Ugandans started going to the polls on Thursday morning for a tense election that pits incumbent President Yoweri Museveni, 76, including 35 in power, against Bobi Wine, 38, a ragga singer and MP with meteoric political rise .
The electoral campaign was particularly violent, peppered with arrests and riots and bereaved by dozens of dead.
Authorities on Tuesday suspended social networks and courier services in the landlocked East African country until further notice. The internet network was also very slow, even inaccessible in some parts of the capital Kampala on Thursday.
In the polling station in the Njovu neighborhood, operations began shortly after 7:00 a.m. (04:00 GMT). The roughly 18 million Ugandans have until 4 p.m. (1 p.m. GMT) in some 34,600 polling stations to choose their president and MPs.
“I just finished voting and I hope my candidate wins,” Abbey Musaka, a 37-year-old businessman, told AFP.
Another AFP journalist in Kampala also noted the start of voting operations in the Kamwokya slum.
“I am here to change the leadership 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,” he said. said Joseph Nsuduga, a 30-year-old driver.
Voters are called upon to decide between Mr. Museveni, a former guerrilla who has turned into an authoritarian leader since he came to power in 1986, and Mr. Wine, who despite his young age has imposed himself in a divided opposition as the main opponent Of the president.
The opposition, orphan of veteran Kizza Besigye, who did not wish to compete after four attempts and as many defeats against Mr. Museveni, presents 10 candidates against the National Resistance Movement (NRM), the hegemonic ruling party.
In the home stretch of the campaign, the face of Mr. Museveni, adorned with his iconic wide-brimmed hat and a yellow t-shirt – the color of the NRM – was plentifully plastered in the streets, along with the number of days separating it from “victory”.
On the continent, only Teodoro Obiang Nguema in Equatorial Guinea and Paul Biya in Cameroon have spent more time in power without interruption than Mr. Museveni.
On Tuesday, the last day of the campaign, Mr. Wine along with two other candidates, Patrick Amuriat and Mugisha Muntu, called on Ugandans to vote massively and “protect their vote” by monitoring the ballot.
“We encourage you to use your phones, your cameras. Your phone is a very powerful weapon,” said Bobi Wine.
While Mr. Museveni speaks to a rural and older Uganda, Mr. Wine is popular among youth, especially urban ones, a significant population in a country where the median age is below 16.
– Leaving Kampala –
Fears have emerged over the fairness and transparency of the ballot during a more violent than previous campaign, where journalists, regime critics and observers have been barred from working.
US Ambassador to Uganda Natalie Brown announced Wednesday that the United States was canceling an observation mission scheduled for the vote, the majority of their observers having been denied accreditation by the government.
The day before, Mr. Museveni, one of the political heavyweights of the region, confirmed in a televised intervention the suspension of social networks and messaging services, such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Signal and Viber, explaining that this measure came to sanction the closure by Facebook of several accounts linked to power.
“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.
In Kampala, where the military presence was very strong Thursday in the streets. Many residents have flocked in recent days to bus stations to reach their polling station or to leave the city for fear of violence.
“In the previous elections, there was always chaos in Kampala. I think this time, with all the tension there is, there should be a lot of violence,” Charles Abigaba told AFP on Tuesday. , a 31-year-old accountant, who goes to Masindi (west) to vote but intends to stay there after the election for fear for his safety.