Ugandan lawmakers are being “bribed” to extend president Museveni’s rule

President for life?
President for life?
Image: Reuters/Hannah McKay
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A Ugandan lawmaker has said he was paid thousands of dollars in order to help extend the three-decade rule of president Yoweri Museveni.

Robert Kyagulanyi, a prominent government critic and musician also known as Bobi Wine, said he received 29 million Ugandan shillings ($8,000) in order to support a proposal to scrap a clause barring anyone over the age of 75 from running for the country’s highest office. President Museveni, 73, who has ruled since 1986, will be two years over the age limit when the country holds its next election in 2021. For months now, Ugandan MPs allied with the state have lobbied to table the bill in parliament, and engaged their constituents across the country in order to popularize the move.

Wine said the “bribe” was given to all members of parliament, and that he asked his bank to return the money to its sender. “This money is being spent on a matter that does not need any consultation whatsoever,” Wine said in a Facebook post. “Ugandans made it clear long ago that they are opposed to a life presidency. They don’t want the constitution tampered with in any way.”

In June, Wine won a landslide victory in a parliamentary by-election, effectively taking his denunciation of Museveni’s administration from the studio to parliament chambers. Wine, who calls himself the “Ghetto President,” has used his music and charity work to help poor people, especially in urban slums. But his surprise win has energized the opposition and especially those against the extension of Museveni’s rule. Three-quarters of Ugandans polled by Pan-African research network Afrobarometer this year also say they favor maintaining the age limit.

The government has responded to the criticism of the age limit amendment by banning protests. In late September, a huge brawl involving fistfights and kicks also broke out in parliament between those opposing and those in favor of the bill. For Wine and other opposition figures, their disapproval has also come at a cost: grenades were thrown into their homes.

Wine says the government is wasting a lot of money paying off politicians instead of spending it on improving public services. “We cannot be seen to legitimize the wanton waste of public resources by accepting this money for whatever reason. Where are the priorities?” he asked. “Think about this: how many schools or hospitals can that money build? How many ambulances? Yet whenever citizens demand for some basic entitlements, the government is always singing, “there is no money.” Shame.”