Only three candidates are credible: Mr Museveni himself, Amama Mbazazi, a former prime minister, who has broken with his one-time boss; and Dr Kizza Besigye, a long standing opposition leader, who was Mr Museveni's doctor in the bush wars of the 1980s.
Young people still hope for change as the country braces for a potentially violent election. Museveni who has been in power since 1986, holds himself as the grandfather of the nation. More than three quarters of the country is under the age of 30 with a high percentage of those without steady work. For many it is almost impossible to find a job. Whether it is the lack of jobs, crumbling infrastructure, failing public schools or inadequate hospitals, many Ugandans feel left behind.
These feelings are exactly what the eight candidates running against Museveni are campaigning on. Among the candidates are two who used to be allies of the president. Dr Kizza Besigye was the president's doctor during the civil war that brought Museveni to power in the mid 1980s. he is now the head of the Forum for Democratic Change(FDC) and has run before against Museveni.
The most powerful and newest challenger to the sitting president is the former prime minister and former general secretary of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) Amama Mbabazi. He is running for president as an independent. His candidacy is what makes this election so dangerous as the president utilizes the country's security forces, army and police forces, to help secure the election.
It is not just the police and army that have been instrumentalized by president Museveni. Other government resources have also been used in favor of the ruling party. The Electoral Commission is also alleged to be entirely compromised: they have recently changed the voter register away from one they compiled themselves to one compiled by the Uganda Army, who favors President Museveni. A move that is in contravention to the constitution of the country. And which, incidentally, disenfranchized millions of Ugandans, and rendered the February 18th poll illegitimate before it even takes place.
All other institutions are used to serve Mr Museveni. Already the state is his personal fiefdom: MPs are obsequious to the president, officials and judges serve at his whim, ministerial positions are given to allies and family members. Muhoozi Museveni, his son, is head of the presidential guard, the top army unit.
The Opposition is weak and divided. Mr Besigye has been running the same campaign for a decade now-each time struggling to compete with the resources and state power of Mr Museveni's party, the National Resistance Movement. Mr Mbabazi brings some new supporters, but he is almost as tainted as the man he hopes to unseat. The opposition has a tough path to victory. A critical factor is their ability to turn out voters, this is especially difficult in the opposition strongholds, rural Uganda, and frustrated voters seem to have given up on the idea of ousting Museveni. Civil society groups have been working to address this apathy.
This apathy has even affected the International Community:with the pressures of a widening war in Syria, and a mass migration crisis in Europe, the International Community is tempted to leave Uganda to its own devices. the difference between 35 years of one-man rule may not seem all significant.
Moreover, the complex brew of personalities, parties, and political allegiance may make it seem as if a viable challenge to Museveni remains far off. But the United States, Europe and Uganda's democratic neighbors should not underestimate the symbolic and practical importance of seeing Museveni to the door. While the International Community cannot plot Uganda's political future, it can play a critical role that can determine whether the country's February 18th is just business as usual.
The use of money and abuse of incumbency in the process, Mr Museveni's refusal to even groom a successor, along with increasing level of youth unemployment and fast-declining public services, have left many eager for change. The magnitude of resources that is deployed by the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), its huge level of funding and overwhelming advantage of incumbency, once again challenges the notion of level playing field in the entire process.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
African Affairs Expert
Photo-Credit: Reuters-photo of Incumbent President Yoweri Museveni and the Opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye