Managing elite defection in Museveni’s Uganda: the 2016 elections in perspective

Moses Khisa*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Like other semi-authoritarian leaders, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni faced constant threats of elite defections during successive general elections since 1996. Except in 2011 when he lured prominent opposition members to his ruling party, Museveni faced defections on the eve of four out of the five general elections during his rule: in 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2016. The 2015 defection of former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was billed as Museveni’s toughest challenge ever. However, Museveni successfully countered this threat with ministerial appointments, cash handouts along with targeted use of state coercive apparatus, chiefly the police, thus stopping Mbabazi from taking many National Resistance Movement (NRM) party elites into his camp to mount a serious electoral challenge. This article situates Mbabazi’s defection, and his poor performance at the polls going by the official election results, in the context of previous episodes of elite defections. The article argues that defections have been avoided and mitigated by a triple-strategy of elite inclusion, deterrence and the maintenance of various networks that constrain potential defectors. By documenting this theory with examples from previous and the 2016 elections, the article concludes that Mbabazi’s poor showing in the February 2016 election was predictable, in spite of his clout as heretofore the second most powerful figure in NRM and Museveni’s heir apparent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)729-748
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Eastern African Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Authoritarian regime
  • Uganda
  • coercion
  • defection
  • election
  • opposition
  • political networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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