Following Uganda’s presidential elections on January 14, 2021, the country’s electoral commission officially confirmed the victory of incumbent Yoweri Museveni for a 6th term. A considerable amount of controversy has surrounded the re-election of Museveni, with widespread claims of election fraud leading to doubts surrounding the integrity of the leader’s victory. At the forefront of these claims is Presidential runner-up Robert Kyagulanyi (known by the name Bobi Wine) who ran an opposition platform focused on human rights, socio-economic equality, and political reforms, in a campaign that has been championed by Uganda’s youth. The recent election cycle itself has sparked considerable unrest and violence, with many political actors, both inside the country and around the world, voicing concerns about the implications of Museveni’s re-election for the citizens of Uganda.
Museveni Through The Years
Throughout the contentious election cycle, the two candidates’ backgrounds distinctly informed their presidential platforms as they proposed vastly different visions for the future of the country. With nearly 36 years in power under his belt, President Museveni ran a traditional re-election campaign emphasizing the utmost importance of law and order, which he claims his years of presidential experience make him uniquely suited to ensure.
Throughout the campaigning process, Museveni has also often capitalized on his historical identity as a liberator and advocate for political freedom in Uganda. In the late 20th century, years of genocide and political violence under the despotic reign of leaders such as Idi Amin led to a 6-year civil conflict in Uganda known as the Bush War, in which the acting Milton Obote administration continued a trend of prolific violence against civilians who were perceived to be dissidents. Throughout the conflict, Museveni led the National Resistance Movement (NRM) rebel front, which officially overthrew the Obote government in 1986, and subsequently placed Museveni in power. Despite this extensive background of resistance against repressive authoritarian rule, Museveni’s administration has been tainted by his own increasingly undemocratic practices, such as the abolition of presidential term limits, and repression of political opponents. Although there remains a strong base of support for the leader, such practices have also inspired increasing numbers of his constituents to question whether the era of a rebel-leader-turned-president has run its course.
Bobi Wine’s Vision For Uganda
In this environment of quasi-authoritarian rule, many Ugandans — especially the country’s youth who represent more than 60% of the population — have expressed the desire for radical change. Though running against Museveni is certainly no small feat, opposition candidate Bobi Wine has remained committed to his mission to replace the long-standing leader and facilitate a comprehensive political revolution in Uganda. Despite having risen to international fame and recognition through a lucrative music career, Wine brands himself as the “Ghetto President” candidate, with respect to his own upbringing in a north-eastern slum of Uganda’s capital city Kampala. It is on this platform of “power to the people” that Wine has inspired generations of Ugandans with an agenda that strives to unite across ethnic and class lines which have historically been extremely divisive within the country.
International fame and a significant amount of public support have, however, not protected Wine from the dangerous realities of running against Museveni. The current administration has attempted to curb the potential threat that Wine poses as an opposition candidate through criminal charges, public denunciation, and attempted physical violence, further confirming the troubling trajectory towards total authoritarianism that many claim Museveni is on. Yet, Wine continued his campaign cautiously but with determination, motivated by a loyalty to his nation, and the responsibility to advocate for those whose voices would likely not otherwise be heard.
Election Violence and Internet Blackout
Leading up to the January election, government crackdowns and prolific violence against political protesters caused dozens of fatalities, in what has been called the most violent election process in Uganda’s recent history. Such violence has been accompanied by considerable doubts surrounding the integrity of the election process, which was severely exacerbated by the government’s decision to shut down the internet nationwide on the eve of the election, causing millions of Ugandans to lose internet access.
Amidst this chaos, opposition candidate Bobi Wine has been on government-mandated house arrest, with soldiers surrounding his property, and with limited contact allowed between Wine and outside affiliates. After the election results were announced, with Museveni supposedly capturing 58.6% of the vote to Wine’s 34.8%, Wine did manage to publicly denounce these results, asserting that widespread evidence of voter fraud renders Museveni an illegitimate winner. Wine has also urged his supporters to “desist from any form of violence” after protests surrounding Museveni’s win led to at least two confirmed fatalities, and instead expressed the intention to contest the results through Uganda’s court system.
As for the international community, Wine and several human rights organizations have urged governments and regulatory bodies such as the U.N. to recognize and denounce the markers of undemocratic processes that were clearly present in Uganda’s election cycle. Therefore as this situation continues to progress in the coming months, the world must ensure that awareness continues to be brought to the political scene in Uganda, so that media censorship and government repression does not have the opportunity to silence the voices of millions.