Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni was sworn in for a sixth term on Wednesday. The 76-year-old has been in control of the east African country since seizing power in 1986, meaning that more than three quarters of Uganda’s population of roughly 44 million have never known another president.
While Mr Museveni said he initially planned to turn Uganda into a functioning democracy, and step down in time, his tune has changed in recent decades. “How can I go out of a banana plantation I have planted that has started bearing fruits?” he stated during the last election. Presidential age limits and term limits have both been removed from the constitution over the last 17 years.
In his inauguration speech at the Kololo Independence Ceremonial Grounds in the capital, Kampala, Mr Museveni called it “comical” for other world leaders to give him “lectures about democracy”, saying his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) had “designed the most elaborate democratic structure”.
Across the country, where he is often referred to as “Sevo” or “M7”, the former rebel leader has been accused of presiding over a system of patronage and enriching his own family, while repeatedly clamping down on opposition, sometimes violently.
Hundreds of people were abducted over the election period and its aftermath, and some are believed to have died in custody. “I’ve gone through serious torture, but I’m lucky that I’m alive,” one opposition supporter told tThe Irish Times after he was released from prison in March .
In the run-up to the vote, opposition politicians had to play a cat-and-mouse game with security forces, as they were repeatedly arrested and prevented from campaigning, and later accused of violating coronavirus restrictions.
Last November, dozens of civilians were shot by security forces, after protests erupted, following the arrest of popular presidential candidate Bobi Wine.
Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, is a musician half Mr Museveni’s age who leads a movement called “people power” and the National Unity Platform political party. The self-styled “ghetto president” is revered by young people, particularly those who grew up in poverty, like Mr Wine himself did.
By the time January’s election results were announced, Wine’s house had been surrounded by security. He was barred from leaving, while media, including The Irish Times, were prevented from going inside to interview him.
Uganda gained independence from Britain in 1962 and has never had a peaceful transfer of power since.
Mr Museveni stayed in control during a decades-long war with the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgent group in Uganda’s north.
In southern Uganda, Mr Museveni’s leadership has been largely peaceful, but one foreign journalist compared this to a “protection racket”. During campaigning, ruling party politicians repeatedly threatened that war would break out if MR Wine or other opposition candidates won the election – something that put many citizens off voting.
Mr Museveni eventually won the vote with nearly 59 per cent, according to the Electoral Commission, though Mr Wine called the result a “sham”.