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Leaders and the logic of strategy

Presidents Museveni and Biden

The tragedy of power and politics that presidents Biden and Museveni must navigate to keep their jobs

THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | U.S. President Jo Biden and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni have a couple of similarities. Both were born during the second world war. Biden turns 82 in November; Museveni turns 80 in September. Both have previously served as parliamentarians, vice presidents and presidents. They know politics and power well. Both are facing problems that involve a contradiction between their professed moral values and their political interests. Their dilemma is how to tradeoff between the two. Biden’s problem is Israel, Museveni’s is Anita Annet Among.

Let us begin with the older, richer and more powerful Biden. Americans love to present themselves as champions of human rights and protectors of the “rules based global” order. At a personal level, Biden likes to present himself as Mr. Empathy. However, Israel is currently committing ethnic cleansing in Gaza, its munitions being supplied by Biden. The ethnic cleansing is multipronged. Starving the population through blocking of food, water, electricity. To achieve this goal, openly stated by Tel Aviv, Israel has bombed every bakery, water treatment plant, electricity grid and blocked relief aid from entering Gaza.

Secondly, and because of destroying water treatment and supply facilities, along with all sewerage systems, the people of Gaza are now drinking sea water. This has led to the spread of diseases, which cannot be treated because Israel has bombed all hospitals and clinics and killed medical workers. Thus, although the bombing has directly killed 35,000 persons and injured 80,000, the real plan for ethnic cleansing is in starvation and disease. A combination of these three will force survivors to leave Gaza so that Israelis can settle there. Even the blind can see the plan.

Here is Biden’s dilemma: I suspect he is morally appalled by what Israel is doing. But moral repulsion must be balanced against political reality. To win elections in America, one needs money. Biden’s biggest financiers are the Israeli lobby. They have been with him for the last 50 years of his political career. He cannot afford to drop them now. However, a significant share of his supporters are young and liberal or ethnic minorities angry at Israel’s genocide. If he follows his conscience and acts against Israel, he loses funding for this campaign. If he sticks with Israel, he loses votes. Right now, he is trying to eat his cake and still have it. He is calling on Israel to stop the bombings and starvation while continuing to supply munitions to kill Palestinians. Pathetic.

For Museveni, Speaker of Parliament Among has been caught stealing public funds. This has caused both a national outcry and a diplomatic conundrum for our president. Yet Among is a vital political asset for Museveni. She helps the President control parliament. She is also a powerful pillar for his electoral politics in eastern Uganda and specifically among her Teso ethnic kin. I have written about her value to Museveni in parliament in previous articles. In this article, let me deal with her role in Museveni’s electoral arithmetic come 2026.

Museveni’s electoral strategy has always been to hold a commanding lead in two regions and be competitive in a third. Previously, he used to hold the West and Central and force a contest in the East. With such electoral fortunes he could afford to lose the north. So, he did little to placate the interests of “northerners”. This was important because Central has the largest ethnic group in Uganda, the Baganda, while the West has the second largest, the Banyankore. In the East he had the support of the third largest ethnic group, the Basoga and could afford to lose the fourth largest, Itesot. Not anymore. The emergence of Bobi Wine altered this electoral map.

In 2021, Museveni lost central region because Bobi Wine, a Muganda and Catholic, emerged as a new kid on the block. Because he seemed to have a good chance to defeat Museveni, and because he is a child of the soil, Mengo and Rubaga rooted for their own. Bobi Wine also weakened Museveni in the east, winning Basoga. However, Museveni won the north convincingly but with a considerably reduced voter turnout. I suspect many supporters of Kizza Besigye stayed home because they did not see Bobi Wine as presidential. It could also be that they have strong anti-Ganda feelings. Besides the north has only 23% of the electorate compared to Buganda’s 27%. The east has the second largest electorate. To be competitive there, one needs either the Basoga or the Itesots. With Busoga gone to Bobi Wine, Teso becomes critical for Museveni’s electoral fortunes.

Now one understands why Teso has the speaker, the vice president, the deputy CDF and the governor of the central bank. Of all the four, it is Among who is the biggest vote puller. In national profile and political pull, she has eclipsed the vice president, Jessica Alupo. I would dare say she has been the most powerful Itesot in government since our independence. If Museveni jailed her, the Itesot would most likely see it as a slap at them as a people. This is identity politics 101. That is why the more the mass media attack Among, and the more Western countries sanction her, the more the people of Teso see it as a politically orchestrated witch-hunt against their daughter and therefore an attack on them as a people.

I don’t think these dynamics are lost to Museveni. When I put myself in his shoes, I think that if Among were jailed, even without Museveni getting involved, the people of Teso would see his hand in it. It is very possible many would rally against the president for throwing their daughter under the bus. At least that is one calculation Museveni must make. The next election is going to be difficult for our President because the demographics are going against him. Most young, urban and educated Ugandans have lost faith in him. Museveni has no strategy to win them back. Only in rural areas can he use identity to rally their support.

Therefore, regardless of his personal feelings towards her, Museveni’s politics dictates that he sticks with Among. Besides, Western countries, especially UK and U.S., have been acting in ways that suggest to our President that they are out to get rid of him. The last thing Museveni wants is a Speaker who will dance to their tune. Unless there is another calculation I have not seen, it seems to me that our president will stick with Speaker Among. That’s the tragedy of power and politics.

*****

amwenda@ugindependent.co.ug

3 comments

  1. Andrew. Your level of mixing difference things is beyond. Anita Among an individual, and Israel a country. Most important, since the end of Second World War (about 80 years ago) America’s policy towards Israel has been the same irrespective of the president of America: Whether republican or democrat president. I doubt the next president of Uganda (be it from Museveni’s family ) will treat Anita Among the same as throwing such huge openly corrupt crook under the bus might help the new president to win over or show Ugandans that they are different from ‘Museveni’s corruption policy’. So, your insertion of Biden to suite your Museveni/Anita Among narrative is very misplaced. Museveni is a dictator in his evening and careless about Ugandans. See how he has allocated all the resources and economic opportunities to foreigners at the expense of locals and calls himself pan African? See the deals and strategies of development countries like Kenya and Tanzania are pulling and how low Uganda is getting! I salute even Rwanda-to the extent that they are able to identify our own golfer (Rugumayo) and sponsor him to an international level when we as a country are just there. We have good long distance athletes, but the extent to which we have developed and supported this talent is very wanting. Uganda is a proper banana republic. Museveni’s showing is at the same level with Mubutu’s Zaire.

  2. Mr Andrew M9 I’m not so sure if you do realize yourself that your political commentaries these days are nothing BUT more of a mediocre!
    To begin with, your comparison of United States of America politics with your stone-age Uganda is like comparing apples with lemons (not oranges please)!
    For example in the United States of America the voters determine the outcome of the election results (democracy), not by the one who organized the election. Whereas in the stone-age Uganda, the one who staged (NOT organized) so-called election predetermines the voter results long before the first vote is cast! This is called lootocracy not democracy.

    For instance in the last 2021, so-called general election at more than six hundred (yes, 600) polling stations in western Uganda (to be exact Ankore region), voter turnout was more than a hundred percent/100%, all of which “voted” for the incumbent president Tibuhaburwa!! Is that imaginable in the United States of America politics?

    In sum, in the United States of America, president Joe Biden is a leader presiding over a democracy whilst in the stone-age Uganda ruler (Not leader but dictator) presides over a lootocracy on a grander scale never seen before in this country!

  3. Andrew, This article is so wrong on many fronts.
    1. The Iteso are 5th largest not 4th. At least according to the last Census. Baganda, Banyankore, Bakiga, Basoga then Iteso in that order.
    2. Anita Among’s popularity in Teso is a largely questionable farce. Buying off an opponent to win parliament and then suddenly appear to become the most “powerful Iteso” is largely a lie. She is still way below the Mukula’s, Echwerus and others. You may also need to separate Iteso from Kumam (Elwelu).
    3. A simple street survey will show most Iteso dissociate themselves from Anita due to robust theft of public funds she has displayed. She is not that powerful.

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