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Ugandan president dampens opposition, wins re-election

Voters wait in line to vote during Uganda's elections as Commonwealth observers look on. (The Commonwealth)

In a surprise to absolutely nobody, Uganda’s leader for nearly 30 years won last week’s presidential election. Yoweri Museveni fended off challenger Kizza Besigye by taking more that 60 percent of the vote, according to the Electoral Commission. But the actions of the government to impact the vote show that it was a much closer race.

On Monday, Besigye was detained for the fourth time in eight days. He was arrested again today for defying the house arrest imposed yesterday. It is the highest level example of the undemocratic elections that took place in the east African country. Observers from the European Union said that actions prior to and on the election day amounted to intimidation. Additionally, there was a general lack of transparency on the part of the Electoral Commission.

That is evidenced by the fact that Besigye’s house arrest was due to his planned attempt to collect the election results he disputed. Ugandan police claim he and his supporters were planning to “cause violence,” thus there was a need to prevent it from happening.

“His behavior is not appropriate and it is unnecessary given that the election commission has already agreed to issue an official tally of the results,” said police spokesman Fred Enanga to Al Jazeera. “Life is going back to normal in Kampala, businesses are re-opening and children are going back to school, and we cannot allow Besigye and his supporters to disrupt that.”

The Besigye team disagreed with the characterizations, saying he was forced to stay home and was cut off from electronic communications. He was hauled away in a van outside his home, today. Police officials maintain that it is a “preventive arrest” meant to keep him from causing problems.

Voters faced long delays and ballot issues during the election. People waited it out in order to cast their ballots. Multiple opposition activists were arrested during the process. The government also worked with telecommunications companies to shut down access to social media and communications sites, including Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. Citizens used various tools to get around the blocks and publish their experiences using the hashtag #UgandaDecides.

“We have just witnessed what must be the most fraudulent electoral process in Uganda,” said Besigye after the final results were delivered.

The finding by EU observers that the vote “fell short of meeting some key democratic benchmarks” generally confirmed some of the sharpest criticisms. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Museveni to discuss the election. He supposedly raised concerns about the electoral process, shut down of communication and lack of overall transparency. With no details provided, the Ugandan government defended the election and championed it as a success

In recent years, Museveni and his National Resistance Movement party used various tactics to maintain and extend his power. The successful 2005 referendum that brought back multiparty politics to Uganda also included a clause ending term limits. Late last year, the Ugandan parliament approved the creation of 23 new districts. Analysts say they were created to increase support for the ruling party by promoting jobs and funding to the districts.

The government used multiple tools to ensure its leaders stayed in power but did not warrant international intervention. The U.S., U.K. and other donor countries cut and withheld aid money to Uganda in 2014 when Museveni signed a bill into law that carried severe penalties against homosexuality. Foreign aid accounts for roughly 20 percent of Ugandan government revenues, making it a leverage point to impact the country. But leaders are adept at doing just enough to get the desired result and limit international intervention.

“By besieging and arresting opposition candidates and firing upon their supporters before any such protest materializes, the regime stays true to its tactics of pre-emptive strikes,” wrote researchers Anna Reuss and Kristof Titeca, in the Monkey Cage blog. “If mere attempts to publicly challenge authorities on irregularities are met with overwhelming state violence, Ugandans will think thrice whether seeking to exercise their democratic right to protest is worth the potential cost.”

The arrests of Besigye may be just enough to shut down a significant challenge to the election results. It is hard to believe that Ugandans really got the opportunity to decide the leader of their own country.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]