Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni has won a sixth term in office, extending his 35-year rule after an election which took place under heavy security and an internet blackout, and which his main rival said was marred by fraud and violence.
The 76-year-old leader, who took power in 1986, is one of Africa’s longest serving presidents, and was accused of crushing the opposition and media ahead of one of the most violent election campaigns in recent years.
Museveni won with 58.6% of votes, seeing off a stiff battle from the former ragga singer Bobi Wine, 38, whose turn to politics fired up a youthful population where three quarters are under 30 years old. Wine was under heavy guard at his home on the outskirts of Kampala as results were announced, with his party saying he was under “effective house arrest”, while the government said it was merely providing him with security. The singer-turned-MP was among 10 opposition candidates and came second with 34.8 percent of the votes.
“The electoral commission declares Yoweri Museveni... elected President of the republic of Uganda,” said election commission chairman Justice Simon Mugenyi Byabakama. He said turnout was 57.22 of almost 18mn registered voters. Byabakama urged the population to “remain calm and accept the outcome of these elections” while reminding those celebrating to be mindful of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Security forces poured into the streets of Kampala after the announcement, with one soldier atop an armoured personnel carrier urging citizens to maintain social distancing as a helicopter buzzed ahead. Images on state television showed jubilant Museveni supporters in his home district waving flags and cheering, while soldiers in the capital helped marshal motorcycle drivers for a parade - handing them yellow vests and Museveni posters.
The election took place after one of the most violent campaigns in years, with harassment and arrests of the opposition, attacks on the media and the deaths of at least 54 people. Wine alleged widespread fraud such as ballot box stuffing and said his party agents had in some places been beaten and chased away from polling stations. “Whatever is being declared is a complete sham, we reject it and we dissociate ourselves with it,” he said on Friday.
Wine’s home remained sealed off by soldiers and police yesterday, after he told AFP that security forces had breached the fence around it and he felt under “siege”. The army’s deputy spokesman Deo Akiiki said the soldiers were there for “his own security and the security of people around him”. However the spokesman for Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP), Joel Ssenyonyi told AFP Bobi Wine “is under effective house arrest”. “People are angry because their vote has been stolen. They don’t need me or Bobi Wine to tell them to get angry... Even we can’t control them.”
“The election was not fair,” complained 31-year-old carpenter Dennis Agaba, disappointed at Wine’s loss. However 35-year-old electrician Dennis Tusiime was happy with the result. “My grandfather told me about the old regimes,” he said. “He is doing his work. I am very, very happy.”
Tibor Nagy, the top US diplomat for Africa, said on Twitter that the vote was “fundamentally flawed”, citing the denial of accreditation to election observers and “violence and harassment of opposition figures”.
The internet has been down for four days, and government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said the measure was taken due to “abuse, misuse, disinformation, fake news with the overall objective of undermining the integrity of the electoral process including the results... and possibly to cause destabilisation”. He said the Internet would be restored once the threat had passed, possibly on Monday morning.
Museveni has ruled Uganda without pause since seizing control in 1986, when he helped to end years of tyranny under Idi Amin and Milton Obote. He is one of Africa’s longest serving leaders. Once hailed for his commitment to good governance, the former rebel leader has crushed any opposition and tweaked the constitution to allow himself to run again and again.
And for many in the country, where the average age is 16 and most have known only one president, Museveni’s glory days are no longer relevant or sufficient. Wine, with his humble origins in a slum and popular songs about economic and social injustice, struck a chord with young people, but observers said the odds were stacked against him with Museveni’s powerful grip on the state.
His NUP is however on track to see his newly formed NUP become the main opposition party in parliament, notably winning eight of nine constituencies in the capital Kampala.
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