Concerns of violence as Uganda election season kicks off
SOURCE: The Christian Science Monitor
By Max Delany
Uganda’s 112-day presidential election campaign kicked off in the
capital, Kampala, today amid concerns that violence could mar the run-up
to the Feb. 18 vote, in which President Yoweri Museveni is favored to
win a fourth term.
Having abolished the limit on the number of terms he can serve in
2005, Mr. Museveni – who earlier this year became East Africa’s
longest-ever serving head of state after 24 years in power – will face
off against seven competitors.
Despite a steadily growing economy,
rampant corruption has led to widespread resentment, and a simmering
conflict between Museveni's government and the Baganda – Uganda’s
largest ethnic group – could make the race competitive.
That's if the vote is free and fair.
critics, and independent analysts share concerns that abuse of power,
electoral fraud, and voter intimidation will mar the vote as they claim
it did last time.
“The voters are not the ones who will decide the
outcome,” says Aaron Mukwaya, a senior lecturer in political science at
Kampala’s Makerere University. “The government already knows the
outcome it wants and it will get it by using money, the military, and
all the apparatus of the state.”
among Museveni's opponents is the president’s former doctor and current
nemesis, Kizza Besigye, from the Forum for Democratic Change party.
Mr. Besigye is hoping his third attempt to defeat Museveni will be a charm. And this time round may offer his best chance.
Museveni has gone from a new breed of African leader in the early 1990s
to a continental dinosaur, the past few elections have seen his share
of the vote slip from over 75 percent to around 59 percent.
But with more money and resources at his disposal, few in Uganda doubt that Museveni will win again comfortably.
Concerns of fraud, violence
of vote-rigging and violence seem justified. Following the last
elections in 2006, Uganda’s High Court ruled that the vote had been
marred by intimidation and violence but decided against annulling the
Even the September primaries for Museveni’s ruling
National Resistance Movement descended into fist-fights and shooting
amid accusations of widespread fraud.
government-backed gangs of stick-wielding, plain-clothed men – known as
Kiboko squads – have increasingly been used to disrupt opposition
In a televised interview after he was officially nominated
Monday, Besigye was already calling the elections “inherently
Only two weeks ago, Uganda’s Constitutional Court
ruled to drop treason and terrorism charges against Besigye dating back
to 2005. The accusations – dismissed by the opposition as
politically-motivated, along with another previous charge of rape – saw
Besigye arrested repeatedly in the run-up to the last elections.
The opposition also has itself to blame, however. Government opponents have failed to unite around a single challenger.
charismatic candidates from war-ravaged northern Uganda, Norbert Mao of
the Democratic Party and former United Nations bigwig Olara Otunnu of
the Uganda People’s Congress, have decided to stand and could split the
Oil finds raise the stakes
the last elections the stakes have risen. Recent oil exploration in
Uganda has uncovered an estimated two billion barrels of oil. Drilling
is expected to start as soon as next year and will swell government
As for the major Western donors, analysts say they will
likely be unwilling to rock the boat over any claims of vote-rigging due
to fears that they could risk destabilizing one of their few reliable
allies in a volatile region.
Uganda is the major
troop-contributing nation to the African Union’s mission propping up the
UN-backed transitional federal government in Somalia. Even more
pressing are fears over a return to war in neighboring southern Sudan,
where a referendum over possible independence will be held just weeks
prior to the Ugandan elections.
“The donors have shifted their
focus from the issue of free and fair elections to the issue of
stability in Uganda and in the region,” says Mr. Mukwaya. “Stability in
Uganda is very important for them. It is the basis on which they can
operate in this area.”
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