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Uganda’s election run-up has turned deadly after opposition candidates were arrested

REUTERS/Abubaker Lubowa
Ugandan presidential candidate Bobi Wine is led into a vehicle by riot policemen in Luuka district, eastern Uganda Nov. 18, 2020.

The run-up to Uganda’s presidential and national assembly elections on Jan. 14 next year have turned violent and led to multiple casualties..

The arrest of two leading opposition candidates has sparked sporadic mass protests that have entered the second day in different parts of the country leaving at least 16 people dead and scores more with severe injuries, the police said.

The popular musician turned politician, Robert Kyagulanyi, better known as Bobi Wine, and Patrick Amuriat Oboi were blocked from getting to their respective campaign venues before being grabbed and detained by security officials.

The police, backed by the military, are engaged in running battles with youth protestors who are reported to have burned tires, closed roads, and attacked police officers. They have destroyed campaign billboards of the incumbent president Yoweri Museveni who has been in power since 1986, before more than 70% of Ugandans were born.

Four presidential candidates, including two former military generals, have suspended their campaigns following the incident. Bobi Wine, 38, who remains in police custody is detained at Nalufenya, a special police facility famous for torture of political activists, suspected high-profile criminals and terror suspects.

Oboi, 57, was released late evening on Nov. 18 and headed to a radio station which was switched off by the authorities.

REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
President Yoweri Museveni

Political tensions have been rising in Uganda since the start of the presidential campaigns on Nov.9, the police and the military have been in running battles with the various presidential candidates except the incumbent.

The Ugandan security apparatus has consistently clamped down on Bobi Wine in particular, whose teeming youthful following is seen as a threat by the Museveni establishment. The pop star, who was elected to parliament in 2017, has been arrested multiple times in the last few years since he first declared he’d run for president. The reasons for the arrest include organizing large concerts which authorities deemed as political rallies.

Last year, Museveni, 76, overcame the last obstacle to running for a sixth-term as president when the country’s top court upheld a decision to scrap presidential age limits previously capped at 75.

Opposition leaders have accused president Museveni of using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to crackdown on growing dissent against his 34-year rule over the East African country. Museveni is the third longest-running African president only after president Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea (41 years) and president Paul Biya of Cameroon (38 years).

Since the start of the campaigns, Museveni has opted to hold small meetings with the ruling NRM party’s leaders in strict observance of the Covid-19 guidelines. On Nov.19, Museveni who is yet to make a statement about the unfolding events, was campaigning in the remote northeastern Uganda. His supporters carried out processions ahead of his visit without interference from the police and the army.

On the other hand, Bobi Wine who attracts massive crowds, of mainly young people, in every district he visits has had daily conflicts with the police and military to access trading centers and other towns.

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