On February 20th, 2016, President Yoweri Museveni was officially declared the winner of the Ugandan Presidential Election and was granted his fifth consecutive term during his thirtieth year in office. In 2005, Museveni removed the 2-term limit via constitutional amendment, thereby granting himself the opportunity to continue running for the presidential position.
In the most recent elections, he handedly defeated his main opponents Kizza Besigye, face of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) political party, and Amama Mbabazi, former Prime Minister of Uganda, garnering 60 percent of the national vote. Museveni defeated the closest opponent, Besigye, by a 30-point margin (Electoral Commission).
While Museveni celebrated, his success was marred by accusations of election fraud and illegitimate use of power. The question arises: is it clear that Museveni won the election due to corruption, as opposed to legitimate victory due to widespread political support? The evidence of his actions as president leading up to, and during, the election period, along with the reports of foreign electoral observers suggest that the election was not legitimately won.
Museveni’s blatant use of power throughout the past decade has been widely believed as an attempt to disguise his fear of losing power. Former Prime Minster Mbabazi was a longtime supporter of the National Resistance Movement (NRM), Museveni’s political party, and has been a colleague of Museveni’s since 1974 (Kiggundu). Due to their shared political ties, Museveni appointed him to several positions of power throughout his career, including Attorney General of Uganda, Minister of Defense, Minister for Security, and lastly, Prime Minister of Uganda. In 2014, however, following suspicion that Mbabazi would run in the next presidential election, Museveni removed him from his position stating,
By virtue of powers vested in the president of the Republic of Uganda…I have with immediate effect decided to appoint Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda as the new Prime Minister of Uganda. I thank Rt Hon Amama Mbabazi for the contribution he has made to this country. (Bwire)
Museveni removed him from office without offering a legitimate reason. He did it out of fear and merely because he could. Further adding to concerns over his fear of losing office, on July 9th, 2015, Museveni ordered for the arrests of both Mbabazi and Besigye, who were set to hold campaign rallies (BBC).
In 2013, Museveni passed the Public Order Management Law, which “grant[ed] police wide discretionary powers to permit or disallow meetings”; however, “it has generally been implanted to undermine or obstruct Ugandans’ assembly rights when protesting against the government” (Human Rights Watch). The police reports directly to Museveni, therefore any public event that he does not approve will not take place. These arrests were evident signs of fear, due to the threat imposed by the opposition. However, the arrests did not stop there.
During the election week, Kizza Besigye was arrested on three separate occasions. On February 15th, 2016, he was again arrested while campaigning. On the 18th, the Election Day, he was arrested in Naguru, a residential area, where he and several of his party members claimed they had found the house where the vote rigging was occurring.
After Besigye and his people knocked on the gate, the occupants fled the compound, but were eventually stopped by civilians and were said to be carrying police guns (Buchanan). This raised suspicions of Museveni’s alliance with the police force. The last arrest occurred on the 21st at Besigye’s campaign headquarters, where they were tallying votes and receiving different results than those of the Electoral Commission (Kron). This arrest culminated in his house arrest; Amama Mbabazi was also placed on house arrest the same day (Kron).
In addition to the arrests, Museveni ordered all social media sites shut down. This included Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp, which are all applications many Ugandans utilize to communicate with each other (Gaffey). This form of censorship rivals that of the communist China; however, Uganda is not a communist country. The Ugandan constitution “provides for freedom of expression and of the press” (Freedom House).
Several foreign observers have expressed their discontent with this action, including Sarah Jackson, deputy region director of Amnesty International’s East Africa branch, who claimed the shutdown was “a blatant violation of Ugandans’ fundamental rights to freedom of expression and to seek and receive information” (Gaffey). Today, these social media sites are still blocked, as Museveni assumes they are threats to the country and its people.
Across the globe, foreign observers have voiced their consternation. The United States Deputy Department Spokesperson, Mark Toner, released a statement stating, “we must acknowledge numerous reports of irregularities and official conduct that are deeply inconsistent with international standards and expectations for any democratic process” (U.S. Department of State). He cited delays in the delivery of voting materials, reports of pre-checked ballots and vote buying, blockage of social media, excessive use of force by police, and the house arrests of the opposition as actions that undermined the integrity of the election (U.S. Department of State).
The European Union observers concurred with his statements, claiming there was a “lack of transparency and independence of the Electoral Commission” (European Union). The Commonwealth Observer Group, led by Former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, also claimed “these elections fell short of meeting key democratic benchmarks” (The Commonwealth). Clearly, the general consensus around the world suggests that these elections were not properly executed. Both the United States and the EU advised the opposition to legally challenge the election results. The Ugandan Supreme Court, however, quickly refuted the challenge (Kron).
The combination of Museveni’s fear and unjust use of power spearheaded this poorly executed election process, and has marred his election, whether or not it was legitimate. While people in Uganda, and globally, have their own thoughts about the election, the true results will never be known. U.S. Spokesman Toner put it best—“The Ugandan people deserved better” (U.S. Department of State). They still deserve better.
BBC. “Uganda’s Amama Mbabazi and Kizza Besigye Arrested.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 26 May 2016.
Buchanan, Elsa. “Uganda Elections 2016: Opposition Leader Kizza Besigye Has Been Arrested Confirms Party.” International Business Times. IBTimes Co., 18 Feb. 2016. Web. 26 May 2016.
Bwire, Job. “President Museveni Drops Amama Mbabazi as Prime Minister.” Daily Nation. Daily Nation, 19 Sept. 2014. Web. 26 May 2016.
The Commonwealth. “Uganda’s 2016 Elections ‘again Fall Short of Democratic Benchmarks’, Say Commonwealth Observers.” The Commonwealth. The Commonwealth, 20 Feb. 2016. Web. 26 May 2016.
Electoral Commission. “2016 General Elections Summary.” Electoral Commission. Electoral Commission, n.d. Web. 26 May 2016.
European Union. Uganda 2016 Presidential, Parliamentary, and Local Council Elections. N.p.: n.p., n.d. European Union Election Observation Mission. European Union, 20 Feb. 2016. Web. 26 May 2016.
Freedom House. “Uganda Country Report.” Freedom House. Freedom House, n.d. Web. 26 May 2016.
Gaffey, Conor. “Uganda 2016: Social Media Shutdown and Seven-hour Delays Jeopardize Elections.” Newsweek. Newsweek, 18 Feb. 2016. Web. 26 May 2016.
Human Rights Watch. “World Report 2015: Uganda.” Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch, 09 Jan. 2015. Web. 26 May 2016.
Kiggundu, Edris. “Mbabazi: I Can’t Be Stopped from Contesting.” The Observer. The Observer, 25 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 May 2016.
Kron, Josh. “Uganda’s Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Presidential Election.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 31 Mar. 2016. Web. 26 May 2016.
Kron, Josh. “U.S. Calls for Release of Uganda’s Opposition Leader.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 Feb. 2016. Web. 26 May 2016.
U.S. Department of State. “On the Results of Uganda’s Presidential Elections.” U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State, 20 Feb. 2016. Web. 26 May 2016.
Tendo Mutema is born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, with strong Ugandan influence from his parents, Drs. George and Nandi Mutema. He is currently a freshman at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, where he is a member of the Dartmouth Rugby Football Club.