Uganda's long-time President Yoweri Museveni has been re-elected, electoral officials say, amid accusations of vote fraud by his main rival Bobi Wine.
Mr Museveni won almost 59% of the vote, with Bobi Wine trailing with about 35%, the Electoral Commission said.
Thursday's poll may turn out to be the "most cheating-free" in the history of the African nation, the president said.
Bobi Wine, a former pop star, vowed to provide evidence of vote-rigging when internet connections were restored.
The government shut down the internet ahead of voting day, a move condemned by election monitors.
They said confidence in the count had been damaged by the days-long cut. A government minister told the BBC on Saturday evening that the internet service would be restored "very soon".
In a phone interview with the BBC World Service, Bobi Wine said he and his wife were not being allowed to leave their home by soldiers.
"Nobody is allowed to leave or come into our house. Also, all journalists - local and international - have been blocked from accessing me here at home," he said.
Dozens of people were killed during violence in the run-up to the election. Opposition politicians have also accused the government of harassment.
The result gives President Museveni a sixth term in office. The 76-year-old, in power since 1986, says he represents stability in the country.
Meanwhile, Bobi Wine - the stage name for 38-year-old Robert Kyagulanyi - says he has the backing of the youth in one of the world's youngest nations, where the median age is 16.
The result gives President Museveni a sixth term in office. The 76-year-old, in power since 1986, says he represents stability in the country.
Meanwhile, Bobi Wine - the stage name for 38-year-old Robert Kyagulanyi - says he has the backing of the youth in one of the world's youngest nations, where the median age is 16.
The opposition candidate earlier said: "I will be happy to share the videos of all the fraud and irregularities as soon as the internet is restored."
But speaking after being declared the winner, Mr Museveni said: "Voting by machines made sure there is no cheating.
"But we are going to audit and see how many people voted by fingerprints and how many of those voted by just using the register."
Mr Museveni also warned that "foreign meddling will not be tolerated".
The EU, United Nations and several rights groups have raised concerns. Aside from an African Union mission, no major international group monitored the vote.
Earlier this week the US - a major aid donor to Uganda - cancelled its diplomatic observer mission to the country, saying that the majority of its staff had been denied permission to monitor polling sites.
Bobi Wine, the main challenger of incumbent Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in the election, said early on Friday that Thursday’s vote had seen “widespread fraud and violence” but the opposition leader remained positive as ballots are being counted under an internet blackout.
Uganda Elections 2021 Results: Bobi Wine vs Yoweri Museveni - Electoral Commission results show Museveni in early lead
“Despite the widespread fraud and violence experienced across the country earlier today, the picture still looks good. Thank you Uganda for turning up and voting in record numbers,” Wine tweeted shortly after midnight (21:00 GMT), managing to bypass the blockage.
The 38-year-old former pop star-turned-legislator did not give details about his accusations, which contradicted the government’s account that Thursday’s vote had been peaceful with no extensive cases of violence reported.
The Electoral Commission is expected to release the results within 48 hours.
The internet remained down for a third day as vote counting continued in the country. Results are expected by Saturday afternoon.
President Museveni is seeking a sixth term in office and Wine has been arrested multiple times during the campaigning, is his main competitor among 11 opposition candidates.
The election took place after one of the most violent campaigns in years, with harassment and arrests of the opposition leaders, attacks on the media and dozens of deaths.
The run-up to polling day was marred by a sustained crackdown on Museveni’s rivals and government critics and unprecedented attacks on the nation’s media and human rights defenders.
In November, at least 54 people were shot dead by security forces loyal to Museveni during protests against one of Wine’s numerous arrests.
The US, EU, UN and global rights and democracy groups have raised concerns about the integrity and transparency of the election.
Meanwhile, the African Union (AU), has sent monitors, along with an AU women’s group.
On Wednesday, the United States, a key aid donor to Uganda, announced it was cancelling a diplomatic observer mission after several of its staff were denied permission to monitor the election.
On Tuesday, Museveni announced the suspension of social media networks and messaging services like Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp in response to Facebook closing accounts linked to government officials that the technology giant said were spreading misinformation.
Source : AL Jazeera
Uganda is going to conduct its first digital and mass media campaigns ahead of its 2021 general elections. This comes as the country contemplates holding a “scientific election” wherein social distancing guidelines will be observed.
On 16 June 2020, the Uganda Electoral Commission issued a press release banning public rallies for the 2021 political campaigns as part of the country’s COVID-19 containment measures. Campaigns will now be conducted on radio and television, in newspapers and on the internet. This caused an immediate protest especially among opposition-leaning political groups and civil society organisations.
The electoral commission said the official guidelines for the 2021 general election would be issued after consultation with relevant stakeholders. These guidelines will include how much space and time aspirants will be allocated on Uganda’s national broadcasting network.
This is a critical issue as candidates have been denied media space in the past. In 2011, opposition kingpin Kizza Besigye was denied paid advertisement space scheduled on the state-owned Uganda Broadcasting Corporation. He won a court case against the media house but the electoral commission is yet to pronounce on this incident.
Uganda’s electoral commission’s relationship with electioneering politicians has been problematic in the past. Many of them are highly distrustful of the body, which is hand-picked by the incumbent president.
President Yoweri Museveni is also on record accusing the electoral body of rigging his party out of votes in 2014. The electoral commission itself has exploited this instability by issuing inconclusive communications. The latest announcement on media campaigns is a case in point.
In the meantime, party candidates are picking nomination forms, and the ruling National Resistance Movement has conducted virtual and low scale physical campaigns and elections for its party organs nationwide. This is being done amid the traditional fanfare that accompanies campaigns albeit in smaller groups. They are taking the opportunity to attract the attention of television cameras and radio stations.
Uganda’s previous general elections have often been disputed by the losing opposition. The 2021 general elections are poised to fuel these traditional grievances even as the country’s election commission bans open air campaigns owing to COVID-19 restrictions.
The ruling party has unrestricted access to the media. It is also assured of an uninterrupted internal electoral process. This is not the case for the opposition, which is often blocked and dispersed by police.
The electoral commission as umpire is unresponsive to the methods and activities of the police, and some media policies that significantly affect the visibility of the candidates among the electorate.
Attempts therefore at Uganda’s scientific elections, unless judiciously regulated, will only propagate the usual refrain of electoral malpractices.
New aspirants will have to make do with dramatics to get their message to the people. Bobi Wine has adopted South African opposition politician Julius Malema’s signature red beret and Nelson Mandela’s raised fist to situate himself in the minds of voters. He has taken advantage of radio interviews and a strong online presence to push his campaign forward.
He makes strategic announcements of his scheduled television and radio appearances, which are often cancelled at the last minute by media houses or denied outright by the police, as a means to mobilise his passionate youthful supporters. They have often taken to the streets to demonstrate their support and outrage at his mistreatment.
The Uganda police predictably reacts with tear gas and strong-arm tactics, which typically results in media coverage for Bobi Wine’s campaign. The politician has on occasion sued the police and his cases have been well covered by the press.
Savvy and youthful candidates like Bobi Wine then make use of social media to amplify their voices by posting clips of these incidents on the internet, where their supporters then access them on mobile phones. The battle lines are hence defined.
This strategy worked well in pre-COVID-19 times, but with the advent of social distancing measures in Uganda, these candidates will need to restrategise. The directive to conduct purely media campaigns will mean that they will not have the opportunity to leverage physical campaigns on various media platforms.
Museveni’s head start
There is much debate on the feasibility of digital campaigns and scientific elections. President Museveni continues to express his determination to keep the country socially contained amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He is yet to lift an eight and a half hour nightly curfew imposed on the country since May. Public transport is tightly regulated. The number of passengers per private commuter van has been halved. Commuters must wash their hands and wear masks. The president also took to the airwaves wondering why people would leave their homes to die.
Meanwhile, he has had a head start travelling the country opening development projects and handing out start-up capital.
He is often captured keeping the required social distance and wearing a mask as he waves at crowds. His excursions are covered by the presidential press unit which broadcasts on Uganda Broadcasting Corporation.
These images are then distributed to other networks such as The New Vision multimedia network. Most government ministers have their own press coverage which mimic the presidential press unit with reportage of their official and unofficial activities mainly on the national broadcaster.
Problem with media campaigns
There is also the matter of the electorate’s capacity to access radio, television and newspaper content. The 2014 census showed that one million homesteads had television sets and 3.4 million had radio sets. This is against a voting population of about 17 million.
As for the online capacity of Uganda’s electorate, a report reveals that Uganda’s internet penetration is about 42% with up to 19 million Ugandans now connected to the internet out of a total estimated population of 46 million people.
The percentage of Ugandans with access to legacy and new media is a drop in the bucket compared to the entire population, and those who are registered to vote.
Moreover, Uganda’s social media platforms are rife with disinformation and defamation, which affects all Ugandans, including the country’s most powerful. The president himself has made use of the internet by posting his exercise regime. His detractors have responded by accusing the president of spreading propaganda about his invincibility.
But Museveni is not the only leader who is using the internet to reach his supporters. Uganda’s apolitical cultural leaders are also active in the digital space, where they have been seen to deny social media information that casts them in a bad light.
This is significant because cultural leaders hold sway among Uganda’s rural voters, who are the majority.
Some political pundits have posited that the directive to campaign on media and digital platforms in a country which is fumbling technologically is a trojan horse filled with electoral malpractices. It remains to be seen whether this is yet another of Uganda’s experiments in statecraft, or if it is simply election crisis management.
For months, Ugandans have witnessed a vicious presidential election campaign without precedent. While the incumbent, Yoweri Museveni, has enjoyed free rein on the campaign trail, his youthful main opponent Robert Kyagulanyi and his supporters have faced numerous obstacles – and physical assault.
The result is a pervasive sense of political crisis in the run-up to the January 14 vote.
But in this crisis is the potential for release. Ordinary Ugandans are pouring their social and political grievances onto social media platforms, spawning debates around accountability and governance. They have taken to recording events they find newsworthy and posting them directly to ordinary people’s WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter accounts. In the process, they are sidestepping traditional channels – mainly radio, television and newspapers – along with their bureaucratic and hierachical procedures of news gathering.
The traditional media landscape has been dominated by Vision Group, in which the state owns the majority stake. The group owns the biggest circulating newspaper,The New Vision, a number of local regional newspapers and TV stations. Uganda Broadcasting Corporation, a statutory agency, has the widest TV and radio reach over the country, broadcasting in English and the major local languages as well as Kiswahili. The other main players are private media houses with TV and radio outlets and newspapers. But all are kept on a short leash through legislation and commercial imperatives in a market where the government is the chief source of advertising.
The migration to social media has been driven by two key factors. The first is the wave of excitement in favour of Kyagulanyi, better known by his stage name Bobi Wine, and his bid for the presidency. The recent riots and their spread across the country only provide a glimpse into the popular interest in him. Traffic on social media is an indication of his appeal.
The second driver has been the fact that Uganda has a very youthful voting age population. The country has the second youngest population on the continent. According to the World Population Review, just 2% of Ugandans are 65 or older.
These young Ugandans have turned to their favourite tool and pastime: social media. The easy access to information on smartphones has emboldened them to speak out without fear.
In addition, journalists and prominent people in politics have set up Facebook pages and YouTube channels. They have taken to posting realtime events and activities of the politicians and their families. These clips range from hard news to human interest stories as well as outright propaganda and lies which are quickly debunked by the adversary.
The government tried to curb the use of social media, such as enacting a law on the misuse and abuse of technology. But it does not have the capacity to track all offenders, let alone to prove its case in court. Also, its attempts to limit access by levying social media tax have largely been sidestepped by the widespread use of virtual private networks.
Never has a contest in Uganda’s political history been so furiously played out in the media space as the 2021 national elections. This trend is now irreversible. This may be the one gain for Ugandan democracy from the bruising poll. And it’s a gain unlikely to be dented by Uganda’s unprecedented ban on all social media platforms and messaging apps 48 hours before the presidential vote.
During Amin’s era in the 1970s balanced reporting was unheard of. The government newspaper, Voice of Uganda, carried leading headlines daily featuring Amin throughout its lifetime and the government radio and TV stations were Amin’s mouthpieces. It was suicidal to carry dissenting voices.
When the National Resistance Movement came to power in 1986 through an armed insurrection, it set up its own media presence. This media extolled the new leadership and the movement through which it captured power. “When we captured power” became the ubiquitous preamble of many government officials’ speeches. It was embraced positively in TV and radio documentary scripts and newspaper articles.
The image of a new regime riding on the wrongs of past leaders to capture power by armed insurrection in the interests of the people is now a distant memory. Fast forward to 2021 and six election cycles later, Ugandans in general and journalists in particular are feeling the full force of that power.
COVID-19 restrictions have also been used as a smokescreen to control the media and the movement of journalists.
Restrictions have been placed on media access for opposition candidates. Such candidates have reported incidents of being denied access to upcountry broadcast outlets by government authorities and owners fearing repercussions. Opposition candidates also lament restrictions to the mainstream radio and television such as UBC’s network.
Amid all these hurdles, Museveni has continued to appear daily on media outlets. His daily schedule includes live TV appearances commissioning government development projects such as roads, hospitals, markets, bridges and dams.
There are also downsides to the spike in social media use. One is that conspiracy theories abound on the various platforms. But, despite the challenges posed by the unprofessionalism of some citizen journalism on social media, the public has woken up to the power of breaking news and whistleblowing that speaks directly to power.
There have been some notable instances where social media has come into its own in holding those in authority accountable. One example was the effective use of live streaming of the deadly political riots in which at least 45 were killed in November 2020. This proved to be the only source of direct information after security services cut the flow of information by seizing journalists on the scene and prevailing on media houses not to broadcast the violent scenes.
How the role of social media will affect the outcome of the poll remains an open question. Demographics will play a large role. Museveni still has a hold on rural and elderly voters while Kyagulanyi seems to pull the urban youth.
Above all, much depends on whether it’s a free and fair poll. Here, Kyagulanyi can only hope that the electoral commission ensures a level playing field.
For two days in November 2020, Uganda witnessed some of the most violent riots in a decade. The riots were triggered by the arrest of opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, who is challenging the incumbent Yoweri Museveni in the February 14 2021 election.
Authorities alleged that Kyagulanyi, better known as Bobi Wine, had consistently disregarded COVID-19 related election campaign guidelines limiting gatherings to no more than 200 people.
In the violence that ensued, contingents of heavily armed police and the army responded with tear gas and live ammunition, resulting in the death of at least 45 people. Eleven members of the security forces were also reportedly injured during the riots.
The lethal use of force to break up a riot provoked national and international condemnation. It also raised questions around the standard applied by Uganda’s security forces in quelling this and similarly deadly riots in the past.
The blanket and indiscriminate use of firearms and live ammunition led directly to the carnage witnessed in only two days. This violent response of police and army units reinforces my view that Uganda must overhaul its national legal framework on the use of force and firearms during law enforcement. The current framework contains highly permissive and ambiguous standards which enable law enforcement actors to use excessive force with no clear lines of accountability.
The framework doesn’t address Uganda’s long-standing reliance on the army for strictly law enforcement tasks. Army officers deployed in this way are obliged to obey the orders of their superior working in collaboration with the officer in charge of the civil power. This is highly unlikely given the record of past brutally executed joint law enforcement tasks.
It’s now time that the country enacted laws in keeping with international standards, such as the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms. It needs to redefine the relationship between police and military during law enforcement.
Use of force and firearms
The right to life is protected under Uganda’s constitution. This protection was recently buttressed by Uganda’s Constitutional Court, which declared as unconstitutional the wide latitude given to law enforcers under Uganda’s Police Act.
The act previously empowered police to do “all things necessary” when dispersing unlawful assemblies. It granted immunity for any death or injury caused in the process, while condoning police brutality. The Police Act has not yet been amended to reflect the Constitutional Court’s ruling.
According to UN principles on the use of force and firearms, lethal use of firearms must be restricted to instances of an imminent threat of death or serious injury. Moreover, intentional use of lethal force even in such cases should only be when strictly unavoidable and in order to protect life. These principles require that law enforcement operations must be carefully planned to avoid use of force or use it as a last resort and employ the least harmful means necessary, to minimise damage and risk to bystanders and preserve human life.
But Uganda’s security minister, General Elly Tumwine – a top army general – has asserted that security forces have a right to shoot and kill in a situation where an offender displays a “certain level of violence”. He did not set out where the boundaries lie.
There have been dissenting voices, even among top administrators in Uganda. For example, the Police Director of Operations went on record with an apology and admission of error. He acknowledged that the use of live bullets to disperse crowds was unlawful and that police should have used tear gas instead.
Historical army clout
The right to life is the most relevant right during law enforcement operations and must not be arbitrarily deprived. JR Thackrah, a scholar of joint police and military operations in counter terrorism, has noted that,
“An army may kill in the execution of its normal functions but the function of the police is fulfilled by apprehending and bringing to account.”
Unfortunately, in Uganda’s context, this distinction is not always apparent. This poses challenges for the application of human rights standards during joint police and military law enforcement operations.
Under Uganda’s constitution and the Uganda People’s Defence Forces Act, the army can be called upon to “assist the civilian authority” in an emergency. Emergencies include a riot or a disturbance of the peace which the authorities can’t bring under control. Past inquiries into joint undertakings suggest domination and intimidation of the Uganda Police by the army. The army also reportedly disregards civilian laws and procedures.
This ultimately undermines the police leadership in its law enforcement role. Cumulatively, it undermines the distinction between use of force standards and protocols that must be applied during peacetime versus during war time.
The way forward
Under Uganda’s constitution the national army is subordinate to civilian authority. In practice, however, this isn’t the case. When the military is deployed during peacetime law enforcement operations, for instance, there is no statutory requirement that the army receives appropriate equipment and applies standards of training and doctrine which are in line with human rights standards fit for peacetime contexts.
By comparison, in some jurisdictions like South Africa, military personnel deployed for law enforcement tasks in co-operation with the police must by law undergo appropriate training. They are also given equipment suitable for this role. This serves to re-orient them from enemy combat roles to peacetime roles.
In such contexts they are also explicitly bound by the same limits on the use of force as the South African police.
Uganda’s Defence Forces Act could be amended to ensure such a requirement. This oversight could also ensure that mechanisms are in place to protect and maintain the police’s lead role during joint law enforcement operations.
Along with this, the police should receive more training and equipment including protective equipment in order to facilitate de-escalated and graduated use of force. Whereas the police have recently developed a handbook on the use of force and firearms, this is not enough. The guidelines must be debated and incorporated in a comprehensive enforceable legal statute.
Just three weeks into his official campaign for the Ugandan presidency, Ugandan musician and parliamentarian Robert Kyagulanyi (better known by his stage name Bobi Wine) has already been arrested twice.
The first came just minutes after his formal nomination in the capital Kampala. Footage streamed by his party showed police smashing the windows of the stationary vehicle Wine and his associates were occupying.
Wine was arrested again while campaigning in Luuka district last week. Protests in a number of Ugandan cities have since broken out and, in an unprecedented move, most other opposition presidential candidates suspended their campaigns until he was released. At least 49 people have been killed in those protests, which already makes this election bloodier than the last one in 2016.
The official reason for both of these arrests was that the police had evidence that Wine was planning illegal rallies with numbers exceeding Covid-19 restrictions.
However, most observers suspect it has more to do with the uncompromising stance he has taken against the incumbent regime of Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. In the blistering speech he gave at his nomination, Wine accused Museveni of crimes ranging from corruption to dictatorship. At one point in the speech, he listed Uganda’s main ethnic groups one-by-one, naming the ways that each have been betrayed by Museveni who has ruled for 34 years.
It is also highly unlikely that this latest arrest will be Wine’s last before the January 2021 poll. As has been seen in the past, Uganda’s campaign periods are routinely marred by acts of state intimidation and pressure against opposition candidates and their supporters.
Wine’s confrontational and defiant approach suggests that more pressure from security forces is inevitable. While this much is predictable, the Wine candidacy still raises a number of questions that are difficult to answer.
Leading the opposition
Besigye’s position as Museveni’s leading antagonist had become as embedded in Ugandan politics as the Museveni presidency itself. After splitting from the regime in 1999, Besigye has been runner-up in four straight elections, winning between 26% and 37% in official tallies.
Every time he has stood, the question of who should lead the scattered opposition has been passionately debated. On each occasion, Besigye refused to give way.
While other prominent opposition candidates have stood, they have not come close to Besigye’s vote share – something which has bolstered the case for his candidacy in each subsequent election.
When it became clear last year that Wine wanted to seek the presidency himself, a clash between the two was imminent. The new parliamentarian had succeeded in captivating the young, educated voters and activists that had powered Besigye’s success. But few observers (ourselves included) believed that Besigye’s de facto opposition leader mantle would be effectively threatened.
Besigye saw it differently, and declared in October 2020 that he would not be running. It is difficult to ascertain the precise reasons for his decision, but the perception that Wine’s political star had eclipsed his own is likely to have contributed in some way.
In numerous by-elections over the past two years, Wine’s endorsed candidates have fared far better than Besigye’s. Opposition activists had placed unprecedented pressure on Besigye’s men to give Wine an open pathway.
The youth demographic
Political change is a complicated subject in Uganda. Young and educated opposition supporters yearn for a post-Museveni era. The youth are a growing piece of the demographic pie.
The ability to travel easily and improved media access means that they are no longer a small and irrelevant constituency confined to Kampala. Increasingly, young opposition supporters are present and active in regional municipalities around the country. They are also well networked in the countryside and are carrying their anti-Museveni message to the most remote areas.
Nevertheless, it is important not to overstate the scale of opposition support in Uganda.
Although it is often ignored in international media coverage, Museveni and his National Resistance Movement remain popular across large swathes of the country. Older, rural voters in particular often regard regime change as a hauntingly perilous idea. These voters are more likely to link political change with a return to the years of chaos and bloodshed that preceded Museveni’s inauguration in 1986 – something the regime will doubtless assert explicitly in the coming months.
This generation gap – which maps onto the urban-rural divide to some extent – is becoming the most salient political division in the country. Within towns, villages and even family units, the question of national political change is linked to the frustrations of younger voters. The youth feel that they do not have the pathway to build their livelihoods that their parents enjoyed during Uganda’s post-1986 economic recovery. The country’s rapidly expanding education system has also led many of them to expect well-paying jobs that are in short supply.
Conversely, older citizens may regularly castigate these younger voters as lazy or idle troublemakers, and fear that they do not understand the risks of the change that they are demanding.
It is the growing importance of this demographic terrain which has also made the question of opposition leadership so interesting. Because whilst Wine has crafted himself as an unapologetic champion of the frustrated youth, Besigye’s candidacy had benefited from being able to build a bridge between the old and the young. His earlier years as a Museveni ally has made him less threatening as an opposition candidate to some.
New coronavirus excuse
But questions of opposition leadership often take attention away from the deeper authoritarian realities of Museveni’s Uganda. It is not the case that the Museveni regime terrorises, bribes and rigs its way to victory in the crudest sense. But persistent state interventions substantially tilt the playing field to the point that it is effectively impossible for the opposition to organise and campaign.
The latest feature of this double standard are the campaigning restrictions put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, which appear to be enforced more consistently on the opposition than on the ruling party candidates. As a result, all opposition campaigning has to be done online only.
It is no coincidence, then, that recent months have also seen a systematic state-led media crackdown. Following the imposition of the COVID-19 lockdown in late March, the authorities have escalated their targeting of journalists, arresting newspaper, radio and TV journalists across the country.
The Social Media Monitoring Centre has heightened its surveillance of social media usage. And in September, the government issued a public notice that all “online publishers and broadcasters” had to apply for a licence to continue uploading content.
Ironically, Wine’s candidature may greatly benefit from a shift to virtual campaigning, even in the context of a wider media crackdown. He doesn’t have a formal campaign infrastructure, relying instead on both new and traditional media.
The January elections will almost certainly result in a Museveni victory. However, the inevitability of the overall result should not blind us to the fact that the country’s politics are changing, even if the regime does not.
Uganda’s presidential candidate Bobi Wine has been released on bail, local media reported, as police said the death toll in clashes triggered by his arrest earlier this week hit 37.
Wine, who was charged with actions likely to spread the novel coronavirus, is expected to appear back in court on December 18, the Daily Monitor reported on Friday.
The 38-year-old pop star and politician, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was arrested on Wednesday while campaigning in eastern Uganda for the January 14 general elections.
He was charged with holding mass rallies in violation of restrictions on gatherings imposed by the government to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Earlier on Friday, authorities deployed the military across the capital Kampala and surrounding areas to help the police disperse protesters. The security forces have arrested hundreds, and used live bullets, tear gas and water cannon in efforts to quell the unrest.
“Thirty-seven bodies have been counted so far,” police pathologist Moses Byaruhanga told the Reuters news agency.
Police spokesman Fred Enanga said the arrested protesters were involved in violence, including targeting members of the public who do not support Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP) party.
“What we have seen in the last few days, that is violence, vandalism, looting, intimidation and threats, are crimes that were being committed [against] people who are not pro-NUP. This is not something that we can tolerate.”
Uganda, a nation of 42 million people, is due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on January 14, with Wine emerging as a serious threat to veteran President Yoweri Museveni, 76, who aims to extend his rule to at least 40 years.
Wine has amassed a large following among the Ugandan youth, attracted by his bold criticism of the government, often in his song’s lyrics.
Al Jazeera’s Malcom Webb, reporting from Nairobi, said court proceedings may interfere with Wine’s campaign rallies, as could a limit of 200 people set on public gatherings set by Uganda’s health ministry and electoral commission as part of COVID-19 restrictions.
“If that is going to be enforced, from here on it’s going to be very difficult for any of the candidates to hold meaningful rallies – especially in urban areas, where they tend to attract significantly larger crowds,” Webb said.
He said four other opposition presidential candidates have suspended their election campaigns in protest at what they say is unfair treatment of Bobi Wine.
“This election is nearly two months away, ” Webb said.
“We’re waiting to see what, if any, campaigning will actually be able to go ahead between now and then,” Webb said.
SOURCE : AL JAZEERA
Ugandan singer turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, known as Bobi Wine, is at the centre of a storm in the East African nation. Ssentamu has been arrested and charged with treason in a civilian court – shortly after a military court dropped a charge of illegal possession of firearms and released him from custody.
The 36-year-old uses his politically charged songs to call for change in the country that President Yoweri Museveni has led for more than three decades. The Conversation Africa asked Jimmy Spire Ssentongo to try and make sense of what’s happening.
How would you describe the public reaction to the political crisis in Uganda?
The public reaction is mostly a mixture of anger and shock. It’s true that Museveni isn’t known to be soft on his opponents or perceived threats. Nevertheless many Ugandans didn’t expect him to stoop this low. Given Bobi Wine’s growing popularity, most people indeed expected the state to act. After all, it routinely meted out retribution against key opposition figure Dr Kiiza Besigye.
But it was nevertheless shocking that the state would reach the point of laughably parading arms as evidence against Bobi Wine for treason.
The sense of shock can also be read in the loud silence of most government officials. Just a handful are offering to be part of the collective responsibility for the international embarrassment. It has been left to the president to offer explanations on social media where he’s been more active than ever before.
The public anger needs no elaboration. It can be seen, it can be heard, it can be sensed in various expressions on social media, on the streets, in places of worship and on radio, TV, buses, taxis and in homes. It’s also clear that the state is aware of the potential for a violent public reaction to the brutality and poorly staged justification for blatant political persecution. In anticipation, there’s been a heavy deployment of police and soldiers.
Since the passing of the Public Order Management Act (2013), demonstrators are treated as criminals. But in the heat of the current anger, this has not stopped people from defiantly using the limited space available.
Much of the anger has been channelled through social media. One simply needs to check the comments on the President’s Facebook posts to get a sense of the bitterness and public fury.
How serious a political challenge does Bobi Wine pose to Museveni?
This is best answered by understanding what Bobi Wine represents.
There’s a tendency to focus simplistically on Bobi Wine in terms of his moral, academic, and other experiential credentials. But this fails to place him contextually within Uganda’s political landscape.
Museveni is still popular among some section of Ugandans, who argue that in spite of his failings, he is still better than most of his seven predecessors. A lurking fear of “going back to the past” still plays in his favour. He has some achievements to show too.
But this narrative holds no sway with the younger generation, many of whom were born after 1986, the year Museveni became president.
Before entering formal politics, Bobi Wine enjoyed significant clout in the music industry. He entered the political arena through a defiant ghetto card with a relatively consistent background of politically critical music. Last year he stood for parliament, arriving on the political scene with a bang that surprised many. His catch phrase was:
Since parliament has failed to come to the ghetto, then we shall bring the ghetto to parliament.
The state’s panicky mistake was to react to his popular entry by openly persecuting him – initially through banning his music shows. Museveni showed early on that he’d noticed the young man had a following, by writing direct responses to him in the newspapers.
Then there was the ruckus in parliament over a vote to remove the age restriction on the presidency. Bobi Wine was among those who fought hard to stop it.
What seemed to draw Museveni’s attention even more was that candidates supported by Bobi Wine started to beat those backed by Museveni hands down.
Gradually Bobi Wine began to build a more conspicuous political identity around a very catchy slogan “people power, our power”, unmistakably dressing in red attire plus berets, emulating Julius Malema’s militant Economic Freedom Fighters party in South Africa.
It became clear that Bobi Wine was winning the hearts of youths as well as some earlier sceptics.
Given the widespread public desperation in Uganda, all many people want is a person who shows the potential of removing Museveni. All else is secondary.
In this sense Bobi Wine poses a real threat to Museveni, more so in consideration that young Ugandans, many of whom are unemployed, constitute a huge percentage of the active electorate.
Museveni has confronted numerous challenges and won hands down. How do you see this challenge playing out?
It is not clear how this might end. It largely depends on whether the state remains adamant, and which other players join Bobi’s cause.
The “Free Bobi Wine” agitation is developing into a movement that could easily take on a broader form.
It is also expected that Bobi Wine’s stature would have been greatly boosted by his imprisonment. The state has contributed immensely to his political weight and appeal while at the same time proving itself a political villain and international laughing stock. He will no doubt be reading the public mood.
Nevertheless, I don’t expect that the state is going to relent. Museveni is not known to countenance any threat. We are yet to see more of this roughness as we get closer to the 2021 elections, where there is strong reason to believe that Bobi Wine might stand.
What are the prospects for a more open democracy in Uganda?
Most institutions that would count in a democratic dispensation – parliament, the judiciary and an electoral system – exist in Uganda. But the country continues to show more signs of a hybrid state slanted towards presidentialism. Much of the real power to bring about change rests in the hands of the person who may not want to see it happen.
There is therefore every reason to believe that an open democracy is highly unlikely under Museveni, except certain elements of it that don’t threaten his hold on power.