Why and how the opposition is playing right into Museveni’s hands

On Wednesday, Kampala went on fire after police arrested pop star turned politician/presidential candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine. The riots continued through yesterday (Nov.19). The partisans on either side are in overdrive. Critics of government post videos of police shooting at crowds where some people have, unfortunately, died.

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Government activists post videos showing street gangs mounting roadblocks, forcing anyone wearing yellow, the colour of the ruling party, to remove them. In one of these videos, a thug attacks a police lady hitting her with a hammer.

Clearly each side has enough evidence to demonize the other and seek to occupy the moral high ground. Yet elections in Uganda, like many parts of Sub Sahara Africa, tend to simulate violence threatening already weak states. But politicians, pundits and journalists are too transfixed in the emotions of the moment, and too ideologically committed to the current institutional arrangements to reflect on the implications of this persistent and troubling reality.

Museveni launched a war alleging electoral fraud. He has kept power by electoral violence and fraud. In Tanzania, Kenya, DR Congo, Rwanda and South Sudan, elections are always accompanied by accusations of fraud and violence. Does Africa really need elections to select leaders especially in a winner-take-all electoral system? I shall return to this another day.

For now, Uganda is going through the COVID pandemic. Over 17,000 people have been infected and over 150 have died. To slow down the spread of the disease, government has restricted mass gatherings like rallies.

The Electoral Commission has put in place guidelines for political candidates to have no more than 200 people in a crowd. President Yoweri Museveni has adhered to these guidelines. Meanwhile Bobi Wine has been fragrantly violating these SOPs. Videos show him addressing or singing and dancing to huge crowds.

Secondly, opposition claims that Museveni has ruled through corruption, tribalism, violence and lies and that he doesn’t care about the public good. It follows, therefore, that the opposition must demonstrate that they are the change this country needs: that unlike Museveni, they will not place their political ambitions above the interests of the country. Yet Bobi Wine, like Donald Trump, is clearly impervious to the health risks he is exposing to his supporters with mass rallies. Sadly his followers don’t see this.

Given its own selfish obsession with power, the driving motive behind government’s arrest of Bobi Wine was not so much driven by the health risks as by the fear that he is gaining a lot of political traction.

Yet even with this malice in mind, I believe it was absolutely necessary to stop his mass rallies even by arresting and detaining him. It would be dangerous for the state to allow such a blatant disregard of the COVID SOPs. The fact that NRM supporters have done similar violations and police has not intervened is unfair but it doesn’t make Bobi Wine’s actions right. On the contrary, he should be the one to lead by example. Instead he gave government the rope with which to hang him.

Secondly, Bobi Wine was arrested in eastern Uganda. Immediately, people in Kampala went on rampage. Was this spontaneous? Hardly! The opposition, especially Dr. Kizza Besigye’s Defiance, which shares a common support-base with Bobi Wine’s People Power have been talking of a “Plan B”. This is based on the belief that elections cannot bring about change.

So they have been planning to use the campaigns to stir up a mass uprising to bring down government, and there is enough intelligence to show this. We have seen videos of a truck delivering tyres to set roadblocks. So the riots were not spontaneous but well planned acts to spread mayhem.

One thing should be clear: the primary role of the state is to ensure the security of person and property. As Max Weber said, the state can only do this by enjoying a monopoly over the use of violence.

This role is even more critical in fragile states like ours where state capabilities are limited and where emergent social forces such as urban lumpens, angry and unemployed youths, students and informal sector workers can cause serious disruption.

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