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Uganda's Murky Road To 2021 Elections Puts Our Fledgling Democracy To Test.

As the country heads to peculiar and highly charged elections, political temperatures have already reached fever point.  Uganda in 2020 is a place of rancour and discord, deep divide manifest in its body politic and nefarious schemes, of broken promises and charged rhetoric: a country whose democratic foundations are uncertain and unstable. After three decades in power, President Museveni remains relentless in maintaining a tight grip on power. In the wake of the arrest of Presidential hopeful Hon Kyagulanyi Sentamu,  skirmishes have erupted between security forces and his staunch supporters. Scientific elections which have been driven by largely good intentions have been abused by enforcing standard operating procedures selectively thus undermining the spirit upon which they had been conceived.

Sharp fault-lines have manifested with our body politic with supporters of Hon Kyagulanyi being targeted by security forces which have used disproportionate force thus killing their lives and leaving many injured. While widening polarization in our politics, the absence of fair playing field in our electoral competition and the increasing sense of alienation between the haves and have-nots has always been present, the scale seems to have hit a new low.  It is now increasingly becoming clear, peaceful means of change have been blocked and calls for meaningful change have now felt more conceivable, more likely, more straightforwardly necessary. The question, as ever, is not whether it will come but when this change will come and at what cost. While electoral violence has always been a feature of Ugandan elections since 2001, the scale and gravity with which fundamental rights and freedoms have been abused are very worrying.

 Yet as the country progressively drifted off the constitutional path, there has been little incentive to mend its ways because of tacit approval from international powers. From Addis Ababa to Washington, the international community has remained tight-lipped on Uganda’s deteriorating democratic values sometimes issuing empty and hollow condemnatory statements.  Despite registering significant achievements, NRM government is stuck with a youth bulge that has created a class of people with no sense of dignity, no gainful employment, no livelihood for the foreseeable future and – at the time of writing this article – no clear and deliberate plan from government to address their desperate plight. A more competent and foresighted government might have peered into it's dwindling popularity and appeal and spotted an opportunity to bang some heads together, and perhaps even win a few hearts and minds in the heat of the chaos. Instead, it has dragged its feet over riots, with its defenders arguing vociferously that the government must assert it's presence aggressively as if three decades of entrenched discontent could be undone with a strongly worded press releases and threatening platitudes.

These developments in Uganda have serious implications in the region. Uganda's democratic credentials are being questioned by members of the East African Community which is likely to undermine the dream of East African political federation and economic integration. Observers are also worried that the country may experience post-election violence which may rapture already fragile and simmering tensions within our social fabric and political landscape. It is a disappointing turnaround of fortunes for a country that had made painstaking gains on its road to democracy. The East African Community, the African Union and development partners such as the European Union and the United States should shoulder part of the responsibility.  An unholy alliance with President Museveni and western powers has given him licence to preside over gross and flagrant violation of human rights while securing their geopolitical interests. Allowing Museveni to get away with impunity has contributed to the contagion of violent politics now sweeping across the region. As has been demonstrated amply elsewhere, political violence can be self-reinforcing. Not until the International community helps change seeking forces reclaim democratic space, Uganda and President Museveni risk a perilous legacy.