36 Years and Counting: Museveni’s Reign Continues in Uganda
Uganda’s incumbent President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement Party (NRM) was reelected on January 14, 2021 for a sixth term in office. The Ugandan Electoral Commission announced that he had defeated his National Unity Platform Party (NUP) opponent Robert Kayagulanyi, better known as Bobi Wine, capturing 58% of the ballots compared to Wine’s 34% (voter turnout lagged at 52%). Museveni described last month’s vote as the “most cheating-free” election in Uganda’s history. However, the government’s official results met with near immediate universal scrutiny and skepticism by Wine as well as by observers worldwide.
Former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, described this election as “fundamentally flawed,” and the US State Department is reportedly considering “a range of targeted options” to communicate its alarm over the erosion of Uganda’s democratic processes including reduction in aid flows to the nation. The European Union (EU) issued a statement that they are “gravely concerned by the continued harassment of political actors and parts of civil society,” and a Gallup poll revealed only about a third of Ugandan respondents trust their elections.
ALEC has long had model policy to establish a good governance program made up of state lawmakers because when given a choice, industry opts to invest in countries where rule of law prevails. Uganda’s elections lacked sufficient transparency to determine whether they adhered to international norms and were “free and fair.” Journalists and independent observers were largely barred during election season, and Uganda’s government denied most of the United States’ and the EU’s accreditation requests, resulting in the cancellation of their observation teams. The Africa Elections Watch coalition sent 2,000 observers, all of whom reported abnormalities.
The official election results have received muted defense from regional players. East African observer missions and the African Union stated that the voting process was peaceful with no disruptions to civilians’ right to vote. These comments are belied by the fact that military vehicles were sent to the streets.
Some leaders, such as Tanzania President John Magufuli, even congratulated Museveni on his victory. However, during Magufuli’s tenure, opposition parties have been repressed, and the internet disabled during elections. Kenya’s State House acknowledged Museveni’s win on Facebook – a post which was later removed because it contained misinformation.
On February 1, Bobi Wine, who was placed under house arrest in the days after Ugandans cast their ballots, filed a supreme court challenge calling for “the poll [to be] cancelled and repeated” due to Museveni’s interference with his campaign. Wine is a singer-turned-politician who hoped to ignite a generational, political shift for Uganda and the rest of Africa. Disaffected, young, urban voters were especially drawn to Wine, who encouraged them to believe that their participation in the political process could herald national change.
But Museveni aggressively undermined Wine’s campaign. He ordered the military to kill Wine’s driver, to raid his home, and detained members of his campaign staff. Donning a bulletproof vest and ballistics helmet for protection, Wine described the campaign trail as a “war zone.” In November, Wine and many of his supporters were arrested. Some were even executed as Museveni claimed they were “agents of foreign schemes.”
On the eve of the election, Uganda’s government ordered telecom companies to shut down Facebook, Twitter and Instagram because the president believed these platforms were biased against him. But Facebook had discovered Museveni and his party were using the platform to target the opposing party and its members. A spokesperson representing Wine believes Museveni blocked internet access and raided NUP offices to prevent them from sharing evidence of election fraud.
Bobi Wine’s court challenge is unlikely to succeed, and Museveni is likely to remain in power as his corruption undermines Uganda’s international reputation and economic prospects. Without political freedom, Ugandans will miss out on foreign direct investment which would lead to economic growth. Uganda’s authoritarian regime threatens the country’s stability and its appeal to international investors unless the Museveni regime incorporates liberal democratic principles into its governing structures.