By Jean-Pierre Afadhali
Following violent and tense campaign marred by clamp down on opposition rallies, media amid covid-19 pandemic across the country more than 17 million eligible voters go to the polls to elect president and parliamentarians.
Eleven candidates are running for the presidency in elections the incumbent Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, one of the longest serving African leaders is seeking to extend his rule for sixth term in the office. Robert Kyagulanyi also known as Bobi Wine, the main challenger to the former rebel leader who took power in 1986 after a war in the East African country hopes to remove the man he is half of his age from power despite numerous obstacles faced on campaign trail and before.
Commenting on his bid for the sixth term in office, yet he had long time ago said the problem of Africa in general and Uganda is leaders who overstay in power, the incumbent said in an interview: “Yes I said staying in power for long time without democracy, mark those words,”
While historically elections have been characterized by violence in Uganda, the latest polls have been cited as the most violent in which journalists were brutalized by security forces, opposition candidates and their teams arrested several times, some opposition supporters died in mysterious circumstances while others disappeared. According to media reports, hundreds of supporters of the National Unity Platform, Bobi Wine’s party are detained.
Nicholas Opiyo, a prominent Human rights lawyer was quoted on the eve of voting day as saying the mood in the country is not for an election. “It feels as though the country is at war.”
There have been heavy army and other security forces presence in Kampala and other parts of the country.
Earlier today in Kampala and in some other areas, polling stations had not yet opened at around 8h30 local time because the country’s election commission had not yet brought electoral materials.
Mr. Museveni who has been in power for 34 years has been credited for the country’s stability and economic development, but critics accuse the 76 year old president for undermining institution’s independence and sidelining opponents.
Museveni said on Wednesday in an interview that he lost in a free and fair elections he would accept the results.
On the eve of the voting day, the country’s communication authority ordered service providers to shutdown Internet until further notice without citing any reason. The Internet shutdown followed the blockage of social media platforms in what appears to be a retaliation for Facebook’s decision to block accounts linked to the government for allegedly spreading disinformation to manipulate debate ahead of the highly disputed polls.
In his state address on Tuesday president Museveni criticized Facebook saying his government can’t tolerate “the arrogance of anybody deciding’ who is good or bad in Uganda and saying it would not operate in the country again.
However, many social media users have turned to VPN to access restricted platforms such as Facebook and twitter.
Presidential hopeful Kyagulanyi who is popular among the youth, on the eve of the polls said on twitter that internet shutdown is a plan to rig elections. “A plot to rig is set, internet is completely shut down and media is censored. However, the people of Uganda are firm and nothing will stop them from ending this oppressive regime.”
Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner Lead at ‘Access Now’, an international digital rights organization said in a statement that “shutting down or blocking Internet while reports of state violence and oppression are emerging is incredibly worrisome,”
The United States embassy in Kampala have canceled their observation following the refusal of accreditation of 74 percent of its observer team as it could not monitor the whole country.
“With only 15 accreditations approved, it is not possible for the United States to meaningfully observe the conduct of Uganda’s elections at polling sites across the country.” Said the US ambassador Natalie E. Brown in a statement issued on Wednesday 13 Jan.
According to the US embassy, the Electoral Commission provided no explanation for its decision, which it communicated few days before the elections.
However, the country’s election body said it accredited those who fulfilled the requirements and cited several embassies that got accreditation adding those who were not satisfied could re-apply.
Regional bodies that have been allowed to observe the 14 January elections include the East African Community and Intergovernmental Authority for Development.
The chairman of electoral body Justice Simon Mugenyi Byabakama told the media on Wednesday that elections materials were already in all districts of Uganda and would be deployed in polling station before daybreak. But it appears logistical issues will affect today’s polls as some polling stations might open late.
Meanwhile, the heavy deployment of security forces including the military is being seen by some as intimidation, while government assured the population security. The Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo has called on eligible voters to go and cast the ballot.
So far elections are peaceful, twitted a local journalist working for NTV at around 10 am East African time.