KAMPALA, Uganda — Fresh from fighting in the bush, Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, a former rebel commander, electrified the crowd at his inaugural address in 1986 when he declared that “the problems of Africa, and Uganda in particular, are caused by leaders who overstay in power.”
He vowed never to be one of them. Now, after 25 years in office, he is running again.
On Friday, Museveni, a close U.S. ally whose relatively small nation gets hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid, faces re-election, seeking his fifth consecutive stint as president. By all measures — polls, diplomatic analyses, even taxi-driver talk — he is expected to win.
But while Uganda shares many of the same, combustible conditions that have fueled popular uprisings in the Arab world — grinding poverty, masses of jobless, students glued to Facebook and a leader who refuses to step down after more than two decades in power — few here expect widespread upheaval.
In fact, the persistence of authoritarianism, whether through acceptance or a sense of helplessness to do much about it, seems to be the rule across much of sub-Saharan Africa, home to some of the most everlasting strongmen in the world: Jose Eduardo dos Santos in Angola, in power since 1979; Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, also since 1979; Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, since 1980; Omar Hassan al-Bashir in Sudan, since 1989. And the list goes on.
“There are two main reasons why we’re not seeing North Africa-style popular revolts in sub-Saharan African,” said Phil Clark, a lecturer in international politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.
First, he argued, many sub-Saharan African countries are more divided ethnically, and such divisions “undermine the possibility of a mass social movement against the national leadership.”
Second, and partly connected, is the loyalty of the army, which is often built from the president’s ethnic group and bolstered by corrupt spoils.
Here in Uganda, many young people support Museveni, who is credited with turning the country around. Over the past few days, they have packed shoulder to shoulder at rallies, waiting patiently under a punishing sun, some of them flaunting hilarious posters of the mzee, or old man, as the president calls himself, with his face superimposed on an Incredible Hulk-like body.
But Museveni’s opponents and Western analysts accuse him of running a vast and corrupt patronage system and abusing human rights.