predicts, the longer Museveni stays in power the more high handed he will be to retain it and the response from government to the issues and people’s grievances is going to be swifter and more brutal.
Opiyo says there are a number of signs already that the state is uncomfortable with the increasing dissent in the country.
“Museveni will act even tougher and move to crack down this dissent especially online (social media) and independent media,” he says, “The state is also likely to embark on constitutional reforms.”
He explains that, apart from the reason that the Supreme Court recommended it, Museveni is likely to seize this as an opportune time for the constitutional review. “It might be done in a way that tightens Museveni’s grip on power,” he says.
Opiyo also comments on what he says are existing economic concerns that have implications for governance. He says there is already a high crime rate because of the economic hardships, growing unemployment among the urban youth, and surging prices of food and basic household commodities.
He says: “There is already a worrying situation and it might get worse. If this continues you will have a larger portion of the population available for riots and demonstrations and that will automatically mean clashes and brutality from the security forces”.
Amidst the doom and gloom, the only things that appear to be working in Museveni’s favour as 2017 starts are four; his continued firm grip on the security forces, his NRM party’s dominance in parliament, his subjugation of the judiciary, and the weak and splintered opposition.
Although Museveni’s main political challenger, Kizza Besigye increased his margin of popularity by about 8 percentage points in the 2016 election compared to 2011 (and Museveni lost about the same), he appears not be using it to any political benefit since.
Since the election in February, Besigye has been pursuing a defiance campaign against Museveni which has seen him swear-in himself as “president”, hold protest prayers at his Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party headquarters at Najanankumbi in Kampala, and seeking to jump on every misstep of the government to rally the public to join in his defiance.
In reaction, the government has arrested him many times, slapped treason charges against him, and locked him up in jail for months. The net effect of these efforts by Besigye has been a reawakening of divisions within his FDC pitting those for against those opposed to his defiance campaign.
The FDC president, Gen. Mugisha Muntu denies it but many in his party say he is not in support of Besigye’s defiance campaign. Muntu says he does not oppose defiance but, for him, building party mobilisation structures is the priority.
Tension in FDC is likely to once again reach boiling point when the party plunges into campaigns for president sometime this year. The last time an election was held in 2012, the party almost collapsed as supporters loyal to Muntu and those loyal to party Besigye proxy Nandala Mafabi, who is now its Secretary General, attacked each other.
A repeat almost played out in 2015 as the party picked a flag-bearer. Muntu has somehow always managed to edge Mafabi within the party leadership organs but he has failed to turn that success into popularity among FDC’s grassroots supports. Poll after poll has shown that these tend to support a more abrasive opposition to Museveni as articulated by Besigye and represented by Mafabi.
If Museveni has proved anything, it is that he is always on the lookout for such divisions as the slightest opportunity to eat into the opposition. Already, FDC stalwart s like Bugweri MP Abdu Katuntu, Aruu County MP Odonga Otto, and Kitgum Municipality MP Beatrice Anywar are either out of the party or are branded traitors. These could prove easy picks for Museveni who likes to throw treats to selected opposition members that leave others salivating and, therefore, more amenable to his advances. Museveni has already made a move, with the appointment into his cabinet in June last year of former FDC strongman in Kasese, Christopher Kibanzanga.
Despite the appointment of Kibanzanga, who is a prince in the traditional leadership of the Bakonzo people of the Kasese, 2016 ended with the region on a cliffhanger. Security forces acting on Museveni’s orders had attacked the palace of Rwenzururu king Omusinga Wesley Mumbere and sent him to jail on a raft of serious charges. Many lives were lost on both sides–civilians and security personnel–with some putting the death toll at over 100 people.
It is not clear why Museveni chose to bring out the big guns against one of the least consequential traditional leaders in the country. One view is that it was merely a clash of egos but that does not explain the array of charges that have now been leveled against Mumbere. But neither do those charges signify that Museveni, in fact intends to let Mumbere rot in jail. So, while it is not obvious what his game plan is on Kasese, it is clear that it is one area that will continue to give Museveni headache in 2017.
And if Museveni thought setting the king’s palace on fire and jailing him would be a show of might, what is emerging is a different perception. Many commentators are questioning Museveni’s ability to deal decisively with a challenge from more powerful monarchs of Buganda and Bunyoro if he must fumble around the Rwenzururu.
The conclusion is that while Museveni, might have won the battle in Kasese since the king was arrested and is facing charges together with his guards, the war is not yet over as the incident may have crystalised animosity against the government in this war-hardened region which borders the volatile eastern DR Congo border which is teeming with Allied Democratic Front (ADF) rebels that have fought Museveni for decades.
If Kibanzanga’s appointment failed to yield any serious pay dirt, Museveni used the poaching strategy most effectively in the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) where tension continues between the Joseph Bossa /Olara Otunnu camp and that of Jimmy Akena. Here, Museveni appears to have gone for the jugular by pocketing its de jure president; the son to party founder and former president, Milton Obote. Museveni even appointed a member of UPC, Amongi Betty Ongom; the Oyam South MP, as minister in his cabinet.
Museveni, albeit on a less significant level, further punched holes in opposition unity when he also named the longtime government leaning leader of the Uganda Federal Alliance, Beti Kamya and Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi from the opposition Democratic Party. Nothing suggests Museveni will not dangle more carrot at insecure opposition leaders in 2017. It is unclear, however, whether that will revive his dwindling popularity among the poverty-stricken public.