Political violence has marred the run-up to an election that opposition candidates say is already rigged.
Since it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1962, Uganda has never had a peaceful transfer of power. That streak is likely to continue, if the run-up to today’s presidential and parliamentary elections are any indication.
The presidential contest pits President Yoweri Museveni, an autocrat in power since Ronald Reagan was in the White House, against ten other challengers. Most prominent among them is Bobi Wine, a charismatic musician from the slums of Kampala.
Although there has been no reliable pre-election polling, the vigor with which Museveni’s forces have moved to silence Wine’s campaignspeaks to their fears of the young candidate. Wine has been arrested twice since November after authorities accused him of breaching COVID-19 regulations barring mass gatherings. One of those arrests led to riots, with at least 54 people killed in the ensuing government crackdown.
Wine’s campaign is light on policy, speaking instead to the demand for new leadership in a country where roughly 80 percent of the population is under 30 years of age and almost half are aged 14 or under. That’s not the only challenge: Corruption still plagues the country; relatively high economic growth is expected to halt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic; and a majority of citizens still rely on subsistence farming to survive.
Free and fair?
A changing of the guard is unlikely, such is the power Museveni holds over the country’s institutions, including its electoral commission. The U.S. State Department abruptly cancelled its observation mission, saying its accreditation requests had been denied. It followed a similar admission by the European Union. The African Union will have monitors on the ground, however.
Uganda’s Chief Provocateur.
Bobi Wine is not the only candidate capturing the imagination of the nation’s youth: Stella Nyanzi, a controversial academic and activist, is running for a seat in parliament representing Kampala. Unlike Wine, her arrests have landed her in prison. She spent 33 days in a maximum security facility for calling President Museveni a “pair of buttocks” and dismissing the first lady as “empty-brained” in a poem posted on Facebook. In Foreign Policy, Carey Baraka profiles Nyanzi’s rise, illustrating the emerging complexities in Ugandan politics that go beyond today’s presidential contest.