By Vick Lukwago Ssali
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda was ‘re-elected’ last month for a fifth term in office. Some may argue it is his sixth or even seventh term, if we include the honeymoon period between 1986, when the National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/NRA) took power, and 1996, when Ugandans went to the polls for only the second time since the 1962 pre-independence elections.
Two days after the February 18 elections I arrived back in the country from the diaspora where, unfortunately, I had had no chance to vote. I was nervous on landing at Entebbe after most of my relatives had advised me to cancel my ticket and travel at a later date. I had insisted on going, partly out of optimism, partly out of lack of choice given the limited time I had for fieldwork at home and for the school duties back in Japan. It was, in any case, sad that anybody could be worried of travelling to Uganda two days after an election in the era of ‘fundamental change’.
Despite all those mixed feelings, I was nevertheless surprised by the nervous quietness that I saw on the streets of the colonial capital and airport city of Entebbe, and all the way to Masaka, 114 kilometres southwest of the capital Kampala. The relative who had come to pick me up from the airport decided to avoid Kampala, and took a short cut joining Entebbe to the Masaka highway. Tuned to the car stereo, we were just in time for the scheduled Saturday four o’clock announcement of the results of the presidential polls: the incumbent had allegedly secured 60.75% of the votes, with FDC’s Kizza Besigye runner-up with 35.37%. Museveni’s recently dismissed prime minister and former ruling party secretary general, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, was pronounced third with 1.43% of the votes. The rest had been shared among five other candidates who included a retired major general (Benon Biraaro) who, together with Kizza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi had been fellow combatants under Museveni during the 1981 – 1986 bush war.
The results were mainly significant for their incredulity. All the voices I heard around family and friends that Saturday night and all through the weekend, were questioning the Electoral Commission’s incompetence and lack of integrity to organise free and fair elections, let alone announce the rightful winner. If there were any folks that believed in the validity of the results that had been announced that late Saturday afternoon, they were too scared to stand out. Three days later, on Tuesday February 23, I headed back to the city. What I saw and felt was also captured in the sentiments of a columnist in the leading independent daily newspaper, The Monitor: ‘Moving through Kampala after the results of the just-concluded election, one would be mistaken for thinking that the country was in mourning. The winning side was not celebrating. The losing side was obviously heartbroken and asking the dampened spirit to rise up and be happy would be asking too much.’