Compared to other African leaders, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will still be relatively young at 72 when Uganda holds its next presidential election. During his time in office, Uganda has become one of the more successful African economies, enjoying economic stability for the first time since independence. But he appears to be preparing succession plans in the face of pressure to step down at the end of his term in 2016. Museveni hopes to handpick a successor, but the country's many fault lines mean he must proceed with his plans carefully. If Museveni decides that a succession at this time would be risky, he might opt to remain in office for one more five-year term.
With some 66 ethnic groups, Uganda is an ethnically diverse country. It has struggled to manage its ethnic rivalries such that no ethnic group seizes power and fights to maintain it. To prevent this, the Museveni government has sought to stamp out subnational groups and to promote a sense of Ugandan nationalism not linked to ethnicity or even to political party. A powerful and loyal security and military apparatus closely linked to the political leadership has been required to make this happen. Each time this link between the security forces and the government has been severed, Uganda has experienced a state of turmoil. Museveni has kept the two linked since he took power in 1986, though it is unclear if this will remain true after his exit. Revenue from the modest oil production expected to begin in 2016, however, will help his successor hold together his network of military and civilian supporters.
Consolidating Party Rule
Museveni has concentrated on entrenching his National Resistance Movement, widely known as the Movement, in every facet of Uganda's society. In doing so, there has been little distinction between the army, the political party and the economy. Museveni has supplemented this with a populist, ground-up economic policy that focuses on limiting poverty to secure votes in elections. Museveni took power promising to restore law and order a few years after the conflict-ridden, disastrous rule of Idi Amin. If fractious political parties and autonomous groups fomented disorder and violence, Museveni's government simply disbanded them.
Museveni cut public sector employment levels in half, firing those who did not support the Movement. Many public servants indoctrinated under previous Ugandan rulers were forced to go through special military and political training in seminars conducted by the Movement. Former military leaders and those loyal to Museveni gained key civilian positions within the government. His supporters have also been prioritized economically.
Museveni has used such methods to distribute patronage and ensure that the Movement and his army have total control over the country. This means that any threat to Museveni's regime will likely come from within the army, movement, and/or from former movement members who retain support within the Movement. In fact, his support base has been narrowing in all three areas, and factions are emerging.
Even though many of the top positions within the military are held by Museveni's family, factions within the armed forces are becoming more noticeable. Several influential military commanders from outside Museveni's Bahiima ethnic group have left the military over the past two decades. Many loyal Museveni supporters are aging, and younger ones will, of course, eventually replace them. Even within the Bahiima ethnic group, tensions exist between two subclans. Most of the military commanders come from one clan, while much of the security and intelligence apparatus come from the second, to which Museveni belongs by marriage. One such commander, Gen. David Sejusa, Uganda's coordinator of intelligence and a special adviser to Museveni, has become more and more vocal in his opposition to Museveni's policies. While the army is unlikely to split under Museveni, his successor will have to work to assert his authority.
Museveni's National Resistance Movement is even more fractious. The Cabinet and Museveni's close advisers are almost entirely Bahiima. Several scandals involving these officials, along with accusations of corruption — most notably over lucrative oil concessions — have increased pressure on Museveni's inner circle, forcing him to remove longtime supporters. This has led many younger members to be more vocal in their concerns about Museveni and to demand that he step down when his term ends in 2016. They do not have longtime historical ties to the Movement, while many of his older supporters who do are retiring. Museveni has even been forced to jail Movement members serving in parliament.
The growing dissatisfaction with Museveni among the younger members of the Movement — some of whom, in largely a symbolic move, have already signed a petition to impeach Museveni — likely means that there will be tension between these factions of the Movement and Museveni's appointed successor, especially if that successor comes from within the Bahiima. Even worse, the Movement's support base has become narrow enough that someone other than Museveni may have trouble securing enough votes to win the presidency. Many of the Baganda supporters have left the movement because of Museveni's reluctance to grant federalism to the Kingdom of Buganda. (The Baganda were critical in aiding Museveni's guerrilla war that brought him into power in the 1980s.) Growing tensions between Museveni and the king of Buganda clash with Museveni's imperative that dates back to the conflict-ridden 1980s to clamp down on sub-nationalism.
As Museveni's circle of hardcore supporters shrinks, opposition non-Movement figures can forge alliances with more Movement members. This could result in Museveni's ouster through constitutional means, such as via an electoral defeat or impeachment.
The Succession and Potential Splits
Museveni is widely believed to be grooming his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, as his successor. In 2012, he promoted him to brigadier in an effort to raise his son's profile within the army. Given his quick rise through the ranks, Kainerugaba will almost certainly be promoted to general within the next two years. Kainerugaba was also placed in charge of the county's Special Forces Group, which oversees security at the oil installations expected to come online as Museveni leaves in 2016. Ensuring security where Uganda's oil is found has been a concern of Uganda for several years. But Museveni's move appears to have backfired. Many midlevel commanders near Kainerugaba's age believe his rise has not been based on merit and that he is not fit for the job.
Another challenge for Museveni is maintaining the rural economic growth that has been paramount to his patronage network and populist vote-securing strategy. Much of Uganda's economic development since Museveni took power has been a result of converting more land to agriculture and using this growth to support a service sector expansion. Now, arable land is running out, casting doubt on the sustainability of this growth model. Without it, Kainerugaba or Museveni's system of patronage going forward will have to be based on oil revenue. The increasingly fractious nature of Museveni's support base means patronage will become even more important, making securing oil revenue even more vital.
It is not certain that Museveni intends to designate Kainerugaba or another Bahiima as his political successor, but he is clearly attempting to ensure that Kainerugaba or another Bahiima is his military successor. This places Uganda on another trajectory toward a split — or at least toward significant tensions — between the political leadership and the army. There are many fault lines where this could erupt.
The Bahiima-dominated military elite could reject becoming subservient to a non-Bahiima president, but on the other hand they are not a private military force and may support civilian command. The young Movement cadres are growing in number and may oppose any Bahiima politician hand-picked by Museveni. Younger military commanders whose service does not date back to the 1980s could reject Kainerugaba. Northern groups, the Buganda and many of those who oppose Museveni's regime and policies could reach out to splinter factions within the National Resistance Movement and military to ensure Museveni's successor is not elected. These fractures mean Museveni must carefully orchestrate any succession plans, and this may prompt him to remain in office for another term.