The Star on May 21 published by an opinion by Kisumu Senator Anyang’ Nyong’o titled “Besigye’s resolve a lesson on how to fight authoritarianism” in which he extols Uganda’s opposition leader Kizza Besigye while attacking President Yoweri Museveni.
Nyongo has every right to choose his role models and what lessons to pick from them, however, what he should not be allowed to get away with are the twisted facts, half-truths and plain lies about Uganda, President Museveni and his recent re-election.
To show that the February election that President Museveni won was a “sham”, Nyongo lists the following “flaws”; results from 180 polling stations had not been announced when Museveni was declared winner, several polling stations received materials late compelling presiding officers to call off elections and that “well-meaning” international observers declared the election “hopelessly rigged”.
Here are the facts about Uganda’s recently-concluded presidential election: The Electoral Commission registered 15.2 million voters at 28,010 polling stations of whom 10.3 million (about 68 per cent) turned up to vote. Of these, President Museveni garnered 5.6 million votes (60.7 per cent) as opposed to his main rival Besigye’s 3.2 million.
When the Electoral Commission on February 20 announced President Museveni as winner despite the absence of tallies from the polling stations, Nyong’o talks about (180 out of 28,010), the incumbent had established an unassailable lead that even if all the remaining votes were given to Besigye, he still would not defeat President Museveni.
To beat the constitutional directive that results be announced not later than 48 hours after voting, the EC chose to declare a winner. The final gazette, however, captures results from all polling stations and there’s no major numerical difference with what was used to declare Museveni winner.
Contrary to what Nyong’o insinuates, the just-concluded election was one of the most peaceful Uganda has witnessed in the recent past. At no single time on the trail was Besigye interrupted in his schedule. He went about his campaigns freely until after election when he began making calls for violent disobedience that the police were forced to place him under preventive arrest.
Even where materials delayed to arrive, the voting time was extended, in some places for a day, until everyone who wanted to vote did so. The Kisumu senator might not know it but for the first time Uganda successfully employed the biometric voter identification system which helped curb the cancer of multiple voting. The last time Kenya tried to use these gadgets, it failed miserably.
The claim by Nyong’o that the state stopped Besigye from appealing to court is hollow. Many times before the election, Besigye made it clear in numerous interviews with the press that he would never seek recourse in courts of law if he lost after they twice (2001 and 2006) threw out his petitions to have President Museveni’s victories annulled. In fact, in 2011 when he was handed a third defeat in a row, Besigye opted to stir disobedience through protests labelled “walk-to-work”, whose climax was his erratic supporters hurling stones at vehicles carrying heads of state who had come to attend President Museveni’s swearing-in. But Uganda also took a knock on the tourism front among other effects. He had hoped to repeat the same mischief this time round but he was nipped in the bud.
Maybe the following statistics should help Nyongo and his friends speak from an informed point of view. Besides the presidential election, Ugandans in February also voted for members of parliament and local council leaders. Of the 415 parliamentary elective seats, President Museveni’s party, the NRM, fielded 414 candidates as opposed to Besigye’s FDC that had 192 candidates. When the tally was done, NRM had won 294 seats while FDC managed a paltry 36 seats! Most of the remaining seats were won by Independent candidates who again, had most taking part in NRM primaries. The NRM also won over 80% of seats at the local councils’ level. The gulf in the parties’ fortunes at these lower levels should tell you why Besigye was resoundingly defeated at presidential level.
There is one thing Nyongo, who has recently picked the habit of attacking President Museveni (he made a statement on the Senate floor in February again attacking Museveni’s victory), conveniently keeps out of his opinion. He does not reveal his party’s (Orange for Democratic Change) relationship with the opposition in Uganda.
In October last year, as the presidential race took shape, ODM leader Raila Odinga invited key Ugandan opposition politicians to his home in Karen. Besigye and former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi were some of the guests. Raila’s mission was to try and convince them to form a united front against President Museveni. When he failed, Raila sent the group to London, where among others they met former International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Moreno Ocampo, who also failed to convince the candidates to unite.
That Nyongo is therefore riled by President Museveni’s victory is no surprise. He, however, should come clean by declaring his and his party’s interests in Uganda’s politics. To ODM and their top brass, any sensible relationship between the Kenyan government and Uganda must be fought—reason they tried to scuttle efforts by Kenya to import sugar from Uganda—forgetting that Uganda offers perhaps the biggest local market to Kenyan goods and services.
Nyongo’s opinion also has lots of flowery but empty rhetoric with claims of Besigye standing up for the downtrodden, Museveni failing to respect the ICC, America letting down Ugandans, state breakdown in Uganda blah blah.
For someone who spent the 70s studying in Uganda, Nyongo should know how much progress this country, which was the laughing stock in the region, has made on the political, economic, social and technological fronts since President Museveni rescued it from the doldrums. The number of economic and political exiles from Uganda who took refuge in Kenya in the 70s till mid-80s was testament to how Uganda had fallen apart.
What is more saddening is that a politician and scholar like Nyongo still looks at the West as the master of Africa. Nyongo and his type are convinced that Africa cannot determine its destiny and therefore must keep running to America to resolve even the pettiest of its conflicts.
That is the mindset President Museveni keeps fighting. Part of the reason he is opposed to the ICC is exactly because of that; it has become a neo-colonial tool for controlling Africa. It is why he termed them a “bunch of useless fellows” and has no apologies for that. President Museveni’s Pan-African credentials are well-known.
But Nyongo’s obsession with the West is understandable. The only time ODM controlled some semblance power was when the West helped them enter a power-sharing deal with PNU in 2008. However much Nyongo tries, let him rest assured that there will be no nusu mkate for his friend Besigye. Ugandans spoke in February and spoke loudly.
Don Wanyama, the author, is a Senior Presidential Press Secretary.
This opinion was first published by The Star Kenya today, May 25, 2016.