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Ugandans prepare to return President Museveni to power

Yoweri Museveni has ruled Uganda for 25 years, longer than any of his counterparts in eastern Africa. No one doubts that he will win Friday's parliamentary and presidential elections. But at what price?

Yoweri Museveni

Museveni is one of Africa's longest-serving leaders

The wave of protests that has been rolling across northern Africa and the Middle East will not repeat itself in Uganda, according to the country's president. When the nation's population heads to the polls to vote on Friday, Yoweri Museveni has said he will not become the latest African leader to be unseated by popular unrest.

"There will be no revolution here, because there is nobody who can use extra-constitutional means to take power here," he told a final news conference ahead of polling day. "That is out of the question. Egypt is a different story. Tunisia is a different story. I can guarantee this."

Museveni said that his security forces were ready to deal with violence. Recently, a convoy of new water and tear gas cannons rolled through the capital, Kampala. The regime has mobilized the state machinery in order to strike down any possible protests. More than 50,000 police are deployed throughout the country. The military is on standby. Over 100,000 so-called "crime fighters" have been trained: civilians with truncheons, which are supposed to "keep watch" at the polling stations. Should rioters take to the streets, the government had a solution, Museveni said.

"Very simple, just lock them up," he said. "In as humane a manner as possible, bundle them into jails. And that will be the end of the story."

Opposition supporters calling for change

Kizza Besigye

Besigye used to be Museveni's personal doctor but now refers to him as a "dictator"

Uganda's youth has rebelled against president Museveni several times in the past years, but he was able to strike down the protests with military force. Almost 80 percent of the population is under 25 years of age and a lot of these young people feel inspired by the revolution in North Africa. Ugandans have been closely watching the events in Egypt on televisions in bars, restaurants and supermarkets.

The top candidate for the opposition, Kizza Besigye from the Forum for Democratic Change, has repeatedly called the vote flawed. He told various news agencies that his supporters might take to the streets in Egypt-inspired protests if a tally his party plans to take at polling stations does not match the official result.

Many, like 22-year-old Eugen Balek, are demanding political change. He is supporting Besigye because he is sick of Museveni's lies, he said.

"I think there will be change if Besigye wins," Balek said. "If not, I think we will act like the people in Egypt right now." He criticized that Museveni had made so many promises to the people which he hasn't kept.

"For example, free education: now we have these schools we can attend for free," Balek said. "But the instructors don't teach properly because they are poorly paid." He said the time had come for change for a generation that has never experienced any other president than Museveni in their lives.

"When I was born, Museveni was in already in power," he said. "Today, I'm eligible to vote and he's still there."

Reaching out to youth

Museveni, considered the grandfather of the nation, knows he needs these young voters. He has even tried to improve his stance among the country's youth with a rap song which has become a smash hit. The 67-year-old's "Do you want another rap?" blasts out of speakers of every street corner. Young people have uploaded the tune, also a favorite in the country's discos, as a ring tone on their mobile phones.

Museveni's supporters

Museveni's supporters cheered him on at a rally in Kampala this week

Osborne Opio is from Gulu, a city in northern Uganda where the Lord's Resistance Army under Joseph Kony terrorized the population until just a few years ago. Since the rebel forces left Uganda, Gulu has turned into a blossoming city, Opio said.

"There has been a lot of change," the 23-year-old Opio said. "Back in the 1980s and 90s, you had to run home by six o'clock because of the fighting. Now you see people walking freely, just happy. Museveni has done a lot."

But not everyone thinks this way. In the previous elections in 2006, Besigye won 37 percent of the votes. Museveni got 59 percent. The latest polls indicate the president could even get 65 percent in Friday's elections, Besigye only 15 percent.

Most analysts believe that Museveni will still secure enough votes to win another five-year term. The president himself is confident he'll win and be able to introduce lasting change.

"By the end of five years, Uganda will be a middle-income country and I will not allow Besigye and that crowd to mess up that plan," Museveni said.

No one in Uganda doubts that Museveni will win. His campaign workers have distributed t-shirts, money and presents to the poor population to ensure they vote for him. Enormous sums of money have disappeared out of state coffers in recent weeks. The finance minister even had to declare the government bankrupt. Fuel and food prices are increasing daily - as are the levels of frustration.

Author: Simone Schlindwein, Kampala / sac
Editor: Michael Knigge

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