The emergence of Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, in Uganda’s political landscape, has given hope that Yoweri Museveni could be defeated in the next presidential election scheduled 2021. For many Ugandan political analysts, a united opposition front behind Wine could bring victory that has eluded the Uganda opposition for years.
However, the divisions among opposition parties over tactics, policy direction as well as local rivalries could thwart any attempt to defeat Museveni who has ruled Uganda since 1986 and has shown no sign of leaving the political scene anytime soon.
Apart from divisions within the opposition front, the ban on political rallies by Uganda’s electoral commission has dislodged the campaign strategies of opposition parties. Political rallies have been banned over COVID-19 by the electoral commission. Political parties have been told to the campaign via the media and on social media. Despite the directive, officials of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) have held primaries with huge numbers of supporters while opposition rallies get disrupted by security forces.
Uganda’s government is also largely in control of mass media, thereby making it difficult for opposition parties to get access to media platforms to canvass for a vote. Social media comes in handy although the government has been making moves to disrupt this.
In the last election, social media networks were shut down while the Ugandan authorities cited national security concerns for their decision.
The country’s main opposition figures Dr. Kizza Besigye and Wine have announced a new alliance against Mr. Museveni. The two leaders agreed on the need for a partnership that will put up one candidate to contest against Mr. Museveni in the next elections. However, the alliance has seen little or no practical effect. Supporters of both leaders continue to throw mud at each other over who is fit and suited to lead the opposition on social media.
The agreement between Dr. Besigye and Wine will not be the first time opposition actors have sought to unite to challenge Mr. Museveni. A first attempt was made under the Interparty Cooperation before the 1996 presidential elections when Uganda People’s Congress and the Democratic Party jointly put forward Mr. Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere as their candidate.
In 2001, the opposition rallied behind Dr. Besigye under Reform Agenda. Also, In 2016, attempts were made to field one presidential candidate against Mr. Museveni under The Democratic Alliance (TDA) but this collapsed because the Opposition political parties once again failed to agree on who should be their joint candidate.
Dr. Besigye has contested Mr. Museveni four times, thus in 2001, 2006, 2011, and 2016. He is convinced that the only way to remove Mr. Museveni from power is through street protests. For him, the Ugandan president controls the electoral commission and the security forces, therefore, he can manipulate the process to perpetuate his stay in power.
The physician turned politician has mentioned he will not contest the 2021 election as he sees removing Mr. Museveni through the ballot as a waste of time. In other words, he has not completely abandoned the idea of running for president in 2021. Wine believes he can replicate his by-election victory in Kyadondo East in 2017 where he emphatically secure 78% of the total votes to become a legislator.
The alliance between Dr. Besigye and Wine is already facing challenges. The first of these was when the latter organized Ugandans to register for National Identity Cards so they can vote in next year’s polls while the former insisted that removing Museveni through the election was futile. In a recent outburst, Wine lashed out at Dr. Besigye’s sentiments. This escalated on social media where their supporters traded harsh words.
Therefore, the tactics over how to defeat Mr. Museveni remains one of the biggest issues in the opposition alliance.
Another difference in the opposition alliance has to do with policy direction. It is unclear what the opposition is offering to Ugandans. The opposition campaign has largely focused on removing Mr. Museveni from office and nothing more. Asked if he will support Wine, Dr. Besigye was emphatic that the former pop singer has not come up with any rallying idea.
Meanwhile, a recent poll by Research World International (RWI) posited that Wine has a better chance of unseating Mr. Museveni than Dr. Besigye. According to the poll, Mr. Museveni can lay claim to some 46% of voters while Wine comes in second with 22% and Dr. Besigye with 17%.
Wine’s chances are also boosted by the factor that not only is he Catholic – the biggest Christian denomination in Uganda – but also comes from the Baganda ethnic group, the largest in Uganda.
Besides Wine’s differences with Dr. Besigye, other opposition parties disagree with him on policies and strategies.
In spite of Wine having the best chances of putting up a good showing against Mr. Museveni, he will be sharing the same supporters with Dr. Besigye even if there is a possibility of him winning the majority of the youth vote. However, complete unity with Dr. Besigye would have posed a real threat to Mr. Museveni’s long year rule.
Mr. Museveni’s NRM government is at wit’s end. The NRM has in the past shown it will not be stopped in its bid to secure victory for Mr. Museveni. The president is a strong force and he cannot be wished away, it must be emphasized.
It will take a strong, resolute, and resilient and determined opposition party in Uganda to push him out.
As things stand, Mr. Museveni is most likely to be re-elected. The opposition parties on their own pose no threat to his rule.
One wonders if that is why it is important for a veteran opposition figure like Dr. Besigye to give way for a more youthful and popular candidate like Wine to lead a united opposition front to victory.
The current grandstanding between Wine and Dr. Besigye is not helpful. Only one person benefits and that is Mr. Museveni.