Public anger growing towards newly re-elected president

Stallholders in Kampala, Uganda, awaiting the results of the presidential election last Saturday. President Yoweri Museveni beat seven rivals, including opposition leader Kizza Besigye (pictured in poster) to win his fifth term.
Stallholders in Kampala, Uganda, awaiting the results of the presidential election last Saturday. President Yoweri Museveni beat seven rivals, including opposition leader Kizza Besigye (pictured in poster) to win his fifth term.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

The east African nation of Uganda, which just held elections last week to elect a new president and Parliament, is at a crossroads.

As the country's illiteracy rate drops and its middle class expands, Ugandans are becoming increasingly agitated at the government's failure to fulfil its promises, with public anger directed at President Yoweri Museveni.

The elections were marred by clashes, pitting the police and army troops on one side against opposition supporters amid allegations of vote-rigging by Mr Museveni's party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM).

The 71-year-old Mr Museveni, who has been in power for three decades, beat seven presidential challengers to win his fifth five-year term last Saturday.

"Museveni is holding the country under siege," said political analyst Livingstone Sewanyana from the Foundation of Human Rights Initiative.

Analysts view the recent spate of violence in the country as part of the government's wider strategy to instill fear and minimise the possibility of post-election street protests against the NRM for alleged vote-rigging.

Tagged as a stable country, Uganda has built its reputation among foreign investors, with its rich mineral resources and absence of war - an achievement when compared with neighbours Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While Ugandans credit Mr Museveni with maintaining peace and stability in the country, frustrations also abound over widespread corruption and massive unemployment.

The nation has the youngest population in the world, with more than 78 per cent of its 39 million people below the age of 30.

Government statistics show that young people account for almost two-thirds of the unemployed, but non-profit groups estimate that the figure is much higher.

Mr Museveni is well aware of the problem, and coined his campaign slogan, "steady progress", with the tagline, "focused on jobs and wealth creation".

But many Ugandans are not buying the promises made by his party men during campaigning.

"From the day I was born to now, nothing has changed," said 20-year-old Mr Kivumbi Charles.

Young Ugandans such as Mr Charles have known only one president in the country.

Dubbed "Museveni babies", these young citizens want jobs as well as roads and healthcare facilities - demands that, they say, have fallen on deaf ears.

The developing nation seems to be doing well economically, having chalked up growth of 4.8 per cent in 2014.

Foreign investors such as China, its biggest trading partner, have put money in huge infrastructure projects, mining and trade.

The people, however, do not see the economic benefits trickling down to them and corruption, they say, is endemic.

For a country that produces half a million graduates annually, those who can afford it resort to using bribes or connections to secure a job. But most others end up scraping for work in the informal sector.

Ugandans blame the Museveni government for the sad state of affairs, with some going as far as calling Uganda an artificial democracy.

"It's an expansion of a military dictatorship," said Mr Sewanyana.

Trinna Leong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2016, with the headline 'Public anger growing towards newly re-elected president'. Print Edition | Subscribe