Uganda’s election violence cycle worsens as Bobi Wine’s Opposition puts Museveni on his toes
Uganda’s election violence cycle worsens as Bobi Wine’s Opposition puts Museveni on his toes
Thursday, January 14, Ugandans will elect a “new president” and members of parliament.
It will be a contest of numbers, even before the first ballot is cast in a bid to determine who between National Unity Platform candidate Robert Ssentamu Kyagulanyi and incumbent Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of National Resistance Movement (NRM) will lead Uganda. Museveni is 76 years old which is twice the age of youthful Kyagulanyi popularly known by his musical stage name Bobi Wine who is 38 years old, this is regardless of the relentless accusation that the incumbent could be older than what he says he is, at least according to his book “sowing the mustard seed.”
The old man with the big hat, as he descriptively refers to himself, Museveni has led Uganda since he seized power and was sworn in as president on January 29, 1986. The incumbent has been president for 34 years, which means he began leading the country when Bobi Wine, his main challenger, was only four years old. Bobi Wine was elected Kyadondo East MP in 2017, prior to which he was a musician and actor. Since the campaigns that began amidst the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, violence has been the order of the day. Youths, especially those resonating with the new charismatic and undisputedly real threat to Museveni’s 34-year rule have been killed, maimed and silenced. “The campaign trail has come with loss of lives especially the youth opposed to the status quo.
For example previous ‘Free Bobi Wine’ demonstrations took over 100 lives though the government reported 45. Unfortunately some of the victims were hit by stray bullets,” Noah, a Ugandan Masters’ degree holder fresh from a Kenyan university who requested to be identified by one name, said. According to Noah, the regime has resorted to excessive use of force and police brutality as its political strategy to silence the “notorious” Bobi Wine. “Excessive force by the regime is the name of the game since Bobi Wine is seen as a big threat to the 34-year-old rule by Museveni. They are not taking any chances,” Noah added.
The Information Technology and Health Informatics expert with a penchant for politics and current affairs observed that Bobi Wine was more charismatic, enjoyed youth support and had exploited his thespian and musical skills to lure many supporters to the opposition, unlike initial Museveni challengers. Museveni who has in numerous occasions insisted that he needs time to finish the work he began in 1986 still enjoys networks and structures that govern and conduct elections which significantly neutralise Bobi Wine’s growing popularity. Despite utter intimidation, Bobi Wine, out of ten candidates battling it against the incumbent, has been steadfast in advocating for a new Uganda, reiterating through speech and actions that he would go to any length to fight Museveni’s regime. On Wednesday, November 4, Uganda’s Electoral Commission boss Justice Simon Byabakama announced that 11 candidates including Museveni had been cleared to contest in the 2021 General Election. Five of these candidates were nominated on political party tickets while six will contest as independent candidates.
Besides Museveni and Bobi Wine, other contestants include 24-year-old John Katumba, only female presidential candidate Linda Kalembe, former Security minister Henry Tumukunde, former army commander Mugisha Muntu, Norbert Mao, Joseph Kabuleta Kiiza, Patrick Amuriat Oboi, Fred Mwesigye and Willy Mayambala. Museveni’s friend turned foe and former presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye of the Forum Democratic Change (FDC) opted out of the 2021 General Election. Not only has the Opposition suffered under the hands of Museveni’s regime, journalists have been beaten, arrested, injured, prosecuted in unclear circumstances with human rights activists also bearing the brunt. Pundits observe that Bobi Wine, like Museveni’s long-time rival in past elections Besigye, would face violence and arbitrary arrests for his resolve to challenge the administration.
Already the UNP candidate has been arrested severally and prosecuted in unclear circumstances. Nicholas Opiyo a human rights lawyer and founder of Chapter Four Uganda, an organisation that provides research, advocacy and outreach services in promoting laws that advocate for civil liberties clearly explained the current situation to Friedrich Naumann Foundation in a podcast.
“The situation in Uganda is deteriorating by day and it’s not a surprise. In every election cycle we see a spike in intolerance and State violence towards citizens. The intensity of it seems to be proportional to the threat the ruling party is facing, in other words the more serious the opponent, the more intense the violence,” Opiyo said. The rights’ defender revealed that the ruling regime usually creates a narrative accusing an unnamed foreign group for interfering in the elections and painting its opponents as agents of the foreign power. Such narratives justify an onslaught against Civil Rights Organisations simply because they get funding from foreign foundations and in this scheme, even independent media begins to get under intense attack.
Gabriel Buule a print journalist at Daily Monitor, described the current political scenario as a terrible one for journalism. “This is the worst situation for journalism in years. We are heading for the worst because the government is using numerous apparatus and technicalities to suppress journalism,” he said. Buule, a passionate and vocal freedom of press defender observed that the country’s Media Council has been limited from registering and regulating journalists, with the mandate being handed to illegal entities. “There should be a National Institute of Journalism in Uganda but it is inexistent. Televisions are afraid of airing some videos for the world to see the truth,” he lamented. The reporter indicated that 90% of media houses operate on provisional licenses and are afraid of the Uganda Communication Commission. Worryingly, Uganda Media Centre, away from its mandate, decides who becomes a journalist irrespective of training with vocal journalists perceived to be affiliated to Bobi Wine denied accreditation to cover elections. He cited Solomon Kawesa, a local language news anchor and investigative feature writer among victims of the regime alongside foreign correspondents. “Media owners protecting licenses rather than journalists. Government superiors keep saying we need to be patriotic.
It is sad that three in five journalists have been either battered, lost equipment or intimidated ahead of the polls,” Buule added. Buule himself has been beaten thrice in unclear circumstances saying the State has also been making it hard for journalists from media houses seen as an enemy of the regime to get accreditation. His hope has been in the masses’ support for the media. He said citizen journalism has helped expose oppression against journalists and in some cases citizens have helped reporters sneak their cameras out of rallies to avoid destruction by State proponents. Buule who has been practicing for over 10 years disclosed that some senior, credible and bold political journalists have resolved to quit election reporting due to threats leveled against their families. “My colleague from the Observer recently informed us he was done with political reporting because he doesn’t want to lose his family,” Buule explained. To him, the stronger the Opposition has become under Bobi Wine, the more journalism and other human rights have been endangered. He argued that covering Opposition rallies was among the easiest ways to die in Uganda. “Tell our friends in Kenya and the world who want to come and cover this election to be extra-cautious.
If you are not in Museveni’s camp know that covering Kyagulanyi is synonymous with injury or even death,” Buule indicated. Damali Mukhaye, a broadcast journalist at KFM in Uganda echoed Buule’s sentiments, saying the State had locked many journalists from covering the elections. “The media issued a directive requiring all journalists planning to cover the elections register. The registration deadline was December 31, 2020 and by that time only 188 journalists were cleared,” she said. She was sad that the majority of those cleared worked for “big media houses” that paid registration charges demanded. The journalist disclosed Uganda’s Electoral Commission had banned cameras inside polling stations and was concerned the move would hinder accountability. “What happens to the issue of accountability? Initially we could take pictures of declaration forms to counter alteration of results,” she posed. Her biggest worry however, is that many journalists have shied away from the polls already fearing for their lives at the back of increased police brutality.
The Ugandan regime has also been on the spot for orchestrating violence and chaos in Opposition rallies in a bid to create an environment for arbitrary shootings and scaring away anti-government supporters. Despite this forcible muzzling of the Opposition and challengers of the status quo, 24-year-old presidential candidate Katumba, like Bobi Wine has free media as a component of his manifesto. During his visit to Daily Monitor, he defended journalists against claims of being unpatriotic, saying they were not showing what would destroy the country but the facts that would save the nation. Museveni is banking on his development track record, especially a commendable approach to counter COVID-19 that has killed slightly above 200 people in the country. Though an old guard, Museveni has embraced social media use as a strategy to reach the significant number of youth in his campaigns but is adamant to quit power. “They have failed to show their usefulness when I'm still around and you want me to leave the country for them? I will stay around until I identify someone who is worth people for whom I can leave the country," he said of the Opposition.
Albeit being the hope for a better Uganda where leaders would not cling to power and human rights would be respected when he seized power in 1986, the NRM leader has negated all his ideologies. After the promulgation of a Constitution that would see a president serve for two terms and only up to the age of 75 in 1995, Museveni changed and extended his stay in power. “No sooner had the ink dried on the Constitution hailed as beautiful and good for human rights, Museveni embarked on amending to remove the presidential term limit after serving two terms. “He refused to retire and bribed MPs to remove limits to allow him contest for another term. He also pushed for removal of the presidential age limit. He turned against his word and what had been adopted in the Constitution,” Opiyo explained.
Bobi Wine on the other hand is not giving up hope and says the brutality and oppression instigated by the regime clearly shows Museveni is afraid like other old African leaders who sensed their end was near. “The wave of change and character of despots is not unique to Uganda. The wave is causing fear to aging despots. In August 2017 I survived assassination and my driver was killed. The contemplation of giving up has been overcome by motivation of young people from Uganda,” he said. Bobi Wine is aware the fight to liberate Uganda is not easy but he has vowed not to give up and is banking on the youth to actualise the dream in a time where pundits have ruled out Museveni’s chance of losing power. “In the words of PLO Lumumba, there will come a time in Africa youths in Africa will rise never to fall anymore, that time is now. For long we’ve been told we are leaders of tomorrow, tomorrow has come. “We are the majority. Our parents and grandparents were the promise and we are the fulfillment. We should not be bystanders and spectators, Africa’s problem is the leadership and governance,” he said. As the clock ticks to the election date, fear of more violence is inevitable in Uganda. Opposition supporters are not reading anything good from Museveni’s recent reshuffle of police bosses where he reappointed his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba commander of the country’s Special Forces Command (SFC), but are optimistic change is coming.