Uganda is a long way from what can be defined as an accomplished democracy. Yes, of course, there are regular elections, but the “Ugandan-style” elections sadly resemble those of a number of African countries: a cosmetic vote that serves only to present itself in international forums with the credentials of a democratic state. This is a good alibi for the international community, which can thus relate not with dictators, but with young democracies that are not yet complete. Yoweri Museveni understood all this very well. So, in January 2021, he went back to the polls to obtain his sixth term as President. And he succeeded once again. At a price, however, higher than in the past: the European Union and the United States did not even send international observers, so many and such were the abuses committed by the regime against opponents – and so likely was the suspicion the electoral round would be vitiated by fraud. The country arrived at the vote in a climate of high tension, after an electoral campaign punctuated by killings of opponents and followers of the most dangerous of the challengers (the popular rapper Bobi Wine), arrests (two against the same young leader), intimidation and widespread violence, the blocking of social networks wanted by the President two days before the vote. Thus, the now elderly Museveni (76 years old) was confirmed.
He had came to power back in 1986, with military action: at that time he held the merit of freeing Uganda from the ferocious dictatorship of Idi Amin Dada and of defeating Milton Obote. His conquest of the capital Kampala was greeted by great hopes: a young Head of State, enlightened, capable (in the early years) of great reforms. Then, over time, as has happened to a number of other African leaders, his leadership dimmed until it became the current dictatorship in disguise. A dictatorship, however, tolerated by the international community due to the successes achieved by the president on various fronts. Internally, Museveni has defeated the rebels of the Lord Resistance Army in a twenty-year war, bringing peace to the country, he has achieved a relatively constant economic growth, and he has effectively fought AIDS/HIV. Above all, on an international level, it has made Uganda a stable and reliable country, also in relation to Islamic extremist terrorism, in the eyes of Westerners.
However, sometimes power wears down even those who have it, especially if the power has been held for thirty-five years: in the years of Museveni’s government, discontent and intolerance have grown for an unchanging and increasingly autocratic leadership, for social inequalities, for political claims against an obvious democratic deficit. In these last elections, Museveni had a hard time. His main adversary, Bobi Wine (born Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu), was half his age, of humble origin (he grew up in a Kampala slum), and very popular due to his work as a musician. Nor was he an impromptu politician: he had been in Parliament since 2017. To avoid losing, Museveni decided to use the heavy hand when it came to mass arrests, repression, violence of all kinds against especially Wine’s party. He won again, the old dinosaur. And given that in recent years he has changed the Constitution to eliminate both the limit of mandates and the age limit, he could run again in 2026 and remain in office until 2031. Then, yes, he would be the record-holder of African presidents.