And why knock-out failed
Kampala, Uganda | JOSEPH WERE | President Yoweri Museveni won re-election for a sixth five-year term in the Jan.14 elections. He took 58.64% of the vote, way ahead of his nearest challenger; the Kyadondo East MP, Robert Ssentamu Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine who ran on the National Unity Platform (NUP) ticket and took 34.83% of the vote.
The win should have been good news for Museveni who barely held campaign rallies in the traditional sense but still performed way ahead of his challengers. Bobi Wine’s percentage was even less than the 36.61% that Rtd Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye got in 2016.
But when he spoke soon after he was declared winner on Jan. 16, Museveni sounded upset and dwelt less on celebrating his win and more on why it was demoralizing that his nearest challenger, Bobi Wine, was voted by so many.
Museveni’s reaction left many people puzzled. Why is he so angry, many asked?
Part of the answer possibly can be because the 38-year old Bobi Wine is a political novice and his audacity to challenge 76-year old Museveni’s 34-year long hold on power must have been totally unexpected. Bobi Wine entered the political arena just three years ago but he appears determined to shake up Museveni who has been at it since the 1960s and is considered to be a political guru.
When Bobi Wine first announced that he would be running for President in 2021, many commentators reacted to it as a joke. But what appeared to be a weakness turned out to be Bobi Wine’s strength. Without a political history, Bobi Wine became a politician without baggage for some and for others; he was a blank slate on which they could pin whatever hope they held.
Many voted for Bobi Wine as a symbol of their aspiration and not as the individual. That is what is being called the ‘Umbrella wave’ in reference to the Bobi Wine party symbol. In the voting booth, people appear to have ticked the umbrella without looking at the individual. Good and great NRM leaders got swept away by the wave of comedians. This also means Bobi Wine and NUP will have a tougher time in the next election in 2026. This time, they will be judged against their promises and their record and comedians cannot deliver anything other than laughs.
Salim Saleh magic fails
Overall, NRM paid a price for fixing its primaries. Most of the defeated ministers and party stalwarts could easily have lost the primaries but were lifted up by the clout. Mwesigwa Rukutana, Ephraim Kamuntu, Christopher Kibanzanga, Crispus Kiyonga, Lydia Wanyoto, and others are examples. But there are many other riggers.
The rest of Museveni’s reaction can possibly be unpacked from the numbers.
Although Museveni won, his percentage share of the vote was the lowest since he started running for elections in 1996. Back then Museveni won with 74.33%. In 2001 he got 69.33%, in 2006 he got 59.26% and in 2011 he got 68.38%. In 2016 Museveni won with 60.62% of the vote.
And the outcome could have been worse for Museveni if Bobi Wine had managed to hold on to northern Uganda as an opposition stronghold the way Besigye had done until around the 2011 elections. Museveni scooped 68% of the vote there against Bobi Wine’s 21%. About 1.7million votes were at stake here. If Bobi Wine had scooped half of those, Museveni’s story could have been rewritten.
Museveni also lost in his self-proclaimed ‘Mecca’; Luweero District and the surrounding districts that comprise the so-called Greater Luweero (Nakaseke and Nakasongola). Museveni is emotionally attached to this area and always launches his campaigns there.
This area is the birth place of the National Resistance war that brought Museveni to power in 1986 after five years of fighting in the bushes there. In the 2001 election, Museveni scooped 80% of the vote in Luweero. Moses Kabarema, an opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) politician who ran in the area as recently as the 2011 parliamentary election was beaten up, his Mitsubishi Canter truck set on fire, and his restaurant. It was taboo to challenge Museveni’s government in Luweero.