What explains youth political mobilization in Uganda – or lack thereof? This article challenges the simple dichotomy of youth as either a dangerous or disengaged political constituency. Instead, we analyze the conditions that determine whether youth can coalesce as a politically salient category. For many, the outcome of the 2021 Ugandan elections defied expectations. A large and underemployed youth population combined with the emergence of self-proclaimed ‘youth candidate’ Bobi Wine, led both international and domestic analysts to predict a strong youth challenge to National Resistance Movement (NRM) dominance. However, while Bobi Wine captured the opposition vote, he was unable to create a new youth constituency that could overcome existing political and regional cleavages. This article draws on interviews and fieldwork on youth political mobilization during the 2021 elections to identify and analyze a range of historically rooted methods that the NRM effectively deploys to mobilize and fragment youth. The findings confirm the need to look beyond rallies and rhetoric to analyze whether the conditions are right to allow youth to emerge as a politically salient category.
Bibliographical note© 2023 The Author(s).