Ugandans voted Thursday in a tense presidential election. Young MP and ragga singer Bobi Wine is challenging outgoing president Yoweri Museveni, twice his age, who is running for a sixth term after 35 years in power.
Since Wednesday evening, access to the internet has been largely disrupted in the country. The authorities officially suspended social networks and messaging services on Tuesday, at the end of a particularly violent campaign, punctuated by arrests and riots and mourning by dozens of deaths.
“I continue to encourage all Ugandans to come and vote,” Wine said late in the morning, after voting himself in an office on the outskirts of the capital, Kampala.
The approximately 18 million voters had until 4:00 p.m. (2:00 p.m. Swiss) to go to one of the country’s 34,600 polling stations to choose their president and deputies. The results of the election will be known “within 48 hours after the closing of the polling stations”, assured the electoral commission on Twitter.
Clash of generations
The singer claimed that several election observers from his party were arrested in the morning. According to him, “our teams fled to 22 districts because they were surrounded and chased like criminals by the police and the army.”
The duel is a shock of generations, in Uganda where three quarters of the 44 million inhabitants are under 30 years old. On the one hand, Mr. Museveni, 76, in power since 1986, seems widely favored. The ex-guerrilla has turned into an authoritarian leader and is openly counting the days that separate him from “victory”.
Opposite, Mr. Wine, 38, capitalized on his popularity with urban youth. He has established himself as his main rival, within a divided opposition which presents ten candidates against the National Resistance Movement (NRM), the hegemonic ruling party.
“I am here to change the rulers of this country because for years they said they were going to secure my future. But they didn’t. I need to see change for my children,” said Joseph Nsuduga, a 30-year-old driver, in Kamwokya slum, Mr. Wine’s stronghold.
Fears have emerged about the fairness and transparency of the ballot during this campaign, which is more violent than the previous ones, where journalists, critics of the regime and observers, especially Americans, have been prevented from working.
Highlighting preventive measures against Covid-19, the regime banned many opposition meetings, while Mr. Museveni enjoyed wide media visibility thanks to his status as president.
Public debate undermined
On Tuesday evening, Mr. Museveni, one of the political heavyweights of East Africa, confirmed in a televised intervention the suspension of social networks and messaging services, such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Signal and Viber. According to him, this measure comes to sanction the closure by Facebook of several accounts linked to power and accused of artificially influencing the public debate.
“Whether it constitutes an act of deliberate censorship or a childish reprisal measure, this decision will continue to further deteriorate the conditions for an open, pluralist and transparent public debate”, the NGO Reporters Without Borders reacted on Wednesday ( RSF).
Violence punctuated the campaign: arrests of opponents, tear gas and sometimes live ammunition at their supporters. In November, at least 54 people were killed by police in riots sparked by yet another arrest of Bobi Wine.
The UN secretariat “is concerned about the violence and tensions that preceded the poll and calls on all political actors and their supporters not to resort to hate speech, intimidation and violence,” said Wednesday evening his spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric.