Ethnicity isn’t meant to be a giant a part of politics, but each the president and his rival accuse the opposite of tribalism and see themselves as its antidote.
On the night of 16 January, just a few hours after being declared the winner of Uganda’s presidential election, Yoweri Museveni addressed the nation. Many analysts had framed the ballot as a generational battle between the 76-year-old strongman and his 38-year-old rival, popstar-turned-politician Bobi Wine, who galvanised younger folks along with his promise of a “new Uganda”. However Museveni was having none of it.
“Shallow! Shallow! Shallow!” he harrumphed from his cattle ranch in Rwakitura. He claimed that “the vast majority of the youth” supported his celebration, the Nationwide Resistance Motion (NRM), and that the opposition’s speak of change masked their divisive agenda.
“They had been speaking of a brand new Uganda. However truly, they wished to carry again the previous Uganda that failed. That’s what they wished to carry again: the previous approach of sectarianism,” he declared.
It was basic Museveni. Ever since his upbringing in Ankole* within the Nineteen Sixties, he had identified Uganda’s central downside as that of “sectarianism”. He believed that the fractures of area, faith and ethnicity had opened the door to imperialists and dictators. After combating his option to energy in 1986 due to this fact, he promised to determine a “broad-based” authorities by which all Ugandans may discover a residence.
The 2021 election uncovered the truth that these regional faultlines have endured his 35-year reign. Based on official outcomes, which the opposition reject, Wine received greater than half of his votes in his native Buganda area, the place he took 64% of ballots forged. Elsewhere, he polled at a mean of simply 22%. His celebration, the Nationwide Unity Platform (NUP), won 56 of its 58 seats in Buganda.
This explains why some NRM leaders attributed Wine’s successes to “tribalism”. Nonetheless, not solely is it tough to gauge the true unfold of the opposition’s assist as a result of allegations of intimidation and ballot-stuffing, however the identical accusation could possibly be directed on the ruling celebration too. In Museveni’s residence area of the west, he formally received 81% of the vote.
These divisions shouldn’t be overstated. Ethnic identification performs a much less incendiary function in Ugandan elections than it does in neighbouring Kenya or the US. However one consequence of the 2021 election is that the language of tribalism will turn into more and more obtainable to unscrupulous leaders, in methods which are inseparable from the contradictions of Museveni’s rule.
Museveni and the west
On 29 January 1986, Museveni was sworn in as president of Uganda. Nonetheless wearing his fight fatigues, he gestured on the potholes within the close by street. “Does the street hurt solely Catholics and spare Protestants?” he requested. “Is it a foul street just for Muslims and never for Christians, or for Acholi and never Baganda?”
He urged his viewers to disregard the “opportunists” who preached the politics of faith and ethnicity. “All they do is figure on low cost platforms of division as a result of they don’t have anything constructive to supply the folks.”
In workplace, Museveni was cautious to distribute positions to totally different areas of the nation. However in non-public, he admitted that many appointees had been powerless figureheads, in line with former NRM minister Miria Matembe’s memoirs. By the early 2000s, because the ruling coalition fractured, Museveni more and more fell again on these he may belief. That always meant the safety forces, with management dominated by folks from the west.
“All these autocrats learn from the identical textual content,” says Mugisha Muntu, a westerner and former military commander who ran towards Museveni within the current election. “The bottom retains on narrowing. So it strikes from a area, many occasions to a more in-depth group, possibly a district, or to a clan, and it all the time finally ends up round household.”
He says that the ensuing imbalances favour well-connected elites, moderately than folks from the western area as a complete. “It’s not a difficulty of ethnicity or sectarianism, it’s a difficulty of how energy is managed.”
In widespread discourse, these subtleties are sometimes misplaced. Within the ethnic melting pot of Kampala, it is not uncommon to listen to folks blame westerners for monopolising jobs. Then there are the conspiracy theories, reminiscent of that Museveni is “actually a Rwandan” or that opposition stalwart Kizza Besigye – additionally a westerner however not a Munyankore like Museveni – was secretly working for the president all alongside.
The ruling elite, in flip, is prickly and defensive in regards to the difficulty. Final 12 months, a bunch of comedians had been charged with “selling sectarianism” after releasing a skit by which they listed highly effective westerners, such because the central financial institution governor and intelligence chiefs.
This sense of ethnic exclusion animates opposition politics in a lot of the nation, as we found in interviews over the previous 12 months. In West Nile, for instance, Wine’s supporters look again nostalgically to the rule of native boy Idi Amin as a uncommon second of equal recognition. “Now issues are totally different,” mentioned one activist in Arua, claiming that “folks from President Museveni’s tribe” take all the nice jobs. “We’re primarily doing the donkey work, we stay sweeping compounds and drivers.”
Throughout the Nile, an Acholi activist informed an analogous story. “I believe Uganda simply occurred accidentally,” he mentioned. “We aren’t a nation. We’re simply small, small states which have been thugged by a clique of mafias which have began a cartel.”
Even in Mbarara, the biggest metropolis within the Ankole area, NUP activists describe their frustrations in ethnic phrases – besides right here their grievances are directed solely on the Bahima, the cattle-keeping stratum of Ankole society to which Museveni belongs. “If there may be any nation on the earth the place individuals are tribalistic, it’s right here in Ankole,” mentioned Jolly Mugisha, a longtime NRM activist who’s now the NUP vice-president for the western area. Talking simply earlier than the election, she described the Bahima because the descendants of “Hamitic” herdsmen, “who got here right here as imperialists”, “nonetheless preserve to themselves” and “virtually behave like Jews or Indians”. This rhetoric carries troubling echoes of anti-Tutsi discourse in neighbouring Rwanda and overlooks the Bahima who’ve challenged Museveni.
Bobi Wine and Buganda
By far probably the most organised counterweight to western dominance is Buganda, the central kingdom inside which Kampala lies. It was the area most deeply penetrated by British colonialism, and in flip, supplied most of the directors of the brand new state paperwork. At independence in 1962 the kabaka (king), Edward Muteesa II, turned Uganda’s first president earlier than being deposed 4 years later. The dominion was solely restored in 1993, with the proviso that it preserve out of politics.
The Baganda represent a sixth of Uganda’s inhabitants, making them the nation’s largest ethnic group. The Buganda kingdom is wealthier and extra highly effective than every other cultural establishment within the nation, proudly owning companies, TV and radio stations, and huge tracts of land. It additionally has an uneasy relationship with the central authorities. In 2009, these tensions exploded into riots by which the state shot no less than 40 folks lifeless.
Politically, distinguished Baganda have performed essential roles in opposition politics. Many have turn into estranged from the Democratic Social gathering, their pure political residence, however appeared to have discovered a brand new one in Wine’s celebration. For example, Mathias Mpuuga, who lower his political tooth as youth minister within the Buganda kingdom, is NUP’s vp for the central area. Medard Sseggonna, a former spokesman for the dominion, was the lawyer main Wine’s aborted court docket problem to the election consequence. Each are additionally MPs within the operating to turn into the chief of the opposition in parliament.
Such politicians are neither unthinking mouthpieces of the dominion nor starry-eyed devotees of Wine. (“There are individuals who assume that NUP is a Buganda affair – no!” mentioned Sseggonna after we met him in October). However their prominence makes it simpler for others to color NUP as a slim Buganda celebration. Earlier than the elections, we requested Apollo Lee Kakonge, a civil society activist in Ankole, whether or not Wine’s celebration may do nicely there. He burst into laughter. “They’re Baganda radicals and I believe they may simply soften in their very own warmth,” he mentioned.
That’s an odd description of Wine, who’s a proud Muganda however no ethnic chauvinist. The singer as soon as styled himself as “omubanda wa kabaka” (the king’s gangster), however his city upbringing offers him a cosmopolitan outlook, as even his fiercest critics acknowledge.
“Museveni’s nationalism is mental, however his instincts are tribal,” says Andrew Mwenda, a journalist who is aware of the president nicely and is shut mates along with his son. “Bobi Wine’s each instincts and mental bent are detribalised… His tribe is city unemployed.”
In actual fact, Wine typically deploys the language of tribalism towards Museveni’s authorities, which he describes as “probably the most tribalistic regime I’ve seen in Africa”. He portrays his personal politics because the antidote.
“I’m very glad that in our technology we’re already united by circumstances,” he informed African Arguments in October. “My spouse comes from the identical village as Museveni. My closest buddy comes from northern Uganda. Our leaders come from far east, from far north, from far west. So for us as a technology, we’re already a rainbow technology.”
Certainly, many citizens in Buganda, and particularly in Kampala, usually are not ethnic Baganda. Based on Julius Kiiza, a political economist at Makerere College, their assist for Wine might as a substitute mirror the character of city populations. “Tribalism is invoked extra by political elites than the bizarre folks,” he says. “The elites are utilizing tribalism, identical to the colonisers, to serve their vested pursuits.”
In November 2020, Wine went to launch his manifesto in Mbarara, within the coronary heart of Ankole. His supporters gave him a stool and a spear and christened him “Musinguzi” (victor).
That irked Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Museveni’s son and would-be inheritor. In a later deleted tweet, he exclaimed: “Ngu ‘Musinguzi’? Mbwenu ogu akasingura ki? (The so-called victor? What has he ever received?) That is an insult not solely towards Banyankore however towards all of the tribes of western Uganda!”
Ugandan politics shouldn’t be uniquely divided by ethnicity. Neither is there something illegitimate about native calls for for autonomy from a state that was created by colonial violence. However the nation has maybe been lucky that within the final 4 elections the principle challenger has been Besigye, a westerner, thus muting the function of ethnicity in winner-takes-all presidential contests.
The rise of Wine and NUP adjustments that. The brand new celebration should continually reiterate that it isn’t a Buganda outfit, regardless that its parliamentary base – and therefore its monetary and institutional heft – is concentrated within the central area. Museveni will proceed to accuse his opponents of “sectarianism” whereas investing energy in his personal prolonged household networks. Nearly all of Ugandans, who’re neither Baganda nor Banyankore, are spectators to this tussle.
“Individuals want to know the historical past of this nation,” says Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, a Muganda MP and spokesperson for the Discussion board for Democratic Change (FDC) celebration. “These entities now making Uganda had been impartial entities simply put collectively by the preparations of 1961/62…So we’re solely collectively due to the regulation, however we’re separate folks with totally different pursuits.”
The political panorama is shifting, he provides. “I worry this election might take us to the place Kenya is. As a result of in Kenya the areas vote for explicit events, and I see us going there.”
* A notice on language: a Muganda, plural Baganda, is somebody from Buganda. A Munyankore, plural Banyankore, is somebody from Ankole.