In Uganda, history repeats itself once more – a strongman stubbornly and violently clings to power in the face of growing demands for a peaceful transition, and shamelessly warns the nation that his exit would bring nothing but chaos and bloodshed.
Indeed, the presidential election of January 14 in Uganda, which saw the Re-elected Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, was an election held at gunpoint under cover of darkness.
Days before the poll, Museveni not only ordered the complete shutdown of the country’s internet, but also demonstrated the military might of his dictatorial regime by filling the streets of Kampala with tanks and the skies with helicopters. His message to voters was clear: “It’s either me or the war”.
The rebel-turned politician, in power since 1986, was even more determined not to allow Ugandans to vote freely in this election, because for the first time in decades his main challenger was not his former comrade and former personal doctor , Kizza Besigye.
This year, Museveni was running against a dynamic and much younger opponent named Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, who has the backing of millions of young Ugandans desperate for change. Known by his stage name Bobi Wine, the former singer entered the Ugandan political scene in 2017 and has since become the biggest threat to Museveni, fulfilling his apparent desire to remain president for the rest of his life.
So, as the country prepared for the 2021 elections, Museveni had to find new ways to dissuade millions of young Ugandans armed with their cellphones from tallying the results or exposing in real time the expected repeat of bad practices. widespread electoral campaigns that marred previous elections.
In the last election, he ordered the closure of social networks. This time, he went out of his way and ordered a total internet blackout to allow his state apparatus to operate in total darkness, with no election information reaching Ugandan citizens.
Museveni’s attempts to secure victory at all costs began long before the ballot box opened. Throughout the campaign period, he used the powers of the state at his service to try to intimidate Bobi Wine, other opposition figures like Patrick Oboi Amuriat of the Forum for Democratic Change and their supporters for them. submit. His regime has also used the restrictions put in place to stem the spread of COVID-19 to target opposition rallies and prevent rivals from connecting with voters across the country.
Bobi Wine was arrested and detained on false charges three times in the months leading up to the election. His second arrest in mid-November, for allegedly violating COVID-19 assembly restrictions, has led to widespread protests across the country. As Bobi Wine supporters took to the streets of urban centers to demand free and fair elections, security forces retaliated with bullets and tear gas. According to Museveni himself, at least 54 people have lost their lives in these episodes of state-sponsored violence.
As national newspapers recounted the stories of those who had lost their lives, it became clear that the military had indiscriminately fired bullets at civilian crowds. The youngest victim of the violence was a 15-year-old boy named Amos Segawa.
Things did not improve on election day. Security forces arrested more than 30 Ugandan election observers and as a result the country was denied the opportunity to receive impartial and reliable information on the vote count. In addition to an excessive military presence in the streets, polling stations and data centers, most Ugandans have lost all hope of seeing free and fair elections.
As the Kampala authorities began to announce the preliminary results without providing any explanation as to how they had put them together, Bobi Wine said the electoral process was a “sham” and announced his intention to challenge the results legally. This led to Museveni’s security forces attacking his compound, arresting his security guards and imprisoning him in his own house alongside his wife and young child. Hundreds of Bobi Wine supporters have also been illegally detained across the country.
Ultimately, ignoring growing concerns over the legitimacy of the elections, the Ugandan Election Commission announced in a televised press conference that Museveni had won the race with 58.64% of the vote.
With Bobi Wine still under siege in his home and tanks still rolling through the streets of Kampala, the commission’s announcement failed to convince many Ugandans of the legitimacy of Museveni’s victory.
Nonetheless, the outgoing president praised the results in a televised address to the nation and defiantly asserted that the 2021 presidential elections could ultimately prove to be Uganda’s “most cheating-free election” since independence.
Museveni has a long history of strongly arming the Ugandan people, the opposition and the international community to examine past allegations of electoral fraud and rigging. In 2016, for example, he managed to convince the country of the legitimacy of his electoral victory by besieging the house of his rival Besigye for more than 40 days.
However, the tactics that kept him in power for decades may be starting to lose their effectiveness.
Of course, he “won” the election. Of course, Bobi Wine supporters are currently somewhat moderate, as they have no way of communicating with the jailed opposition leader except for occasional videos and photos of his house posted online since the partial restoration. Internet on January 18. But the president should not confuse this helpless silence with acceptance.
Museveni may have secured another term as president in an election meant to keep him in power, but his party still suffered significant losses in the same polls. About 30 MPs, including many ministers and the vice-president, lost their seats, largely to candidates from Bobi Wine’s platform for national unity (NUP). In addition, Bobi Wine’s party defeated the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) in the Buganda region, including in the Luwero Triangle where Museveni began his guerrilla war that propelled him to power 35 years ago. years.
Despite all the violence and intimidation, young Ugandans have always gone to the polls wherever they can and demonstrated that they do not want to give up their fight to overthrow the old guard to pave the way for a better future.
Museveni’s military prowess has earned him a sixth term as President, but has not proven to be enough for the Ugandan people to see him as he did three decades ago: someone who can breathe new hope into a country in desperate need of change.
Museveni and his government are clearly aware that despite their alleged electoral victory, they no longer have the support of a clear majority of the Ugandan people. And they know that this lack of legitimate public support could easily turn the international community against them.
This is why they accused Washington of trying to “subvert” the elections when the US ambassador to Uganda tried to visit Bobi Wine at his home.
The Museveni regime is now cornered, angry, and clearly struggling to discern who is a friend and who is an enemy. The regime can continue to co-opt all structures in the country in favor of Museveni to ensure that he is never subjected to free and fair elections, but he cannot stay in power if the world turns its back on the Ugandan leader. long-standing.
My people have a saying that “even the best dancer on the stage has to retire someday”. Museveni clearly considers himself the best dancer, but he refuses to listen to the opinions of others and accept that the time has come for him to retire.
The fact that he does not have enough confidence in himself to stand against young opponents in free and fair elections is proof that his departure is long overdue.
Today, as they literally watch the barrel of a gun, young Ugandans are more determined than ever to build a new Uganda. Those who have long been reluctant to support the opposition for fear of what might happen in the absence of Museveni are no longer part of the majority, as the country’s demographic change has tipped the scales in favor of the youth . The regime’s increasingly blatant human rights violations, militarism and lies will no longer help Museveni any longer.
Uganda is at a tipping point – and anyone who doesn’t want to see the country engulfed in another violent power struggle should start supporting non-violent efforts to demilitarize Ugandan politics, and put pressure on Museveni to make the transition. peaceful power that the country has been waiting for since its declaration of independence in 1962.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.