Were Museveni’s 2011 elections rigged?

Posted on November 24, 2013


In 2011 all President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni run in a presidential election for the 5th time. He has previously stood in 1980 where he got 4.1% of the vote in an election widely believed to have been rigged. He subsequently fought a very destructive 5 year war in which tens to hundreds of thousands of people were killed before wrestling power in 1986. He has referred to this war and the spoils as “having fought for his animal”. As the victor, he has several times asserted his right to the spoils and the right to do with them as he thinks fit.


But Ugandans despite their relative apathy refuse to see themselves as spoils for him and his men and have through the years resisted his rule. At each election, s small but significant minority voted against him and his NRM party. In 2010 I predicted that Museveni would win the 2011 election with a percentage vote of between 49 and 51%. This under the constitution would lead to a run off election and almost certainly lead to conflict and maybe even war! All of the figures since 1986 pointed to a steady decline in his majority win at each subsequent election and everything being equal, he should have only managed to scrape through. I have several times wondered whether i was wrong and tried to find some explanation for his sudden surge to 68% against all predictions.


Some of the factors one can examine include infrastructure, provision of services, poverty and participation in the economy, crime and personal security, governance and public policy as well as corruption and accountability.


In 2011 there was little evidence that infrastructure under Museveni had made any positive gains. Load shedding was a daily event, roads including those in his capital city were little better than cattle tracks with ruts and potholes, drainage and sanitation was a nightmare with no garbage collection and several cholera epidemics, and planning for the city was non existent!


The provision of services is the core business of a government without which no government had the right to stay in power. Nowhere does this work as well as in a democracy where at each election, people reward or boot out a government on the basis of that governments ability primarily to deliver public goods and services to them. There is very little evidence that between 2006 and 2011 Museveni’s NRM government improved the provision of services. Hospitals are a mess, the government provides no housing, pensions have little value, government offices are as inaccessible and unfriendly as ever!


Museveni has always prided himself and his government on the steady economic growth. This holds a prominent position in all of his speeches as well as in the election manifesto. The reality however is that a post conflict society like Uganda whose economy was growing from a very low base should really be expected to have growth in the double digits! Some very important factors of production like labour are neglected as was the generation of power for the much touted industrialisation. The president has never said how a foreign investor was supposed to relocate industry to Uganda to operate with only a few hours of electricity a day. The numbers in Uganda parallel those of the rest of the region. Indeed the decade or two before 2011 was accompanied by unprecedented growth on a global scale! It is therefore doubtful whether any of the figures generated by Uganda demonstrate anything more than regional and global economic growth as well as simple basic human activity in Uganda given the quadrupling of the population between 1980 and 2011.


The same government quotes figures for poverty reduction but fails to say what they mean. One standard is the number of people earning one dollar or more per day. However this figure while quoted widely does not take into account the costs of living which have gone up nor do they give any idea what exactly it is that one dollar a day can buy. While the government claims to have reduced poverty, the evidence suggests otherwise. Unemployment in particular youth unemployment is at an all time high! While numerous universities of doubtful quality continue to churn out “graduates” each year, more and more of them have gone without jobs for years. Nepotism continues to be cited by the public in obtaining employment. Both of these issues are potentially destabilising and would almost certainly have contributed to civil unrest in the event of a run off. They are almost certainly contributing to the post election unrest!


Crime is at an all time high while personal security continues to deteriorate. prominent and ordinary people are increasingly afraid for their personal security. i got a taste of this personally when I was clubbed over the head with a metal bar commonly called katayimbwa and left for dead just two days after arriving in Uganda. While as a university student and post university I always used to walk around at night without fear, this is no longer the case. Most people living in the capital and outside it know someone who has been a victim of armed robbers and murderers.


In 1986, when Museveni first came to power, Uganda was a post conflict country. There was hardly consensus on the new occupants of the government. However the streets were noticeably safer even without soldiers at every corner harassing one. this state continued till the end of the century. People were not afraid of soldiers and neither did the government need mambas, batons bullets, tear gas or police and legal harassment to deal with dissent. People expressed their dissent freely and felt that they were exercising their rights. Now Uganda is increasingly using coercion to control dissent and stifling all avenues of public debate with the latest being the highly unpopular Public Order and Management Bill (POMB). All of this suggests that the government sees itself as increasingly under threat from its own citizens and feels the need to project its coercive power to keep people under control even when this means killing them. The irony is tha president Museveni in reference to the events of 1966 when the president Obote attacked the palace of the Kabaka of Buganda and president of Uganda, Museveni said that the government did not have to kill its own people when there was a disagreement or dissent.


Nothing demonstrates corruption as well as nepotism and impunity in the presidents own family who are involved in his government. His brother heads the veterans and reserve forces and also holds the position of advisor to the president. His wife is a cabinet minister and is quietly being promoted by some circles as a successor to her husbands presidency. His son has in just a little over a decade risen from an NCO and in a career on steroids is now a General at the top of the most elite troops in his fathers army. All this despite spending 6 out of 12 years on study leave overseas and not having ever fought in a major battle! His daughter is his personal secretary without having gone through any formal recruitment process as in another sister who is his housekeeper. One of them had to be flown all the way to Germany for a normal delivery while 16 Ugandan women die everyday from complications of childbirth! A son in law was awarded a million dollar contract to “market Uganda”and also received significant funding from CHOGM. He has also been involved with poverty eradication schemes as has the presidents brother which are little more than pots of money placed at the disposal of political cronies without accountability! Another son in law is involved in the law industry  and his firm is involved with oil contracts, while his legal partner was the lead counsel in the recent prosecution of the Lord Mayor of Kampala no doubt at the instigation of the president who views the peoples elected representatives as obstacles to his plans for total control an domination!


In addition to the POMB, the government has tried to pass with carried success several highly unpopular and coercive laws designed at curtailing the freedom of Ugandans. The army is increasingly being involved into politics with the most recent examples being the attempts to transfer the national ID program a very flawed project to the army as well as the appointment of Gen Aronda as a minister against the provisions of the constitution. Bribing MP’s and manipulating the constitution have become more common ways of subverting the will of the people.


The bottom line is that all of this suggests that between 2006 and 2011, Museveni and his government increasingly became more and more unpopular and relied more and more upon coercive methods of public control including killing unarmed people, increased armed military presence on the streets, a hostile and coercive police with trigger happy fingers who liberally use tear gas and other public control weapons, harassment of perceived opponents using the courts and coercive control of the media. All signs since the 2011 election suggest that this situation continues to become worse.


I decided to look at the question of rigging in 2011 by downloading the election figures for all of the elections that Museveni has participated as a presidential candidate. There were no elections in 1986 when Museveni grabbed power. These are summarised in the table below.



Table: Museveni's elections 1996 - 2011

Table: Museveni’s elections 1996 – 2011




In the years between 1996 and 2006, Museveni lost roughly 10% of the vote with each election. If the same trend continued he would have been expected to have a majority roughly 49% give or take a few points. Instead he won with a majority of 68% while the first runner up lost roughly 10% of the vote. This was despite the entry of both Robert Mao as well as Otunnu into the race after the latter wrestled UPC from the Obote family who had dominated it for 48 years!


On the other hand if Besigye’s share of the vote had increased at the same rate, he independently or together with the other candidates should have got around 46%. Its very unlikely that he would have got the 51% that the constitution requires.


In an effort to demonstrate that Museveni was still very popular among Ugandans and still had a popular mandate, Museveni almost bankrupted the country in what was the most expensive election that Ugandan has had. Helped along by a corrupt 8th parliament that in exchange for 20 million each 6 weeks to the end of their term in order to “monitor NAADS” programmes, the president used the states resources in a vote buying spree. In addition to the 6 billion given to MP’s LC’s who are the gatekeepers to communities received another 6 billion. The president went around the country handing out brown envelopes with cash and promising cash for all sorts of things. It is still debatable whether simply buying the vote explains his majority.


Overall, the voter turnout which had held steady at around 70% for the last 3 elections took a nosedive! While one could assume that the NRM may have been lot more successful at getting its own people out to vote than the opposition due to voter apathy, the figures show that the NRM itself was unable to get almost half of its registered members to turn out for the election unless we assume that its membership roll is dominated by under-age Ugandans not old enough to vote. While the NRM party had previously claimed to have over 8 million registered members, less than 5.5 million actually voted for President Museveni.


The figure below summarises the data from all presidential elections won by Museveni sisnce 1996. The first figure demonstrates the progressive almost linear decline in museveni’s popularity followed by a sharp spike and recovery in 2011.


Museveni elections 1996 to 2011

Museveni elections 1996 to 2011



The second chart shows the number of candidates from 3 in 1996 to 8 in 2011 while the third chart shows the progressive decline in voter turnout from a high of 72.9 in 1996 to a low of 59.3 and a sharp drop in 2011. The last chart shows the progressive increase in the proportion of the vote taken by the opposition candidate (Ssemogerere in 1996 and Besigye in 2001 and 2006 followed by a sharp drop in 2011).


The official line is that the NRM remains popular and that the electoral result in 2011 was a massive vote of confidence in President Museveni. However as stated above, there has been very little in his policy and conduct of business to suggest that this is the case. Unemployment, povery, poor services, poor personal security, poor infrastructure and high rates of corruption continue to be problems in Uganda. Unity is at a low and ethnic tensions are on the rise. Nepotism as practised by the president is all on show for all to see.


The claims of rigging in 2011 are difficult to prove. However there is a valid claim that the NRM and the president used state resources in a massive vote buying spree. The most direct evidence that there may have been vote rigging is the election of the Lord Mayor of Kampala. For a long time since the 80’s the Kampala elections have always been won by the election. Over and over again, the president has been humiliated in Kampala when he publicly joined the NRM mayoral candidates on the campaign trail only for the residents of Kampala to hand them and him by proxy a resounding defeat after another. In an effort to reduce the influence of he opposition in Kampala, the president has applied a scorched earth policy to Kampala in a petulant attempt at punishing its residents for handing him defeat after defeat! Kampala became a potholed filthy wasteland as a result. The president claimed that they could never hand over money to their enemies and would only work with those who supported them. In an effort to finally wrestle control the government came up with the KCCA bill that took administrative power over the city and placed it under the president himself with an executive director appointed by and reporting to the president whose brief appears to include humiliating the elected lord Mayor.


Lukwago a populist mayoral candidate handed the NRM and the president a yet another defeat. Even more galling to the ruling party is th fact that he and his agents exposed and demonstrated definite vote rigging with stuffed ballot boxes leading to a re-vote in the Rubaga north constituency. The Lord mayor subsequently testified in court against the Electoral commission demonstrating that there was collusion between the EC and the NRM candidate. On could extrapolate from this to suggest that if there was collusion on behalf of one NRM candidate, it is conceivable that there was collusion in favour of another NRM candidate too! Humiliated, the NRM candidate and the president have since undermined Lukwago until they charged him with incompetence. They will vote to evict him tomorrow in complete disregard for the voices of those who voted for him. Interestingly the KCCA councillors visited the president collectively within 2 days of indicting their mayor leading to further charges of corruption.


KCC/KCCA are legendary for their incompetence as is the NRM government. They are filled with political deadwood that should have been retired years ago. That they even had the guts to try let alone declare anyone incompetent is an irony! It is a definite first in the almost 30 years of NRM rule and of course raises questions as to why him? His predecessor was even more incompetent but he became a collaborator and is now a presidential advisor! Most Ugandans would have loved it if the same standards were applied to every cabinet minister and MP as well as KCCA council member as they are all considered incompetent not to mention corrupt!


In summary, president Museveni’s election win in 2011 went against conventional logic as well as all of the available data to-date. The graphs demonstrate this clearly. That the NRM and the presidents campaign was the most expensive to-date is already public knowledge as is the fact that state funds were used in that election to promote one candidate. Subsequently this massive expenditure even triggered a mini recession and runaway inflation!


That the presidents popularity was at an all time high in 2011 resulting in a reversal of the previous decline in his numbers is not supported by events since. Just a few weeks after his re election and before his inauguration, civil unrest resulted in the walk to work campaigns. These were mishandled by the police resulting in riots and loss of lives. This resulted in the humiliation of the president when on his opwn inauguration an even bigger crowd turned up to welcome his opponent previously brutalised by state agents from a stint in hospital in Nairobi.


Soldiers continue to man the streets and the police continue to behave like the country is under siege. Soldiers are being appointed to civil positions and major projects are being transferred to the military. Corruption continues unabated while impunity reigns.


The figures therefore need an explanation and no convincing one has been tendered so far. I would be very happy to listen to anyone who has a view on what could explain these figures.


Posted in: Elections, Museveni