Unless it’s a surprise, the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for nearly four decades, should win yesterday’s presidential election opposing him to 10 other candidates following a campaign marked by several violent incidents including the killing of over 50 civilians, human right abuses, restrictions to access media and people and arrests of his main challenger, Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobby Wine.
It is hard to tell whether Uganda’s 2021 presidential election and results would be enough free and fair to meet international democratic standards given the numerous controversies and violent incidents that have characterized the electoral campaign. However, it’s clear that President Museveni and his base have increased control over the entire country ahead of the polls.
Earlier last week, he ordered the suspension of all social media platforms, accusing them of ‘arrogance’ after some of his closest allies witnessed the shut down of their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Heavily armed police and army officers were seen patrolling in the streets of Kampala on Tuesday and Wednesday. President Yoweri Museveni’s growing authoritarianism has been visible through the regular blockades and repression of the opposition campaigning activities, attacks on the press, and arrest of activists. Asked by CNN why the army and police are interfering in Bobi Wine’s campaign rallies, the President said that the opposition leader ‘has been violating health measures during the pandemic’. Interestingly, President Museveni himself has been campaigning without respecting the social distancing measures.
Confronted with several challenges, including high unemployment rates among the youths, rampant corruption, weak institutions, growing dissatisfaction of the people, uncertain political succession, and the economic recession caused by the covid-19 pandemic, President Museveni has opted for violent repression and silencing all opposition’s voices. He has increased the budget of military and security sectors at the expense of social ones and the brutality of security forces is fostering discontent especially among the urban youths and marginalised communities.
Among those, let’s take a look at the affected communities from Western Uganda where the oil exploration and exploitation activities are expected to cause large-scale displacement of communities and pose grave risks to protected environments, water sources, and wetlands. According to a report released last October by partner organisations Friends of the Earth France and Survie, the Tilenga (oil extraction in the heart of a protected natural area) and EACOP (the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, a proposed 1,445-kilometer pipeline from Hoima, Uganda to the port of Tanga in Tanzania) projects led by the French giant Total are causing massive population displacements in Uganda and Tanzania. Tens of thousands of people are totally or partially deprived of their land, even before receiving any compensation. Testimonies collected in the various Ugandan districts affected by these two projects reveal high levels of school dropouts among children, a situation of famine, loss of livelihoods, and lack of proper and fair compensation.
Whether Museveni wins the presidential election or not, the newly elected leadership should swiftly prevent Uganda from falling into a prolonged period of uncertainty. Though the country is not in danger of a civil war, the recent incidents and tensions have shown signs of sliding into a political and economic crisis that could eventually threaten Uganda’s stability as well as the entire region.
Ugandans in their diversity aspire not only for a peaceful and prosperous country but also for fairness, democracy, rule of law where every citizen is respected regardless of political affiliations. Officials involved in political and economic crimes should be removed and prosecuted. The controversial Tilenga and EACOP projects due to enrich a handful of politicians and multinationals should stop immediately and people’s rights be restored. Those would be the first signs of real change that Ugandans can achieve through a process of social transformation and democratic transition that bravely address the real issues their society faces.