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Museveni 'short on imagination, innovation'

Interview: Jane Ayeko-KümmethMay 12, 2016

President Museveni has been sworn in for a fifth consecutive term. Under his 30 year rule, Uganda has made some economic progress, but he is criticized for rights abuses and enabling a deep political divide.

Yoweri Museveni Präsident Uganda
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/E. Hoshiko

On Thursday, President Yoweri Museveni took an oath of office, marking his fifth consecutive term at the helm of Uganda. The 71-year-old leader promised to "uphold, preserve, protect and defend the constitution, and observe the laws of Uganda."

But opposition parties have however been challenging the results of February's elections, which saw him re-elected. His key rival Kizza Besigye has been arrested and detained after every public appearance.

Another opposition leader, former ally and prime minister, Amama Mbabazi did manage to file a petition in time, but the country's Supreme Court threw the case out for "lack of evidence."

Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights lawyer and political commentator, spoke to DW about the expectations of Ugandans from their veteran leader.

DW: What should be his top priority now that he has been sworn in?

Nicholas Opiyo: President Museveni will have to address the bigger question of youth employment. Uganda is a very young country with about 78 percent of the population below the age of 35 and yet they have the highest unemployment rate in the country. If he doesn't, they are becoming a security threat; they are becoming redundant and are not being productive for this country.

Beyond the youth unemployment problem, President Museveni will have to address the increasing concern about the conscription of civic space, the retrogression of our democratic processes. There is no question that his election has been challenged not just by local opposition leaders, but has been called by the national observers as falling short of meeting international standards.

Thirdly, President Museveni will have to resolve the problem of the poor state of social services across the country.

You've just highlighted some of the problems facing the country. Just keep us in this topic, what can Ugandans expect from President Museveni considering that he has been in power for the last 30 years?

We do not believe that there is something new that President Museveni is going to do in the next five years that he has not been able to do in the last thirty years. President Museveni is very short on imagination, very short of innovative doings of addressing the problems that this country has.

How challenging is it going to be for President Museveni to unite the country that is so much divided along party lines?

It is going to be difficult for President Museveni to reconcile this country and to address the concerns of people of who challenge this election. There is no doubt that there is a very big percentage of people in this country who think that this election was stolen. No matter what the Supreme Court said, no matter what the electoral commission declared, there is a general challenge to the legitimacy of this election.

What President Museveni has done in response is to deploy soldiers on the streets, is to unleash weapon of terror on its own population, and is to lock up the opposition leaders. I think that is unhelpful.

What he needs to do is to open up the channel for discussion and to allow for free expression of those who challenge his rule in power. He must reach out to them and reconcile, he must seek a dialogue, and he must seek negotiations and agreement on the minimum governance agenda for this country.

Even with his contested age, do you see Museveni retiring once he hits the constitutional age limit?

President Museveni has shown an insatiable and unquenchable thirst to stay in power, to hold on to power no matter what it is. There is no doubt that President Museveni will also seek to amend the constitution to lift age limit and perpetuate his stay in power.

You talked about a big percentage of Ugandans being convinced that election was stolen, is there a possibility that Museveni can work with the opposition?

I think that the divide between the opposition and the NRM [National Resistance Movement] is so deep, the level of discuss is so unfriendly that for them to be able to come together and agree on a minimum governance agenda will require a lot of efforts on the parts of Ugandans, but also on the part of development partners.

Kizza Besigye, who is Museveni's closest opponent, is equally also not so young. Are there any prospective young Ugandans keen on taking on the political lead?

There are so many qualified Ugandans who would step up the plate and offer to lead this country. But in the current context of suffocation, of being intimidated, of people being beaten primarily because they are just opposition, I don't see many Ugandans choosing to join politics for that reason.

The middle class in this country, the elite in this country, have stayed away from politics because the nature of our politics is very acrimonies, it involves daily dosage of teargas, false accusation, arrests, and nobody wants to do that.

Nicholas Opiyo is a human rights lawyer and political commentator speaking to DW's AfricaLink radio program.

Interview: Jane Ayeko-Kümmeth