Last Friday,Ugandans went through their every five year ritual. But this time it didn’t come cheap. It was the most expensive presidential election in the country’s history which saw President Yoweri Museveni earn another  five year term to further climb the ladder of  the longest African serving presidents.

Ugandan voter displays a thumb marked after voting. 18/02/2011.Rosebell's photo.

Museveni won by 68 percent and his main challenger Dr.Kizza Besigye got 26 percent of the votes. Of the 13 million Ugandan voters, only 7 million came out to vote for their leader. Museveni had predicted an 84 percent win claiming his party had carried out a house hold poll. That is a figure he never even garnered when his popularity was its highest in the 1990.

As several election observer reports have indicated, Museveni used “the power of incumbency” to win the February 18 presidential vote. To understand well how and why Museveni won this vote, you must look at words of Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan journalist on the election. “NRM (Museveni’s party ) learnt that voter bribery is more efficient than violence,” said Mwenda.

And that’s what exactly happened. The votes were not just bought only a few hours to election but President Museveni , one can say,  broke into the national treasury to ensure he wins this vote.

There was the 20 million shillings given to Members of Parliament to supervise some inefficient agricultural plan in their constituencies, which is completely out of the mandate of a law maker anywhere in the world. We saw 13 political activists working with the ‘NGO Forum’ arrested for starting a campaign against this Ush 20 million that the government gave to MPs.

But the ultimate robbery from the national coffers came in form of a UGX 600 billion supplementary budget passed by a Museveni supporter -filled parliament 14 days to the election date. Of the 600 billion, UGX 79 billion went to State House. These funds and others acquired from different budgets enabled Museveni to distribute money to very tiny villages in Uganda.

In my home village of Kibona, Bushenyi district , a vote was going for about 30,000 shillings (13 USD). A relative told me, “Rosebell, for people whose monthly income is not even a dollar, they cannot  fail to reward someone who has given them 13 dollars.”

A friend who attended Museveni’s rally at Makerere University, one of the last rallies told me they were given 100,000 Shillings   (45 USD) for wearing Museveni’s yellow T-shirts and climbing on the trucks promoting the rally. In some parts people were paid as low as 500 Ushs (less than a quarter a dollar) to vote for the president. No opposition figure could ever match this kind of massive voter bribery.

The vote came at time when many had seen the news of events in North Africa and President Museveni had recruited and trained enough security to deploy even the most remote areas. For many Ugandans, this was the first time they had seen this massive deployment of troops. Although there were few incidents of clashes, the mere presence of security men brought fear among voters.

In Bugisu, confrontations between the security forces and civilians left a citizen dead and several others injured, including a journalist who was shot. Julius Odeke, a freelance photographer for the “Red Pepper” daily and “Razor” publication was admitted in hospital where reports show soldiers followed him and threaten his life!

One woman from Amuria told me that they were told “if you vote Besigye we will bury you with him. We will let the Karimojong ran your villages amuck.” This is in one of the areas that have suffered different wars and people have just started resettling for the first time in over 20 years. This woman told me such threats of war made many voters to cast their vote for Museveni or stay at home. The fear of what Museveni’s government would be capable of in case they didn’t win was high among many Ugandans.

There’s an African saying that goes “whoever argues with the King, stays longer on his knees.” This would be a perfect description of why President Museveni snatched some votes, more than he has ever got from Northern Uganda. People of northern Uganda are not foolish to just agree with Museveni’s regime arguments that they have brought them peace and that development is on the way. I do a lot of work in northern Uganda and one can’t say they have forgotten two decades of human rights violations from Museveni’s army or the highly politicized post conflict development plans that haven’t delivered much to a common man. One should not confuse their voting to mean they started a new page with NRM just like Andrew Mwenda claimed that we could see a Northern –Western partnership on the political map.

Northern Ugandans realised that Museveni would stay here by any means and they are better off not arguing with him. If they are good to Museveni, they too can snatch what they can from the national cake. So in the end Museveni got some decent support from an area that had two of their sons –Nobert Mao and Olara Otunnu – in the rae.

Opposition divided

Mwenda said, “the election was like a referendum, people came out to either vote Museveni or against him.”  And this is so true because having a fragmented opposition also helped Museveni win in many parts.  People were not totally sure of opposition plans but many went ahead to say no NRM. We also saw opposition making inroads in western Uganda which is seen as Museveni’s stronghold.

There were reports of ballot stuffing and Besigye presented ballot papers he claimed had been ticked before the polls opened, a claim that the police now want him to explain further. This claim was not paid attention to by many Ugandans until yesterday when we saw chaos during the Kampala mayor elections where thousands of ballot boxes with pre-ticked ballots were discovered by opposition groups. All the papers were ticked in favor of Museveni’s party candidate Peter Sematimba. Chances are high that the same method was used in presidential elections but Ugandans are no longer shocked by Museveni’s party stealing any election after all these are people who rig their own primaries. In fact in social forums Ugandans refer to the National Resistance Movement as the National Rigging Movement.

Five of the seven opposition presidential candidates, among them Inter-party Cooperation’s Kizza Besigye, Olara Otunnu of Uganda People’s Congress and Democratic Party’s Norbert Mao, have rejected the outcome of the ballot and vowed not to recognise “ Museveni’s illegitimate regime”.

The Inter Party Cooperation has called for countrywide protests in Uganda as Americans who have already congratulated their man call for calm. The UK has been more cautious given the different reports on different techniques used to buy this election.

Ugandans might not come to the streets to put up North Africa-like protest but they are deeply worried especially given Museveni’s pre-election statements. Museveni said if the East African Federation will not have been achieved by 2016 and if Uganda is not a Second World country by then, he will seek a ‘fifth term.’

Many are watching events in Libya and wondering whether that’s the path Uganda will take. Worries of Ugandans have been exacerbated by reports that the state broadcaster UBC TV has been stopped from coverage of Libya protests and firing of news editors.

We will wait to see how many will come out for the opposition protests and whether Museveni will “bang them into jails” as he promised last week.  Whatever happens Museveni has managed to buy himself time, many illiterate Ugandans decided to sell him the lease and I am sure he thinks he can renew that lease the same way after the five years.