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Why Museveni’s Victory Rises Eyebrows

The government shut down social media sites and then the internet in the lead-up to the election, blocking the opposition’s main channel to communicate with supporters.

Yoweri Museveni seized power in Uganda in a coup in 1986 and has clung onto it ever since, winning six consecutive elections. He faced his sternest challenge yet in a Jan. 14 vote from reggae star-turned-politician Bobi Wine, who tapped into mounting discontent among younger voters over the 76-year-old president’s increasingly autocratic rule.

Museveni secured 58.6% support, according to official results, but Wine cried foul and intends to challenge the outcome. The dispute, and risk of accompanying civil unrest, bodes ill for the East African nation, which is looking to attract billions of dollars in investment as it joins the ranks of Africa’s oil producers.

1. What’s the election dispute about?

The opposition complained of repeated harassment and intimidation that it said was aimed at disrupting its campaign. A low point came in November, when at least 54 people died in riots that followed Wine’s arrest for breaching Covid-19 restrictions.

The government shut down social media sites and then the internet in the lead-up to the election, blocking the opposition’s main channel to communicate with supporters. The move also frustrated plans by Wine’s National Unity Platform to use an online system to cross-check the official count. Even so, Wine said his party’s tallies showed that he’d won, and he accused Museveni of committing “the most vile election fraud.”

2. Does the opposition have a case?

It appears so. The U.S., European Union and United Nations Commission on Human Rights all said the buildup to the vote didn’t lend itself to a free and fair contest. None dispatched observer missions for reasons including the government’s failure to implement recommendations for fairer elections or to grant enough credentials. Human rights groups including Amnesty International also criticized the authorities’ conduct. The Uganda Human Rights Initiative, which monitored the vote, said it may not have passed the test of credibility. Uganda’s electoral commission said the vote was peaceful and called for the outcome to be respected. Museveni described the election as the most credible held in the country since independence from Britain in 1962.

3. Could Museveni lose office?

It’s unlikely. The courts have a long history of deciding against the opposition in legal disputes. Museveni also wields control over the security forces, meaning any mass protests or civil disobedience would probably be met with strong resistance. In the November protests in the capital Kampala, police fired tear gas and live bullets to disperse people, killing dozens. In his victory speech, Museveni warned against riots and vowed to avoid a repeat of the November unrest that he said took the police by surprise.

4. How has Museveni performed as president?

The economy has outshone many African peers. Gross domestic product expanded by an average 6.7% over the three years until the coronavirus pandemic caused a small contraction in 2020. The International Monetary Fund projects expansions of 4.9% this year and 5.5% in 2022.

The country is set to begin exporting oil from 2024, with companies such as Total SA outlining plans to spend $20 billion on projects including a crude pipeline and refinery. Museveni’s record in protecting democracy and civil rights is another matter. The constitution was amended twice to enable him to bypass term and age limits. New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused his administration of violating freedom of expression and association, and deploying heavy-handed tactics to suppress opposition. It said security forces used Covid-19 restrictions as a pretext to beat, extort and arbitrarily detain people.

5. Where does this leave Bobi Wine?

The 38-year-old, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has cemented his future as a political force. He’s been a lawmaker for just three years and has captivated the youth in a country where more than 80% of the population of 42 million people are under 40. He won almost 35% of the vote in his inaugural presidential bid, his party became the biggest opposition group and several cabinet ministers lost their parliamentary seats to his party’s members. Wine spent the days immediately following the 2021 election under house arrest.
© Quick Take, Bloomberg