Uganda’s electorate is slated to take to the polls on 14 January to elect the next president and members of parliament.
Opposition leader Bobi Wine has experienced recurrent arrests whilst on the campaign trail, with demonstrations in the lead up to the vote resulting in bloodshed.
Electoral observer missions from regional bodies have been deployed to oversee the electoral process, though the EU has abstained citing that Uganda has not implemented transparency recommendations.
The widely held suspicion of potential vote rigging means that a Museveni victory will be met with concerted denouncement by opposition leaders and supporters.
Risk to travellers moving through Uganda involves the possibility of civil unrest, with any accompanying roadblocks having the potential to stifle logistics.
Uganda’s electorate is slated to take to the polls on 14 January, with incumbent President Yoweri Museveni seeking a renewed mandate that would confer a sixth five-year term in office and a continuation to 34 years of uninterrupted rule. Of the 11 challengers that are running against Museveni the president’s main political adversary is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, a popular musician more colloquially known by his stage-name ‘Bobi Wine’. Wine rose to prominence in 2017 when he won a seat in Uganda’s parliament, and has since continued to leverage his artistic fame to sustain political momentum that began with his anti-establishment People Power Movement (PPM). After recurrent failure to register the PPM itself as a legislatively recognised political entity, last July saw the movement gain political representation in the form of the National Unity Platform (NUP).
The pre-electoral period has been party to bloodshed, with November seeing at least 54 deaths due to clashes between pro-opposition demonstrators and security forces. Tensions have been stoked by Wine’s recurrent arrests whilst on the campaign trail, with the authorities citing breaches of laws associated with curbing the spread of COVID-19 or traffic regulations, though his supporters claim the detainments are politically motivated. A recent altercation transpired on 7 January, when police confronted Wine and hauled him from his car whilst he was holding a press conference announcing a petition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) alleging human rights abuses by the government. This was preceded by Wine’s arrest on 30 December, when he was arrested in Central Uganda’s Kalangala district. Protests subsequently ensued in vicinity to the location of where Wine was taken into detention, with security forces deploying tear gas to disperse the dissenting crowds.
Election to Uganda’s presidency is conducted utilising a two-round system, with candidates requiring a simple majority to be declared victorious in the first round and to avoid a runoff. The 14 January polls will also involve the casting of ballots to elect members of parliament. Regional intergovernmental organisations such as the East African Community (EAC) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have sent observer missions to ascertain whether the vote proceeds under free and fair conditions, though the European Union (EU) has abstained from doing so citing that Uganda has failed to implement previous EU recommendations for electoral transparency.
The contentious character of the elections has created significant risk of civil unrest amidst the impending vote. Danger posed to travellers moving through Uganda is secondary in nature, whereby the threat involves suffering violence as a bystander to protests. Logistical disruptions also have the potential to transpire owing to potential scenarios where the authorities may cordon off streets for crowd control purposes or where opposition supporters may raise roadblocks out of protest. The possibility of clashes between opposition supporters and security forces will be greatest at the time and place that Wine chooses to hold a political gathering and particularly if he is taken into custody, with the government keen to stifle any pro-opposition rallies in such temporal proximity to the day of the vote. The government’s current preparedness to deploy a coercive response is exemplified by how last month Museveni brought former chief of Uganda’s operations in Somalia Major General Paul Lokech to fulfil the role of deputy inspector general of police, whereby Lokech is tasked with coordinating security in Kampala during the election period.
Most likely is an official victory for incumbent President Museveni. Electoral observers of Uganda’s previous presidential votes have articulated aspects of how elections have been carried out in a manner that weakened the chances of the opposition. An example involves 2016’s presidential vote, when a Commonwealth of Nations delegation noted significant delays in the supply of materials to polling stations in and around Kampala, the area of Uganda which has historically displayed a concentration of political support for opposition candidates. Widely held suspicions of potential vote rigging will result in circumstances where a Museveni victory will be met with concerted denouncement by opposition leaders and supporters. Security forces shutting down opposition rallies has contributed to acrimonious political circumstances, an atmosphere certain to propagate into the post-electoral period and likely to fuel further bouts of anti-government civil unrest in the weeks ahead. As Museveni and Wine have been engaging in one-upmanship regarding economic goals throughout the campaigning period, an immediate challenge for the victor of the election will be realising the highly ambitious pledges and in the longer term handling any disillusionment arising from unkept promises.