Uganda’s Museveni tightens grip on power

Yoweri Museveni, 76, is scheduled to be sworn in as Uganda’s head of state for a sixth five-year term on Wednesday.

He is not expected to change the autocratic style he has developed over the last 35 years, nor the system of patronage and corruption which has been crucial to enabling his longevity in power.

By hijacking state institutions to serve his own ends, Museveni managed to have Parliament twice alter the constitution to allow him to run for president, first removing a two-term limit in 2005 and then abolishing the age limit of 75 in 2017.

The president seized power in 1986, after a five-year guerrilla struggle. At the time, he was enthusiastically welcomed by a population weary of bloodshed, successive despots and ineffectual military juntas.

Museveni has relied on the support of the army to stay in power indefinitely

Elected president 10 years later, Museveni gained the West’s trust by stabilizing a country prone to coups and conflict since independence in 1962.

He invited the Asian minority — expelled by Idi Amin a decade earlier — back into the country and put in place a mixed-economy model, which helped promote growth. This opened the door to substantial foreign assistance which has flowed in ever since, and which has helped consolidate growth, in turn stabilizing Museveni’s regime.

Where do African refugees go? Refugee numbers in Africa There are over 30 million migrants in Africa: that includes refugees, internally displaced persons and returnees. The numbers increased in recent years, and DW found out that those leaving their home countries tend to go to the same destination. The South Sudanese child pictured here is one of many who found shelter in a refugee camp in Uganda.

Where do African refugees go? South Sudan As of the end of January 2019, 2.28 million people from South Sudan had fled their country, via an international border. That is the highest number for any African country. Their main destination: neighboring Sudan. The South Sudanese refugee crisis is the largest in Africa and the third largest in the world, after Syria and Afghanistan. Many South Sudanese refugees are children.

Where do African refugees go? A long way to go The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the most ethnically diverse nations in the world. This remains a cause of tension and contributes to ongoing violence, which drives the displacement of people. Civilians suffer under the attacks of armed groups as well as from intercommunal clashes. Most are reported in North and South Kivu, Ituri, Tanganyika, Haut-Katanga, and Haut-Lomami.

Where do African refugees go? DR Congo Hundreds of thousands of people fled the country up until 2019. While DR Congo has to deal with millions of internally displaced persons, many found refuge in neighboring countries. Uganda is their main country of refuge, and currently hosts some 2.3 million refugees from DR Congo. The reasons are also geographical, as Uganda shares borders with many crisis-torn regions.

Where do African refugees go? Somalians flee to Kenya Somalia is troubled by ongoing civil strife which caused thousands to flee to neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya, and pushed many Somalis to the brink of starvation.The country lacks a unified central government. The extremist al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab controls much of southern Somalia, although African Union troops have seen major victories against the group.

Where do African refugees go? Somalia The number of Somali refugees is almost as high as that of DR Congo refugees. But, the main destination for Somalians is Kenya. The Dadaab camp, a complex of three settlements, is one of the world’s largest refugee camps. It was built to house 90,000 people but is now home to more than 200,000 people.

Where do African refugees go? One of the world’s largest refugee camp Across Africa, migrants are seeking a safe haven. Some find it in refugee camps like the world’s biggest refugee settlement at Dadaab, Kenya, where they can stay for years and start new lives and families. This contributes to the rise in refugee numbers and explains how children can be born with refugee status.

Where do African refugees go? Central African Republic The Central African Republic (CAR) has been unstable since its independence from France in 1960. Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority-Christian country in 2013. Under international pressure, Seleka handed power to a transitional government in 2014 but months of violence followed and the CAR was effectively partitioned.

Where do African refugees go? Struggling to emerge Burundi is one of the world’s poorest nations. After a 12-year, ethnic-based civil war, the country is still struggling to recover. The usually-dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority have failed to overcome tensions since the country gained independence in 1962. In 1994, a civil war between the two ethnic groups made Burundi the scene of one of Africa’s most persistent conflicts.

Where do African refugees go? Burundi Burundi has been in another crisis since April 2015 after President Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would run for a third term. The economy has declined significantly due to political instability and insecurity. Human rights violations such as kidnappings and torture by the police, military, and the ruling party’s youth league persist.

Where do African refugees go? Between life and death In Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, thousands of people have died in recent years in communal attacks led by the Islamist terror organization Boko Haram. At the same time, separatist aspirations grew and the imposition of Islamic law in several northern states has embedded divisions and caused thousands of Christians to flee, sometimes undertaking a dangerous journey across the desert.

Where do African refugees go? Nigeria Conflict is the major driver of the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria. In the northeast, Boko Haram has affected more than 14 million people. The group carries out attacks against the military and civilians in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states. Conflict between herders and farmers in Nigeria’s Middle Belt and southern states has been growing increasingly violent, killing and displacing thousands. Author: Silja Fröhlich

Museveni will ‘remain in power’ with military support

Teddy Atim, who was born in 1986, has only ever known a country ruled by Museveni. She told DW that she voted for him because she hoped to benefit from the government’s business startup capital fund, Emyooga.

“I know that in the next five years we are going to benefit from planned government projects,” Atim said.

Mwambutsya Mwebesa, a historian at Makerere University, is skeptical of the president’s promises.

“Uganda is a very poor country. He [Museveni] found it a least developing country and it is still a least developing country now,” he told DW.

The government projects were the right card to play though, he added, because “poor people do not always struggle for human rights issues or even political rights issues. They normally pursue survival rights issues.”

Asked if he could discern a possible successor for Museveni, he said the president “will remain in power for as long as the military is behind him.”

Opposition leader Bobi Wine calls out persecution of opposition

A politicized security apparatus has been a key factor of Museveni’s survival in power for more than three decades. It was effectively deployed in the run-up to the presidential election in January against restless urban youth, who were enthralled by the promise of renewal. This was represented by charismatic opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, a musician who goes by the artistic name Bobi Wine.

Himself a target of persecution on the eve and in the wake of the polls, Wine has called attention to the suffering of Museveni’s political opponents.

“Hundreds of young people, young men and women supporting the People Power Movement and the National Unity Platform, the movement and party which I lead, have been abducted by the government. Many have been murdered in detention,” said Wine.

Several others were brutally tortured, Wine told DW in an exclusive interview.

In November, at least 54 people were killed in a protest that erupted after Wine was detained while campaigning. The ruthlessness shown by security forces led to protests from the West.

In April, Uganda’s main donor, the United States, announced visa bans on government officials accused of human rights violations and repressive acts.

In February, the European Parliament called on member states to enact similar sanctions, although none were forthcoming.

‘Darling of the West’

Washington is not planning to cut to the development aid of around $970 million (€780 million) it provides yearly, almost half of the total donated to Kampala by all OECD members. That’s without counting military aid.

The US visa bans have been largely met with indifference. “We are not going to lose sleep over this,” said Uganda’s state minister for foreign affairs, Okello Oryem, on April 16.

Nevertheless, in the grip of major economic and debt crises, Kampala has increasingly turned to China for financial help that is more free of criticism.

Western donors are unlikely to put too much pressure on Museveni’s regime in view of Uganda’s generous refugee policies. After all, the country has welcomed more than 1.4 million people from such conflict-ravaged countries as Congo and South Sudan.

Donors will likely turn a blind eye to Uganda’s crucial role in attempts to appease the Great Lakes region and its significant contribution in the fight against terrorism in Somalia.

“This has made him [Museveni] a darling of the West,” said analyst Mwebesa.

An uncertain future

The discovery of oil in the Albertine Rift Basin in the western part of the country in 2006, which will likely make Uganda the fourth largest sub-Saharan oil producer by the end of the decade, is unlikely to encourage a global will to rein in Museveni’s despotic tendencies.

Aware that Museveni will not voluntarily relinquish power anytime soon, opposition leader Bobi Wine has placed his hopes for change on Uganda’s youth. The official youth unemployment rate of around 13% does not take into account underemployment, precarious work and wages too low to secure a living.

Measures like the recent introduction of a 12% tax on internet data — mostly seen as another repressive measure, like the ban on access to the social media platform Facebook — are bound to increase dissatisfaction among urban young people.

“We continue pushing on, knowing it is not going to be an overnight thing. But ultimately, we will get there,” Wine told DW.

Frank Yiga, Annabelle Steffes-Halmer and Liz Shoo contributed to this article