Tis’ Election Season, IV: Uganda Edition

Bobi Wine leads activists in protest (Reuters)

What’s the Chop?

When Bobi Wine was barely four years old, Yoweri Museveni became president of Uganda. Thirty-five years later, with Museveni still staunchly in power, Bobi Wine set out to change that. Let’s just say, things certainly didn’t go according to plan.

Who is Bobi Wine?

Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, widely known as Bobi Wine, is a 38-year old musician turned legislator. Though he often commented on social and political issues through his music, the pivot to politics came after the 2016 Uganda elections when he realized there was no chance of a peaceful transition to power through elections. He set out hoping to ignite the hope of the Ugandan people and charge them to change their destiny.

In April 2017, Bobi contested for a parliamentary seat and won by a wide margin, and has since then enjoyed popularity and support from many Ugandan youths. But it certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing for him — he has experienced continuous persecution by the government, including being arrested and reportedly tortured on multiple occasions on charges of treason, leading a protest without authorisation, etc. Despite all this, in July 2019, Bobi Wine tossed his hat in the presidential ring, but Museveni wasn’t having it.

What did Museveni do?

Bobi Wine and his supporters reported multiple incidences of harassment on the campaign trail. For example, two days before the election, soldiers raided Bobi Wine’s home, arresting his staff and his private security team. Scores of anti-government protesters were killed before the election in clashes between supporters of Bobi Wine and security officials. 48 hours before the election, there was an internet shutdown imposed by the Uganda Communications Commission restricting citizens’ access to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. International election observers were also not allowed into Uganda. Bobi Wine and his wife were also put under house arrest after the election, without any legal reasons and had their phone lines cut off.

That’s terrible. How did the elections go?

With 57% voter turnout, President Museveni was declared the winner of the elections with 59% of the votes. Bobi Wine won 35% of the votes. The chair of the electoral commission insisted it was a peaceful election, backing Museveni’s claim of the election being ‘the most cheating-free election since 1962.’ Bobi Wine, in contrast, has rejected the results citing multiple irregularities. He believes that the police and military took over the elections. He claims there was ballot-box stuffing, intimidation, and that his party’s agents had been beaten and chased away during the election. He has also promised to share video proof of voting fraud when internet connections are restored.

Are Bobi Wine’s claims true?

Well, the African Elections Watch Coalition agrees with Bobi Wine, as does the US State Department, which has called for “independent, credible, impartial, and thorough investigations” into “many credible reports” of irregularities. In contrast, the East African observer and those from the African Union concluded that voting was largely peaceful and noted there were no major incidents to disrupt the exercise. It is unclear whether Bobi Wine intends to contest the result of the elections in the court. He has said that going to the court is a mockery, as President Museveni controls the court.

Your Takeaway.

Ultimately, despite this depressing sequence of events and Museveni’s continued hold on power going into almost forty years now, we are reminded that every fight has a crucial purpose. Because: despite Bobi Wine’s loss, he has undoubtedly made giant strides — in this election, his party succeeded in removing many of President Museveni’s ministers and legislators — including the vice president — from parliament. This is a worthy feat and will undoubtedly make a huge difference in Ugandan politics over the next couple of years. This presence of the opposition in various other arms of government is likely to bring some more accountability to Museveni’s running of the country.

What can I do?

Don’t be discouraged. Despite Museveni’s current status as dictator, he was once responsible for ousting a dictator, which — disheartening as that turn of events is — reminds us that it is entirely possible. Don’t let up, don’t back down.

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