Uganda’s Chief of 35 Years Is Re-elected Amid Accusations of Vote-Rigging

NAIROBI, Kenya – Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has won a sixth term, the country’s electoral commission said on Saturday after an election campaign was marked by deadly crackdowns on the opposition, an internet blackout and allegations of election rigging and manipulation.

The result gives Mr Museveni, who came to power in 1986 and is one of the longest-serving leaders in Africa, a new five-year term. It’s also a bitter and bloody campaign for its opponents – especially its main competitor, lawmaker musician Bobi Wine.

Mr. Wine was beaten and injured, his entire campaign team was arrested, and his home was surrounded and injured by the military. On Saturday, Mr Wine questioned the results, saying that Mr Museveni’s government “invented” them.

“We refused what they bring out,” he said in a telephone interview from Kampala, the capital. “We have our evidence, but they are keeping the internet closed so we don’t share it with the world.” He said about the blackout that began the day before the January 14 elections. “We won,” he added.

Under Museveni, Uganda has proven to be a close ally of the Western military in East Africa. Troops serve as peacekeepers in Somalia, where authorities have long fought against the al-Shabab group, affiliated with al-Qaeda. Ugandan recruits have also served as private security forces and worked closely with American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Museveni’s deep political and military ties in the West have protected him from direct criticism for years, even when human rights groups criticized his actions against pro-democracy movements.

The Electoral Commission said Mr Museveni received more than 5.8 million votes, or 58.6 percent of the total, while Mr Wine received 3.4 million votes, or more than 34 percent of the total. There were 18.1 million registered voters out of a population of approximately 45 million.

Although Ugandan opposition candidates have been cracked down on in the past, “the gag in these elections was unprecedented,” said Su Muhereza, a Ugandan political commentator. “There was only so much a man like Bobi could do against the machine,” what she called a “security state”.

Mr Museveni rose to power 35 years ago as the leader of a revolutionary movement, pledging to uphold democracy, protect the lives of Ugandans in a nation torn by coups and violence, and deplore the corruption and greed that prevented African leaders from to meet the aspirations of their people.

At the time, he and his cadres saw themselves as “essential leaders not just in the politics of the country but an entirely new national culture,” said Derek R. Peterson, professor of history and African studies at the University of Michigan.

Over time, Museveni and the ruling national resistance movement increased their power by misusing public funds, using patronage, using state institutions to persecute opposition leaders, and using security forces to intimidate civil society groups and the media.

As his power consolidated, Mr Museveni and his officials became increasingly convinced that they alone “had the right to determine Uganda’s fate,” said Mr Peterson.

“Where he was once a youthful brand,” said Mr Peterson, “Mr Museveni now speaks as an elder, reminding his people of the virtues of ancient culture, demanding reverence and stirring up the decadence of youth.”

In Thursday’s vote, these young Ugandans were represented by Mr Wine, a 38-year-old rapper who became legislator and posed the greatest challenge to Mr Museveni’s reign to date. Mr Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, urged Mr Museveni to resign, pointing out corruption, chronic unemployment and poor public services across the East African nation.

Authorities then arrested Mr Wine – including the day he ran for candidacy in November – and accused him of violating restrictions on the coronavirus pandemic.

The arrest of Mr Wine and other opposition activists sparked protests across the country that resulted in the deaths of at least 54 people as security forces dispersed protesters. As the campaign heated up late last year, Mr Museveni accused the opposition of being supported by foreign “agents” and “homosexuals” and said they wanted to start an “insurrection” that would wreak havoc across the country.

Citing government abuses, Mr Wine filed a lawsuit against Mr Museveni and nine senior security officers with the International Criminal Court in early January, accusing them of attempted murder and human rights abuses.

On Saturday, Mr Wine hit a defiant note, pledging to question the results in court and show the world that he was the rightful winner.

Observers of local and foreign elections questioned the validity and transparency of the vote after being prevented from monitoring it for lack of accreditation. The United States Mission in Uganda said 75 percent of its accreditation requests had been denied and urged them to stop watching the vote.

A New York Times report, which featured 2,000 observers from the Africa Elections Watch coalition deployed in 146 districts nationwide, documented late openings at most polling stations, incidents of illegally opened ballot boxes and the arrest of 26 members of civil society groups who voted observed.

Mr Wine said that between 50 and 60 military officers still surrounded his seven-acre property and that they prevented people from leaving or entering his home.

“The government is doing this to intimidate me and to make sure I am not speaking to the world,” he said, hoping that the international community would stand up for Ugandans. “I’m glad that the world sees Museveni for who he is.”

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