When the campaign began in 2015 and former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi announced his intention to run for president, insiders in the political game expected him to mount a credible campaign, but as one of the chief lieutenants of the NRM from 1986 until 2015, his campaign has not caught on inside Uganda. This lackluster campaign of Mbabazi has ensured that the popular energies have flowed to the FDC and Besigye. Yet the FDC campaign has not zeroed in on the core issues of how to restructure the economy but has instead presented itself as better managers of the future wealth of Uganda. The FDC has drawn attention to the atrocious conditions of hospitals and clinics, to the point where the NRM government sought to ban the FDC from going anywhere near health facilities. While the FDC has pointed to the wretchedness of the poor, the campaign has not made the link between the structural adjustment programmes and the conditions of Ugandans.
In many ways, this opposition will remain constrained by its exposure to the international ‘donor community’ and the embrace of the International Republican Institute (IRI). The over-size influence of western NGOs and embassies is evident in the operations of all of the top candidates. It was significant that General Sejusa did not flee to Tanzania or Mozambique when he fell out with Museveni, but to Britain. The unpopularity of Museveni has brought out hundreds of thousands of youths behind the convoys of the FDC while the NRM government has been spending millions of dollars to compromise the same youth. Violence and intimidation against the opposition has been unleashed by the recently mobilized para-military force, the so-called ‘crime preventers’. These youths are supposed to be a volunteer force of civilians recruited and managed by police to report on and prevent crime in cooperation with the security agencies and communities.
The crime preventers work under the stewardship of the Inspector General of Police, General Kale Kayihura, who has gained notoriety as a state thug in Ugandan society. In practice, crime preventers are strongly affiliated with the ruling party. Its members have acted in ways that abet the anti-social activities of thugs supporting the NRM and carried out brutal assaults and extortion with no accountability. It is this threat of violence against unarmed civilians that has unnerved sections of the intelligentsia. Museveni himself has said that under no condition would he hand over power to the opposition. Such utterances have led to pessimism among some intellectuals with Prof Oloka-Onyango of Makerere University Kampala, predicting that there would be chaos if the opposition won the elections. He was reported to have said: “I do not believe that any opposition candidate in Uganda today can win this election, which is highly in favour of the incumbent… [If that happens], then you will have chaos or a military coup.”