December 5, 2022

Has Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni become the dictator that he once led rebellions against?

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni

President Yoweri Museveni has been in power as the President of Uganda since 1986. Prior to his assumption of power, Museveni led rebel forces in insurgency against Idi Amin’s dictatorial regime as well as that of Milton Obote.

However, the irony in Musevini’s presidency is that since becoming Uganda’s head of state, he has in many ways become increasingly similar to the authoritarian leaders that he once led rebellions against.

With President Yoweri Musevini at the helm of the Ugandan government, it has come under fire for human rights violations, corruption, prosecution of opposition voices, and more authoritarian tendencies.

Since Musevini first took office, the Ugandan constitution has been modified to abolish its presidential term limits and age limit so that Musevini can continue to stay in power. In 2021, he was elected to a 6th term in an election that has been viewed widely as undemocratic.

Over the past few decades, Ugandan elections have been marred with corruption, political violence, and the arrests and attacks of opposition voices.

“The unlawful killings, beatings, abductions, arbitrary detentions and other human right violations by the Ugandan security forces before, during and after the elections must not be swept under the carpet,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.

Ahead of the 2021 general election, political protests, chaos, and violence erupted following the arrest of opposition leader Bobi Wine. The violence that followed resulted in arbitrary arrests, deaths, imprisonments, and allegations of torture.

“Security forces shot dead at least 54 people in just two days in November 2020 in response to widespread protests over the arrest of Robert Kyagulanyi,” said Amnesty International.

Roughly four decades ago, it was Yoweri Musevini that was contesting an election for being rigged and corrupt. He led the National Resistance Army in the ousting of Milton Obote and convinced many that the new republic would usher in a more liberal and free way of life. Many nations saw him as one of Africa’s most promising leaders.

Musevini’s roles in the overthrowing of both Milton Obote and Idi Amin helped to establish him as a liberator and an image of progress in the eyes of many. However, his regime has proved to be authoritarian and repressive.

Rather than promoting human rights and liberal democratic ideals, President Musevini has used his power to suppress dissent, silence opposition voices, and give himself more power.

In addition to pressuring opposition leaders and protestors, Musevini’s regime has also systematically targeted journalists and punished them for being critical of the regime. “Journalists and authors face arrest, harassment, intimidation, and assault in reprisal for their work. Authorities routinely raid and shut down radio stations and other outlets and remove accreditation from journalists in retribution for their reporting,” says Freedom House.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Ugandan government has systematically arrested and beaten opposition supporters and journalists, killed protesters, disrupted opposition rallies, and limited internet access in accordance with its agenda. Protestors have even been arrested for “treasonable acts of elements of the opposition.”

Despite the authoritarian nature and disregard for human rights that have become entrenched in Musevini’s regime, he continues to portray himself as Uganda’s political savior.

In justifying his decades-long tenure in power, President Yoweri Museveni once explained, “This old man who has saved the country, how do you want him to go? How can I go out of a banana plantation I have planted that has started bearing fruits?”

Despite Musevini’s self-glorification, the nation of Uganda still finds itself entrenched in corruption, authoritarianism, and human rights crises. Ugandans and the international community alike are left wondering how much he has really saved the country and what kind of “fruit” his trees are bearing.

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