First things first: I am sorry for the noticeable lack of blogging recently. I have been in the throes of finishing up a grad application for next year, and I think between all the essays and short answers, all my creative writing energy has been consumed by that. But good news – I submitted it an hour ago! Let the blogging re-commence!
Last Friday, Uganda held its 5-yearly governmental elections. With incumbent President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) Party reigning for 25 years, growing popular irritation at corrupt and the lack of progress, and opposition party leaders accusing Ugandan elections of pandemic fraudulence and rigging, Uganda’s elections were predicted to be a relatively big deal, at least in Africa.
But then the rest of the world decided to revolt, and Uganda’s elections barely made the papers. (Note: I’m not bitter about that, and I think the revolutions sweeping the North African region deserve to be recognized and celebrated. I’m just stating the facts). 🙂
Leading up to the elections, the US Embassy warned us to be extra vigilant. There was talk of an al-Shaabab terrorist attack, mass rioting, and increased military presence in the city. When Ugandan friends would ask me if I felt scared or nervous about the elections, I would tell them truthfully, “No, I don’t expect anything to happen. But I am not sure whether to trust expectations any more. No one expected what happened in Tunisia, Egypt, or anywhere else — and look what happened!”
So, the day of elections, all the IJM interns bunkered down at our bosses’ house, packing extra food, a change of clothes, and our passports just in case. Looking back, all those precautions seemed rather ridiculous, since absolutely nothing happened that day.
In fact, the scariest moment of the weekend happened two days later, when I was coming home from my Sunday afternoon fellowship group and managed to find myself in the middle of a mass victory party for – guess who – the victorious Museveni, who had just been elected for his sixth term in office, with a vote of more than 60% (the debate is still out on how many of those votes were legitimate, how many were coerced, and how many simply didn’t exist). That moment didn’t have to be scary, as some later pointed out, since being in a large crowd of NRM supporters with the police surrounding them (who also support Museveni), was perhaps one of the safer places to be in the post-election fever.
But the whole atmosphere had a strange feel to it. Thousands of people shouting popular NRM chants in unison, boda-boda drivers driving recklessly, trucks packed to the brim with people and loudspeakers blaring victory music. I had been reading way too many Op. Ed columns by Nick Kristof, images of popular revolutions and police brutality running through my head, to feel comfortable in any situation involving massive amounts of people riled up about politics.
Mayoral elections were held last Wednesday (prompting a spontaneous public holiday), only to be canceled when the public got news of fraud and ballot box-stuffing. Things got violent quickly, until police quickly clamped down on the unrest. There is still no indication of when mayoral elections will be re-scheduled.
Since then, things have calmed down, relatively. But it’s a tenuous peace at best.
No one expected the results to be any different than what they were – Museveni, either by bribery, fraud, secured his power for another five years. But Ugandan eyes were watching Egypt, and noting the parallels between the two rulers, and the similarities between the two societies. They were getting inspired.
However, unlike Egypt, Ugandans have only enjoyed peace in their country for the last few years (with Joseph Kony forces terrorizing the North for much of the last 20 years). Memories of bloodshed and political uncertainty are too fresh in Ugandan minds to risk revolting for the sake of free and fair elections. Many Ugandan friends said that they can imagine an Egypt-situation happening here, but not for another 5 or 10 years. For now, Uganda is satisfied with staying alive and staying secure, even if it is under the rule of a corrupt president who shows no indication of giving up his power anytime soon.