- Pauline Bon
De Dissident #14: the 2021 Ugandan General Elections
With Ugandans placing their ballots for the presidential, parliamentary and local elections on January 14th 2021, what was happening on the ground and what was at stake? During our event De Dissident, three bright minds from Uganda gave unique insights into the January 2021 local and national elections, the impact that the current situation has had on the LGBTQ+ community, the case against president Yoweri Museveni, and the perspective of the young generations.
Video summary of the event, showing moderators Nuria Zantman, Akeem Vassel and guest speakers Fred Mukasa, Naava Rebecca, Shibolo Awali and Arne Doornebal.
What happened during the campaign for the 2021 Ugandan Elections?
On January 14th 2021, the Ugandan General Elections were held to elect the President, the Parliament, and the local government representatives. After seizing power 35 years ago, General Yoweri Musevini, now 76 years old, has done away with age and term limits from the Ugandan constitution. The campaign has become the most violent since President Museveni took office.
President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, faced a challenge from 11 candidates, amongst them the young musician Robert Kyagulanyi, known as Bobi Wine. The opposition leader's life story has become the dream of many young Ugandans: born in a ghetto, he first became a successful musician and is now in politics the voice of his generation. The young urban and poor population have never had such an influential role in Uganda's politics more than today. More than 75% of Uganda’s population are under 30, and Bobi Wine’s run for office with his party the National Unity Party (NUP) has excited young Ugandans who yearn for change.
However public support for Bobi Wine can make you a target, with police regularly using tear gas and even live bullets to break up opposition events. The campaign has been marked by the worst political violence in Uganda for decades, with more than 50 people shot dead by security forces over two days of protests that followed Bobi Wine’s arrest in November 2020 (see Amnesty International reports).
The Ugandan authorities have justified the use of force as necessary to ensure compliance with measures to contain COVID-19. However, there is evidence Ugandan law is being used disproportionately to restrict opposition gatherings. While it is reasonable that the Ugandan authorities, like others elsewhere around the world, should take measure to halt the further spread of COVID-19, it is apparent that in Uganda, COVID-19 regulations were weaponised and disproportionately applied to the opposition as pretext for political repression and to restrict their activities, and their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
What was at stake during these elections?
The speakers were unanimous: these elections are not like others in the past decades.
"This hasn’t been an ordinary election, this is a revolutionary election. We have seen everyone participating in these elections - regardless of their age, regardless of their tribe. This has brought us together, gone are the days when Ugandans were being separated. [...] Everything is at stake but we are also still hopeful regardless of everything that has happened. We believe that the power is for the people and the people's will." said Naava Rebecca, the coordinator of the National Unity Platform (NUP) and People Power Movement Netherlands and Belgium.
The role of young Ugandans was fundamental in setting the scene for the elections. For those under 30 years old, the rule of President Yoweri Museveni is all they know. However, their involvement in Bobi Wine's campaign or in the protests can have a high cost for them: "The youths are ready and they are actually giving their lives to make sure that they get the change that they are yearning for over 35 years since the current regime has been in power" explained lawyer and human rights defender Shibolo Awali.
What is at stake is more than the elections: the voices of Ugandans youth and those that want to enact change in Uganda reclaiming the political space. Fred Mukasa added: "This is about a revolution, it is about freedoms. When the voices are suppressed, the LGBT and everyone else’s voices are suppressed, I think people are realising that they can have a voice which can speak for them, all of them. [...] Being under dictatorship for more than 30 years, it is not an easy thing. [...] So the youth and everyone are waking up to reclaim their freedoms."
The role of the diaspora
It appears that the diaspora was central in the rise of Bobi Wine's campaign in Uganda. Naava Rebecca is a central figure of the diaspora in support of Bobi Wine in Belgium and the Netherlands: "The NUP is a new party, that means that we didn’t have structures and we didn’t have the financial resources. It has been the work of the Ugandans in diaspora to make all the activities of the NUP to happen. The diaspora has been fundraising everyday. [...] We have also played a role of international relations, with writing petitions, demonstrations and reaching out to different stakeholders. Because we also know that Uganda is a party to the African Union and UN and we had to tell them that this is actually what is happening."
Yet, Shibolo Awali explains that Ugandans abroad are victims of voter suppression through the lack of access to voting: "We are speaking about a critical disenfranchisement that has been happening. Unlike other countries where the nationals who are in the diaspora are able to cast their votes through the Embassies, this is something technically that is supposed to be done for Ugandans and we do not have clear guidelines by the electoral commission to have a situation where Ugandans in diaspora are able to cast their votes and have them made a part of the telling that is part of the country."
The elections results
Arne Doornebal explained that it is not only the diaspora that felt disenfranchised when the final results of the elections were announced. President Yoweri Mussevini won the elections with 59% of the votes, followed by Bobi Wine with 35%. Many did not trust the election process and alleged election fraud.
You can watch the video summary of the event at the top of the article to learn about the 2021 Ugandan Elections.
Shibolo Awali Sean is the Executive Director of The Robust Initiative for Promoting Human Rights - TRIUMPH Uganda. Triumph Uganda is a human rights organization that focuses on protecting and advocating human rights of marginalized communities, including LGBTIQ+ communities. The organization is located in Mbale town, Eastern Uganda. As Executive Director, Shibolo is responsible for steering the organisation’s activities, including programme coordination and liaison with donors, partners, beneficiaries and other community members. Alongside his work as Executive Director, Shibolo is also heading the Legal Aid Services Division of the organization, representing LGBTIQ+ clients in courts of law, strategic litigation and actively advocating for their rights online and offline.
Fred Eddie Mukasa is a Human Rights Lawyer who was previously based in Kampala Uganda, and is now in the Hague. He handles cases on Constitutionalism and human rights, and has represented many communities in Uganda that have faced mass evictions from their lands, LGBTQ and gender related matters. He also taught in various Universities in Uganda before relocating to the Netherlands.
Naava Rebecca is the coordinator of the National Unity Platform (NUP) and People Power Movement Netherlands and Belgium. She will talk about the importance of Bobi Wine's candidacy and how the role of the Ugandan diaspora has been radically transformed in this year's election.
Arne Doornebal is an author and freelance journalist from the Netherland who recently published a book titled “Uganda under President Museveni. He drove out a dictator. Will he be one himself now?”
Arne came to Uganda as a young journalist and became fascinated by the wonderful stories that can be told. Interviews with Mirjam Blaak and other insiders give us a glimpse into the way of thinking of President Museveni, who has been making his mark on Uganda and its neighbouring countries for forty years. Doornebal conducted interviews with religious leaders, oppressed gays, an Olympic champion and former wives of Africa's most wanted rebel leader. Attention is also paid to the population explosion, the fight against HIV / AIDS, Uganda's aid dependence and dubious "white rescuers". is also paid to the population explosion, the fight against HIV / AIDS, Uganda's aid dependence and dubious "white rescuers".
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