On the 14th of January 2021, the eyes of the world were on Uganda as musician turned politician Bobi Wine faced the incumbent Yoweri Museveni who was seeking to secure his sixth five-year term in office. This election presented somewhat of a crossroads for the nation which has seen itself under the rule of despots such as Idi Amin in the past, as the electorate had a choice between a young, dynamic self-professed “Ghetto child” seeking to put an end to corruption and a leader who has continually sought to consolidate his grip on power at the expense of the wellbeing of the nation, firstly by removing presidential term limits in 2005 and most recently by passing a law that scrapped the age limit of 75 for presidential candidates which critics suggest is paving the way for Museveni to be president for life.
The run up to the election was eventful to say the least. Since entering politics in 2017, Bobi Wine has been arrested multiple times on various charges but has never been convicted. In the weeks leading up to the election, security forces violently dispersed his rallies with tear gas and rubber bullets, while several opposition figures were arrested, and journalists attacked. Police claimed that their actions were necessary in order to ensure compliance with COVID-19 restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the virus. However, opposition leaders say they have been selectively targeted. In fact, Bobi Wine feared for his and his family’s safety so much so that he sent his four children to the USA
Given this context it is unsurprising that the election results would be disputed. Past opposition candidates in Uganda have contested Museveni’s previous re-elections, alleging voter intimidation and ballot stuffing. Voting took place during a state-imposed internet blackout and when the results of the election revealed that Yoweri Museveni had won the election, receiving 58.64 percent of votes, it was no surprise that Bobi Wine Alleged fraud and urged citizens to reject the result. The politician claimed he had video proof of voting fraud and would share the videos as soon as internet connections were restored. He accused Museveni of fabricating the results and called the poll “the most fraudulent election in the history of Uganda” - a stark juxtaposition to Museveni’s claim that “this might turn out to be the most cheating-free election since 1962,”.
One of the most worrying aspects of the election result was the subsequent house arrest of Bobi Wine, when the results were announced, Bobi Wine was under heavy guard at his home on the outskirts of the capital, Kampala, with his party saying he was under “effective house arrest” and the government saying it was merely providing him with security. This followed one of the bloodiest campaigns in years, with harassment and detentions of opposition figures, attacks on the media and the deaths of at least 54 people in protests in November. Bobi Wine and the security forces have a troubled history as he’s been arrested several times since becoming a politician. The terms of Wine’s house arrest mean he can’t leave his home nor are visitors or journalists allowed to enter. This led to a Ugandan court ordering security forces to cease surrounding the home of the opposition leader. Further pressure has been mounting on the government to free Bobi Wine, including from the United States and rights group Amnesty International which called his incarceration arbitrary and politically motivated. On 26th January Ugandan troops finally withdrew from the Bobi Wine’s home, ending his house arrest which had started on the January 14 election after the court termed his confinement to is house “unlawful”. Following his release, Wine filed a legal challenge in the Supreme Court of Uganda, seeking cancellation of the results of last month’s presidential election that handed incumbent Yoweri Museveni the victory. There are claims of ballot-stuffing and intimidation at the polls which made the election result illegitimate as Bobi Wine and his team seek to have a fair repeat of the elections.
Only time will tell how the situation unfolds but as the story develops the eyes of the world remain on Uganda as we witness this test to its democracy.