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Uganda: Tension mounts as Museveni turns the screw

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Uganda: Tension mounts as Museveni turns the screw

A police officer sits on a car positioning at the gate of the headquarters of National Unity Platform (NUP) in Kampala, Uganda, on January 18, 2021.

Despite incumbent President Yoweri Museveni declaring victory in the country’s elections, harassment and killing of opposition figures continues as the 76 year old leader comes increasingly under fire from observers at home and abroad. Epajjar Ojulu reports from Kampala.

Tension continues to grip Uganda in the aftermath of the controversial Presidential and parliamentary poll on 14 January. Massive arrests of opposition supporters and polling agents have been reported across the country.

On Sunday soldiers gunned down two opposition supporters in the south-western Masaka district. Army spokeswoman Brigadier Flavia Byekwaso told the media that the victims were fomenting violence.

The main opposition leader, Bobi Wine, continues to be under house arrest. Local and international human rights organisations have called for his release. He has complained that he has run out of food and other essentials and no one is allowed to visit him.

Speaking to British television, he said his wife, Barbara Itungo Kyagulanyi, had been prevented from even plucking fruits and food from their own garden by troops who were seen milling menacingly around the property.

The army barred the US ambassador to Uganda, Natalie Brown, from visiting him. Although America’s reputation globally is in tatters thanks to the eccentric and chaotic leadership of Donald Trump and the ongoing refusal by Trump and millions of his followers to accept the results of the US elections means that the US can no longer lecture others on democracy or the conduct of elections, it is still an important ally of Uganda.

It has supported the Ugandan government and army, especially on its peacekeeping missions, and provided $1.5bn for the health sector over the past few years.

Museveni accuses foreigners of using Bobi Wine to ‘destabilise’ Uganda.

Wine’s continued detention is worrying his supporters, who accuse Museveni of trying to “push them against the wall,” says Robert Musoke, Bobi Wine supporter and polling agent in Nama village, Mukono district, 25km east of Kampala.

It is in this area that Water Minister Robert Kibuule, suffered a heavy defeat. He was accused by the area returning officer of using President Museveni’s Special Forces Command soldiers to intimidate her to change the poll results in his favour.

Religious leaders, The US, European Union and the United Kingdom have decried the current spate of extra-judicial killings, numerous arrests and detention of opposition candidates.

Extrajudicial killings

President Museveni told the nation shortly before the elections that security forces had shot dead a popular boxing coach, Ssenyange Zebra, near his home outside Kampala at night. His statement has created fear among Ugandans that the President is privy to extrajudicial killings by security forces.

Since the gunning down of at least 54 opposition supporters in November, human rights organisations have documented more killings. They say up to 120 died during the campaign violence.

There is more tension following the announcement by Bobi Wine that dozens of his polling agents have been detained. He says the whereabouts of some of them are unknown. There are fears that some of them might have been killed.

The government switched off the internet and other social media platforms ahead of the poll. Bobi Wine says this was done to hide the massive fraud, including stuffing ballot boxes with pre-ticked votes, under-declaration of opposition results in areas they have massive support and the chasing away of opposition polling agents to prevent them from witnessing fraud.

He says he will petition the Supreme Court for an audit of the poll. There have been petitions after every presidential election since 2001. The Supreme Court has dismissed all of them.

Massive fraud?

The opposition says their results were underdeclared. Although there was a massive voter turnout across the country, the Electoral Commission says only 10m out of the 18m registered voters turned out.

In Kampala City with over 1.3m voters, Bobi Wine says less than 500,000 votes were declared. He also quotes his agents in other areas where Museveni won as saying voters were chased away from polling stations. Instead, soldiers were seen casting votes there.

Bobi Wine says the detention of his supporters, especially the polling agents, is intended to prevent his party from gathering and compiling critical evidence to be tendered in court before expiry of two weeks demanded by the law.

The opposition party offices in Kampala have been ransacked by security forces and vital information taken away, says party spokesman Joel Ssenyonyi.

He accuses the authorities of destroying the evidence they intend to present to court. Army spokespersons Brigadier Flavia Byekwaso and Fred Enanga, however, say they are seeking evidence implicating Bobi Wine supporters in planning violence.

The army and the police have been massively deployed in the country, especially in the central region, which overwhelmingly voted against Museveni.

Over 20 Cabinet Ministers, including Vice-President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, suffered humiliating defeats, with Bobi Wine’s National Unity Platform party candidates, most of them young political novices, bagging an average of 90% of the votes.

The region, inhabited by the majority Baganda ethnic group, includes the capital city Kampala and surrounding districts, which form the heart of the country’s economy. Political instability in this region will adversely affect the economy.

It was the support of the population in this region that enabled Museveni to fight the five year guerilla war that brought him to power in 1986. No Ugandan leader since independence in 1962 has successfully held on to power without the support of the people in the region.

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