Ugandan opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, is escorted by policemen during his arrest in Kalangala in central Uganda 30 December 2020. (REUTERS/Stringer)
Ahead of the 14 January national election, President Yoweri Museveni's government is not letting up on the pressure on his opponents. Its strategy is to limit the opposition's ability to get out its message and mobilise voters.
The government’s repression and COVID-19 prevention measures are limiting opposition leader Bobi Wine’s ability to mobilise and strengthening Museveni’s chances of remaining in power, analysts say.
“The January elections will almost certainly result in a Museveni victory. However, the inevitability of the overall result should not blind us to the fact that the country’s politics are changing, even if the regime does not,” wrote academics Sam Wilkins and Richard Vokes.
More than a hundred members of Bobi Wine’s presidential campaign team were granted bail on Monday 4 January, after their arrest while on the campaign trail on 31 December.
The arrest and prosecution of 126 people, 90 of whom were part of a campaign advance team, is the latest of multiple hurdles to Bobi Wine’s presidential bid by Uganda’s security forces.
Among those arrested and presented before a court 100kms southwest of the capital are Wine’s personal bodyguard Eddy Mutwe, his musical partner Nubian Li, and music producer and close aide Dan Magic. At least seven of them will remain in custody until 19 January, Ugandan local daily Daily Monitor reported on Tuesday.
The National Unity Platform presidential candidate had also been detained during the failed New Year’s Eve campaign stop, but he was flown home to Kampala in a military helicopter while his campaign team was arrested to await formal charges.
Bobi Wine is one of 10 candidates seeking to unseat the incumbent, President Yoweri Museveni. It is also the first time in the last four elections that Museveni’s erstwhile rival, Kizza Besigye of the main opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), is not on the ballot.
After Besigye declined to make a fifth stab at the presidency, the opposition party instead picked Patrick Oboi Amuriat as its president and presidential candidate in the 14 January polls.
The FDC presidential candidate has also been arrested and released several times while on the campaign trail, most recently on 2 January.
Among the candidates are also two former military commanders, Major General Mugisha Muntu, who quit the FDC after losing to Amuriat, and Lieutenant Gen. Henry Tumukunde, a former security minister who is facing treason charges.
Despite Besigye’s absence from the race, President Museveni has taken to the same methods he used against his former comrade-in-arms to the pool of new challengers and their core supporters.
In his campaign runs and two-decade presence as Museveni’s primary challenger, Besigye was frequently arrested – by his account 43 times between 2011 and 2016 – and his campaigns attacked and scuttled.
Barefoot for ballots
In the current campaigns, Besigye’s successor at FDC, Amuriat, has been campaigning barefoot since he lost his shoes during an arrest in November.
On the same day, Bobi Wine’s campaign team was arrested. Also Justin Juuko, a Ugandan boxing champion and FDC mobiliser, was released after 19 days in military detention.
On the campaign trail, Wine now dons a bulletproof vest and a helmet after what he said were three attempts on his life. His campaign stops throughout December were marked with teargas, riot police squads and cat-and-mouse games to avoid roadblocks.
Just days before the New Year’s Eve arrests, one of Wine’s bodyguards, Frank Senteza, was deliberately run down by a military vehicle and later died in hospital. The Ugandan military has since denied the claim, and said instead that Senteza died after falling off a speeding vehicle.
In November, protests broke out in the country after Wine was arrested. At least 54 people died in the widespread protests, more than half of whom were aged 14-30, according to an analysis by a Ugandan daily.
This article was published by The Africa Report.