Ugandan Authorities Step Up Security Ahead of Fraught Elections


Ugandan security forces stepped up their presence in the capital ahead of Thursday’s hotly contested elections in which pop star-turned-politician Bobi Wine and nine others will try and unseat veteran leader Yoweri Museveni.

Police and soldiers used armored personnel carriers to mount patrols in several areas in Kampala, operations they said were aimed at thwarting election-related violence. The lead-up to the vote has been tense, with the opposition accusing the government of attempting to rig the outcome, and at least 54 people dying after protests that erupted following Wine’s arrest in November.

The government this week blocked access to social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, in an apparent retaliation to Facebook’s decision to remove some of the ruling National Resistance Movement’ accounts. It took similar action during the last elections five years ago.

Wine, 38, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi and who became a lawmaker in 2017, has presented himself as a youthful alternative to the 76-year-old Museveni -- who came to power in a coup in 1986. The musician has been arrested several times over the past two years, and has accused the authorities of detaining his campaign staff and forcing a private security company that has safeguarded his home to withdraw its services.

A poll of 2,400 adults that was commissioned by Afrobarometer and conducted in late December and early this month indicated Museveni is likely to win about 53% support and Wine 18%. The actual outcome is likely to be much closer because many respondents declined to say how they would vote, the Accra, Ghana-based research group said.

Besides Wine, Museveni’s other challengers include his former army commander Mugisha Muntu and ex-Security minister Henry Tumukunde.

The integrity of the vote has already been called into question, with the European Union warning that “the pre-electoral cycle has been marred by violence” and that civil society and human rights groups and journalists had been obstructed from doing their jobs.

The U.S. Embassy in Kampala said it won’t monitor the vote after more than three-quarters of its observers were denied accreditation. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty International have also voiced concern that the contest may not be free and fair.

The government has undermined the vote’s legitimacy by using the coronavirus pandemic to restrict the opposition from freely soliciting support, said Hajji Yasin Ssekamatte, a Kampala-based political and security analyst.

Museveni’s office denies that he’s been resorting to foul play.

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