This should come as no surprise. Yes, I am aware Yoweri Museveni has been in power in Uganda for 30 years. Now set to make 35 years at the completion of this term. This however does not pre-empt any discussion on the issue.
But Uganda’s opposition is still surprised. The leading pro-opposition media, The Daily Monitor, diligently conducts pre-election surveys for the past national elections including the current one, to find how opposition presidential candidates, chiefly, Besigye, would fare against the incumbent, Museveni. In the beginning, the media house would not publish undesirable findings that it had commissioned. But some internal critics insisted that conducting research and getting results you do not like should not prohibit you from disseminating them. It’s difficult, I suppose. With every new impending election, they have published poll predictions, none of which, have ever shown Besigye, the leading opposition candidate to be in the lead.
For this current election period, at least 3 pre-election surveys were conducted. A Daily Monitor commissioned poll gave 59.9 per cent of the vote to President Museveni if elections had been held between December 5 and December 8, 2015. The same poll gave Dr Besigye 21 per cent. Another survey, also funded by this newspaper, researched by internationally recognised pollsters Ipsos figured Museveni at 57% in the lead. Succeeding surveys closer to the election showed Museveni at 53% lead, and another at 51%. They were not way off the mark, he won at 60.75%.
However, following every election conclusion, the opposition passionately argues that Besigye ‘actually won’ because he is so popular. There is no hard evidence for this. Neither pre-poll scientific research (even that commissioned by opposition media) nor actual election results. They simply believe it to be so. It is highly suggestive that Kiiza Besigye who received 28% votes in 2001, 37% in 2006, 26% in 2011, and 35.37% this 2016, really could not be any more popular than what the results suggest. [Again, from both objective predictions and actual results].
Also, interestingly, the opposition rejects those results where they do not win, but accept those results, for Parliamentary seats/polling stations/regions, etc, where they maintain support and win. It’s hypocritical. Either you reject all the results, including your wins resulting from a supposedly flawed process conducted by the Electoral Commission, accused of being fraudulent by the chief opposition party, or you accept all, wins and losses together.
This is not to say that the electoral process is not beset by irregularities. It is. But the overwhelming evidence regarding popular support for presidential candidates is consistent and objective.
Then again, there should be reasons for Museveni’s popularity judging by hard evidence and not pure belief. Over the past 25 years, Uganda has had the 11th fastest growing economy in the world, the fourth in Africa. Our country’s export earnings have increased 27 times with diversification of the economy. Coffee, one of our leading exports, initially accounted for 94% of our export earnings but has now gone down to 7.4%. Thus Uganda under Museveni has successfully diversified its exports and cushioned herself against risks of single commodity price volatility. The Uganda Demographic and Household Survey for 2012 shows that the number of people living in poverty has fallen from 56% in 1992 to 19% in 2010. And a lot more insightful assessments comparing Uganda’s excellent growth performance with similar African countries described in Andrew Mwenda’s article here.