An analysis by Kiiza Saddam Hussein, Commonwealth correspondent covering Uganda and Rwanda.
In 1962, Uganda became the 17th country to join the Commonwealth. The 54-member intergovernmental organisation is built on an agreed set of common values and principles. These include respect for human rights and upholding democracy. And organising free and fair elections is a key expression of these values. Yet there are issues in Uganda, which cast doubt on whether these principles are being upheld.
My take on the 2021 elections
On January 14, 2021, Ugandans went to the polls. Voters were choosing between the incumbent president, Mr Yoweri Museveni, contesting on the ticket of the National Resistance Movement (NRM), and several opposition parties. The most notable opposition entity was the National Unity Platform, whose representative is a young musician and businessman called Robert Ssentamu – a.k.a Bobi Wine. Wine is popular among urban youth who feel ignored by the NRM, which has been in power for the last 35 years.
Museveni’s campaign was built on the notion of a secure future, assuring Ugandans of better prospects if they give him another term in office. While Wine promoted the idea of “people power, our power”, which, he says, represents the ideals of freedom from torture, dictatorship, and unemployment that the Museveni government has failed to confront in the last three decades.
As many analysts and polls had projected, President Museveni was re-elected. But, some feel, at the price of democratic principles such as freedom of speech, access to information, and free and fair elections.
Among the concerns raised was the killing of demonstrators protesting the opposition leader’s arrest, allegedly by government forces who considered the demonstrations unlawful and seditious.
On the eve of Election Day, the country experienced a total internet shutdown ordered by the incumbent government. This action reportedly affected millions of people’s lives and had a far-reaching impact on free information sharing and financial transactions, which are all necessary for the monitoring of a free and fair election.
When the Uganda Electoral Commission declared the incumbent the winner with 58% of the votes, his fierce challenger, Wine, who came in second with 34% of the votes, immediately cast doubt on the process. The opposition leader disputed the results, citing widespread fraud and vote-rigging – though he did not provide substantial evidence to back his allegations.
Following the election, Wine was reportedly under preventive arrest in his home; and accused the military of imposing an illegal house arrest. With the constitution’s 20 day limit on challenges to the presidential election results, there were concerns that this could affect the opposition’s options. On January 26, the Ugandan High Court ordered security forces to withdraw from Wine’s house.
A matter of perspectives!
It is important to note that there are different perspectives and views. President Museveni has steered Uganda through historical challenges that his government inherited when it took power in 1986.
Since then Uganda has been named among the fastest-growing economies in the world. Museveni is also a respected general who has contributed to the security and stability of the region. He has always taken centre stage in peace-keeping efforts which have helped to bring about some calm and security.
Wine, though he enjoys popularity among the youth and the international community, remains unpopular in Ugandan villages whose electorates constitute the majority of voters. There were also doubts about whether indeed he could lead a country like Uganda which, historically, has always looked to pragmatic leaders who have a military background.
Is Uganda a failed democracy? There will be arguments on either side. For me, I continue to dream and hope for a day when I will live in a Uganda where I feel there could be a smooth and peaceful democratic transition of power.
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