REGIONAL REPORT

Uganda's 2021 General Election all set to be flawed

The arrests and intimidation are widely seen as well-orchestrated plan by the regime to intimidate the opposition and its supporters during elections.

In Summary

• Opposition candidates says there is a clear contradiction in the manner in which Covid-19 rules are being enforced.

• Add that they are concerned that the Electoral Commission has been overrun by security agencies and is no longer in charge of elections".

Uganda's Bobi Wine, President Yoweri MusevenI/COURTESY
Uganda's Bobi Wine, President Yoweri MusevenI/COURTESY

At least 45 people were killed during protests condemning the arrest of Uganda opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, in Kampala last week.

Bobi Wine was accused of contravening Covid-19 protocols in his campaign trail. He was released on bail. 

This was the second arrest during the campaign period. The first was on November 3, the day his nomination in the presidential race was accepted.

Going by past cases, this is certainly not the last time he will be put behind bars. Forum for Democratic Change's Kizza Besigye told a rally in November 2015 he had been arrested 43 times since 2000.

During the 2006 election, Besigye —  Museveni’s political rival until this election — was arrested on claims of treason and rape. His supporters said they were fabricated charges to stop him from challenging Museveni.

And like Besigye, Bobi Wine was charged with treason in a civilian court after a military court freed him in August 2018. 

The results of the 2016 election were announced as Besigye was cooling his heels in police cells, and was at one point arrested thrice in a week. 

The arrests and intimidation are widely seen as a tactic by the regime to intimidate the opposition and its supporters

Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Museveni’s son and senior presidential adviser for Special Operations, tweeted, "I told you my young brother [Bobi Wine], that you can NEVER intimidate us. We are much stronger than you can ever imagine to be. If you want to fight we will simply defeat you. We want peace! But if you attempt to fight us then Bring it on!"

This was after the November 3 arrest.

On October 29, Bobi Wine said police raided his party’s office in Jinja.

“In Lugazi, our supporters were charged for selling and putting on our signature red berets! The atmosphere of intimidation continues to grow but we, too, are growing stronger! The people shall prevail,” he tweeted.

Commentators say recent events point to intimidation. 

“The claim that Wine was in violation of rules to contain coronavirus is hypocritical to put it mildly when large processions in support of the ruling NRM and President Museveni are not treated in the same way. What we are really seeing is a violent attempt by Museveni to maintain power in the face of rising opposition,” Fiona Lali opines.

Opposition candidates said as much in a statement on November 20, noting there is a clear contradiction in the manner in which Covid-19 rules are being enforced.

Lali, the national organiser of the Marxist Student Federation, says for the 35 years Museveni has been in power, he has enforced a harsh regime that maintains power through fierce police and military brutality against ordinary Ugandans.

In a recent speech, Museveni said, “I heard some people want to disorganise us, acting foolishly. No one has better weapons than us, no one is better at fighting, but we aren’t threatening people”.

Not long ago, a UPDF commander swore in an undated video they will not hand over power to "ideologically drunkard people”.

“In fact, we are consolidating," said Brig Deus Sande, the commandant of the UPDF’s Armoured Warfare Training School.

Since 2001, elections in Uganda have been dogged by claims of rigging and intimidation, even though local and international observers have described them as valid, while the Supreme Court upheld the 2001 vote.

It should, however, not be lost that these observers gave Kenya’s 2017 elections and Malawi’s in 2019 a clean bill of health. It is such cases that have led to calls for the scrapping of what Malawi’s Saulos Chilima described as election tourism.

A press statement by Besigye following the 2016 results announcement read, “We have just witnessed what must be the most fraudulent electoral process in Uganda. We participated in this process to highlight and show the world quite how fraudulent this military regime is. The Electoral Commission is not independent and its technical incompetence and partisanship [have] been made clear for all to see.”

Likewise, in a press statement on November 20, opposition candidates said they "were concerned that the Electoral Commission has been overrun by security agencies and is no longer in charge of elections".

There is no need for them to go into a flawed electoral process and justify it.

To be fair to Museveni, his rule has brought stability and economic growth to Uganda. During this period, however, he has been criticised for becoming authoritarian and for his desire for life presidency. 

Democracy is the gateway to human rights, human dignity, rule of law, tolerance and pluralism. However, in Uganda and Africa, democracy and the electoral process is a total mishmash. Consequently, this has led to a skewed understanding of what is a free and fair election.

To say there's democracy in Africa is more often than not a misnomer.