On January 14, Uganda held a general election to elect the country’s next president. The election featured incumbent President Yoweri Museveni who has ruled Uganda for over three decades, vying for his sixth term as president. In the aftermath of the election, violence broke out, and people decried the election as fraudulent as Museveni won with 58.64 per cent of the votes.
Museveni’s main opposition during the campaign was Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, a famous 38 year old pop star who gained massive support from Ugandan youth during the election. Conveniently for Museveni, the government shut down the internet ahead of voting day, despite the president saying that the election was the “most cheating-free” in Uganda’s history.
Moreover, Wine was placed under house arrest after the election ended, as the state believed that he would instigate riots in protest of the election results. While under house arrest, Wine remained isolated from outside media and press, as he cited that even “journalists — local and international — have been blocked from accessing me here at home.” Thankfully for him, the Ugandan High Court ordered an end to his house arrest, judging it to be unlawful.
On February 1, Bobi Wine launched a court case that sought to overturn the re-election of President Museveni. However, his chances of winning this case are slim, as the Supreme Court of Uganda has ruled three times that electoral irregularities were not significant enough to affect the overall outcome of the elections. Wine has said that irregularities of the election come from instances of soldiers stuffing ballot boxes, casting votes on behalf of people, and pressuring people away from the ballots. Anthony Wameli, a Ugandan attorney part of Wine’s legal team, says that they had gathered “glaring evidence” of electoral fraud that would prove the election was rigged in Museveni’s favor. Due to his opposition to Museveni, Bobi Wine has faced great lengths of harassment from security forces who on various occasions broke up his campaign events, allegedly on the basis of stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Why international support matters
Following the election, the UK’s Minister for Africa James Duddridge gave a statement regarding the current political events in Uganda, stating that the United Kingdom “welcome[d] the relatively calm passing of the election in Uganda and notes the re-election of H.E Yoweri Museveni as President.” However, there was nothing “calm” about the election, as 50 people died at the hands of Ugandan police. The United Nations and other human rights organizations have also accused security forces in the country for using excessive force when breaking up the protests. Furthermore, Duddridge said that “the UK is a steadfast advocate for Ugandan democracy and [that the UK] will continue to achieve inclusive progress that delivers for future generations.” However, with a president entering his sixth term in office, a silenced opposition, and a country experiencing excess military force, nothing indicates that Uganda is respecting the right to freedom of opinion, expression, and democracy.
Following the criticism he received from his statement, Dudridge went on Twitter to raise “significant concerns about restrictions of political freedoms following the Ugandan elections.” At a time when Bobi Wine called for the international community to support democracy in Uganda, going against his very first statement seems hypocritical and misplaced. During the week of the election, Wine said that “international attention matters now more than ever… it is what has kept me and my colleagues alive up to this point.”
Wine is calling on the international community to reorient its priorities in supporting Museveni and his regime and focus on promoting fair and equal elections. Wine also explained that much of the foreign aid coming from institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been diverted to the security forces and military budget. The UK could potentially leverage their diplomatic ties with Uganda to pressure the Museveni regime.
What is at stake for democracy in Uganda?
Uganda has yet to achieve the basic fundamental rights of freedom of equality and the press that are guaranteed in a democratic society. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, in 2020, Uganda ranked 142nd out of 180 countries. Additionally, the Global Corruption Barometer reports that 69 per cent of Ugandans believe that corruption increased in the previous 12 months.
In May 2020, the World Bank announced a $300 million loan to Uganda for COVID-19 relief. However, the World Bank later discovered that the money was used for classified expenditures which went primarily towards security forces, the military, and the police as well as Museveni himself. The UN human rights office has also pleaded with authorities in Uganda to ensure free and peaceful elections to no avail. The organization has reported many human rights abuses leading up to the election such as authorities using the pandemic to stop free elections from occurring. Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said that “we have increasingly observed that the COVID-19 restrictions have been enforced more strictly to curtail opposition electoral campaign activities in a discriminatory fashion.”
Ugandans have been protesting on the street because they wish to bring about the change that Bobi Wine represents. The international community, especially democratic governments such as the UK, must hold the Museveni regime accountable for its continuous assault on fair and free elections.
Edited by Dana Malapit.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.