By Yousef Abu-Ghazaleh
The year is 1986, Uganda has seen been at civil war for 6 years. By the time the dust has settled, 500,000 people are dead, and at the helm of the country is a new leader, risen from the National Resistance Army: Yoweri Museveni. 35 years later, on the 14th of January 2021, Museveni is elected to his sixth consecutive term in office. His main incumbent, 36 year old Robert Kyagulanyi, is a former pop star, more widely referred to by his former stage name: Bobi Wine.
Wine faces a president who rules with an iron fist. Anti-LGBTQ+, failure to protect free speech and media, the violent response to political opposition, and the changing of laws to continually allow him to hold more terms in office mean Museveni is more dictator than democratically elected leader. And, like all elected dictators, Museveni has a suspiciously good track record of winning elections.
Throughout the build up to election day, Wine’s camp repeatedly voiced concerns of foul play, and incidents of violence leading to deaths were not uncommon. Intimidation at polling centres, blocking of social and traditional media, and restriction of international observers were all factors contributing to allegations of a fraudulent election. On the actions from the government in preventing political opposition, Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for east and southern Africa, said: “With election day fast approaching, it is imperative that the Ugandan authorities reverse the persistent use of excessive force by the security forces, arbitrary arrests and detention and attacks on journalists.”
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has been used as pretext for much of the political repression carried out by the standing Ugandan government during the 5 weeks of campaigning building up to election day. The pandemic has been an excuse for police to use aggressive means to disproportionately target rallies of Bobi Wine’s supporters. Indeed, Wine himself was fired upon from police forces while in his car. But despite these intimidations, the opposition remains steadfast.
To that end, Museveni’s victory has been met with contempt from Wine, who, contrary to the president’s claims of this being Uganda’s fairest ever elections, said that he would not accept the results. However, little is presently known about the course of action Bobi Wine will take, as he currently remains under effective house arrest, claiming fear for his life as security forces surround his home. Given the lengths gone by Museveni’s government to remain in power over the last 35 years, Wine’s fears are not unjustified, and much of his hope rests on the international community.
The international response to the election results has been a mixed one. The government of the United Kingdom issued a statement on the election, citing both the importance of respecting the Ugandan democratic process, as well as the importance of properly addressing legitimacy concerns in full.
The dust has yet to settle on the aftermath of Museveni’s victory. But one thing is clear: Until Ugandan politics adopts a policy of transparency, and the international community pressures accountability, Museveni has Uganda in his grip. It can only be wondered what will come once Museveni, 76, eventually abdicates his throne. However, the miscarriages of democracy that have been carried out over the last 35 years mean that Ugandans must prepare themselves for what is to come. For more information on the political situation in Uganda, please visit: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/uganda/
Amnesty International, BB