On June 15, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni quietly marked 10,000 days in power with little notice from the international community. Museveni has been president since 1986 after the fall of the infamous Idi Amin Dada and the subsequent demise of Milton Obote’s second term.
As one of the longest-serving presidents in Africa, Museveni belongs to a gerontocracy full of controversial leaders. In Sub-Saharan Africa, only Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Equitorial Guinea’s Obiang and Angola’s Dos Santos have been in power longer than Uganda’s aging autocrat. Each of these politicians stands accused of autocratic practices and varying degrees of corruption and abuse of power.
When Museveni began his term in office, he was lauded by Western leaders like Bill Clinton as part of the vanguard of a new generation of African leaders that also included figures like Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, among others. Although they initially received a warm reception from the West, many members of this coterie are now subject to harsh criticism. Zenawi, who passed away last year, was subject to numerous allegations of repression and human rights abuses. Museveni and Kagame’s involvement in the destabilization of Congo and other conflicts in the Great Lakes region have sparked an outcry from the international community.
However, despite these critiques, Museveni’s legacy is not entirely negative. As president, he has accomplished remarkable things. Uganda has made significant headway in the reduction of HIV/AIDS and has made laudable efforts towards economic progress with the help of international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank. Although Museveni has a history of suppression of opposition parties, he has been a welcome friend to Washington in light of security concerns in the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa - especially in Somalia. In 1997, Madeleine Albright referred to him as a “‘beacon of hope” who runs a 'uni-party democracy.’“
However, our security interests cannot gloss over Museveni’s escalating abuse of power. In 2006, he abolished presidential term limits just before national elections. Now, former Ugandan army General David Sejusa has accused Museveni of grooming his son Muhoozi Kainerugab to succeed him and called for opposition to the alleged plan. Following the publication of his claims in two newspapers, Sejusa fled to the UK, but is reportedly considering returning back to Uganda to present a political challenge to Museveni.
Although government spokespeople have denied the validity of Sejusa’s plans, in May, police shut down two newspapers, the Daily Monitor and Red Pepper, that published articles regarding Sejusa’s claims. Sejusa remains under investigation for“civil criminality” and violations of military law.
In light of these developments and the fact that Uganda has not had a peaceful political transition since independence in 1962, a power struggle may be brewing. As freedom of expression and opposition remain suppressed, one must wonder how long Ugandans will remain content with the current state of affairs.