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After 26 Years Under the Rule of Yoweri Museveni, Ugandans Want Change

After 26 years in power, Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, can point to many accomplishments in the East African nation, but critics say his administration has become so focused on retaining power that he has transformed from a progressive leader into the same brand despotic, corrupt strong man that has become all too common in Africa.

While rebel leader Joseph Kony, head of the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army, has become an international pariah and in many ways the face of Uganda, Museveni has largely flown under the global radar. But in Uganda, there seems to be a growing sentiment that it’s time for change. This mood was reflected in a piece on NPR by John Burnett.

Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army has been fighting Museveni’s government for more than two decades. Kony’s brutal forces are far less active today, since he is being pursued by several nations in the region with help from the U.S.

Museveni is a former rebel commander who seized power in 1986—overthrowing tyrants Idi Amin and Milton Oboteall, all the while criticizing African leaders who overstayed their welcome. Museveni won a fourth five-year term last year and, like so many leaders who drink in the nectar of power, he changed the constitution to loosen term limits.

“The main point is: How would Africa transition from backwardness to modernity?” Museveni told the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera last year. “We should be talking about that, not talking about the individuals. … Talk about the process of transformation from Third World to First World.”

“I was born in 1986, and all I have to tell you is I have never seen another president,” 26-year-old electrician Jeremiah Senyondo said while shopping at the massive Kiseka auto parts market in Kampala. “All I see is Museveni, Museveni. And what I feel on the inside of me is [the need for] change.”

Under Museveni’s long rule, security has improved, the army is more disciplined, and the economy has gained traction. Today, more children go to school, the fight against HIV/AIDS has made progress, and Washington considers him a key regional partner in fighting terrorists in Somalia.

“Uganda has made great strides,” Ugandan political scientist Frederick Golooba told NPR. “But, having said that, I think that we have reached a point where Uganda no longer needs Museveni. Most people would say that.”

In the words of Burnett, “Museveni was once regarded as one of the most progressive leaders in Africa. Today many Ugandan analysts say Museveni increasingly resembles any other African big man, characterized by vainglory and egocentrism, nepotism and corruption, repression of opposition figures and intolerance of dissent.”

“I guess the longer you stay in power the more vulnerable you become,” says Daniel Kalinaki, editor of the Daily Monitor newspaper. “I think what we’re seeing now is the government entering a phase where regime survival becomes a top priority.”

Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga, a protege of the president’s for 26 years, said in an interview that foreign NGOs operate “with anarchy” in Uganda and need more oversight.

Asked about the president’s long term in office, Kiyonga smiled and said it’s up to Ugandans to decide whether they want to keep Museveni in the country’s top office when he runs for an expected fifth term in 2016.

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