By Theodore Ezike
Last month saw the contentious reelection of Uganda’s longstanding President, Yoweri Museveni. This will be the fifth election he has won since he came to power in 1986 through a coup d’état. The February 18 election was expected to be competitive. However, Museveni won with ease, garnering 60 percent of the vote, according to Newsweek. His closest competitor, Kizza Besigye, who had previously run against Museveni in 2011, received only 34 percent of the vote. Amama Mbabazi, who served under Museveni as Prime Minister came a distant third, registered just under 2 percent of the vote.
The elections themselves were fraught with controversy, according to the Washington Post. Many polling stations were late in receiving their polling materials. People were lining up in some towns from 7 AM and waited well into the scorching afternoon sun before the adequate polling materials arrived. The Economist reports that one man in Wakiso, the district that neighbors Uganda’s capital, claimed that this was a tactic used by the government to disenfranchise voters. Access to social media websites were blocked when voting began; however, some were able to circumvent this barrier with the use of VPNs, or virtual private networks.
These obstacles decreased voter turnout in many opposition areas. This had major impact on Kizza Besigye’s campaign, whose strongholds in the urban areas of Kampala and Wakiso were reduced to around 50 percent voter turnout. Because of this, Besigye and other opposition leaders rejected the results, which Besigye announced on his Twitter. The international community is also dubious of the election.
The U.S. Embassy in particular described the elections as “deeply inconsistent with international standards and expectations for any democratic process.” The Department of State even went as far as saying that “delays in the delivery of voting materials, reports of pre-checked ballots and vote buying, ongoing blockage of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp, and excessive use of force by the police, collectively undermine the integrity of the electoral process.”
The European Union also challenged the authenticity of the result, with the E.U. Election Observation Mission calling for the Ugandan Electoral Commission to “publish without delay the detailed results from each polling station,” Reuters reports.
However, President Museveni has claimed that the protests were not serious, stating that he does not need to be lectured by European countries. Nonetheless, election observers from the Commonwealth led by the former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who himself was a long standing ruler in the same vein as President Museveni, claimed that “polls fell short of meeting some key democratic benchmarks,” according to Reuters.
All of the confusion and accusations have bred a high stress environment within the country. Kizza Besigye was placed under house arrest immediately after the elections ended and remains there to this day (7 March 2016). This led to widespread protest from supporters of Besigye’s political party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), throughout Kampala. FDC protested about high prices of fuel and food and general dissatisfaction with election results. Government forces cracked down on these protest injuring over one hundred protesters and killing five, according to the New York Times.
Ultimately, the recent Uganda general elections showed that Uganda, with its relatively stable government and strong economy, is still plagued with the insecurities that many post-colonial African nations suffer. This is exemplified by the deleted tweets of Winnie Byanyima, the director of Oxfam and wife of Kizza Besigye, who decried the “voices stolen thru ballot stuffing and cheating.”