The Ugandan youth leader Bobi Wine declared victory shortly after early results showed a lead for the man who has been leading Uganda since 1986.
"A sham election" – that is the conclusion that many inside and outside of Uganda have come to after the polls.
Even by the standards of Uganda, where votes have routinely not been free, fair or transparent and opposition candidates regularly harassed and imprisoned since 1986, perhaps even since independence in 1962, yesterday's contest was appallingly unfair, undemocratic and unkind – and the world should not turn a blind eye to it.
As ever, this raises the question of what the international community, led by the African Union, European Union, the US and UK, should do: recognise the 38-year-old frontrunner Bobi Wine as the legitimate leader of Uganda or allow the 76-year-old dictator Yoweri Museveni to rule Uganda with an iron fist for another five years?
Wine has claimed victory rejecting early results showing Museveni in the lead.
My view is simple and I believe is shared by millions of Africans and Ugandans: recognise Bobi Wine, a pop star-turned-spokesperson of the overwhelming majority of Ugandans, as the legitimate and rightful leader of Uganda if the evidence shows he has won.
This will demonstrate a popular refusal to participate in and sustain Museveni's reign; and, I believe, Museveni, who came to power on the back of a civil war in 1986, could be out of power, perhaps even before the International Criminal Court, sooner than we think.
Why? Because Museveni alone made this election appallingly unfair and undemocratic in an attempt to cling to power for another 5-years. Indeed, as the election kicked off last month, his challenger Robert Kyagulanyi, known by his stage name Bobi Wine, or “ghetto president” as he is affectionally known by his supporters, was continuously harassed – and even arrested on several occasions.
The former rebel leader Museveni did this to keep Bobi Wine, whose popularity among Ugandans – especially those under 30 who make up 75 percent of Uganda’s population, a majority of the 18 million Ugandans registered to vote – is the biggest threat to his power. It failed.
Predictably, on the eve of the vote, Museveni blocked Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp as well as other social media; an attempt to foreclose regional and international participation before the vote had even taken place. The BBC reported that twenty-six people from a coalition of civil society groups have been arrested for allegedly manning an illegal vote-tallying centre at a hotel in the capital. Most US election observers were denied accreditation.
If we look at other troubled elections in the world – Syria’s local election in 2018 or Belarus’s presidential vote more recently – Uganda’s 2021 presidential equals and potentially surpasses those for claims of fraud. It is perhaps most comparable to the 2018 election in Congo.
The results are not expected until perhaps Sunday, may be even the January 20, by which time Joe Biden would have been sworn in as US president, making Museveni's sham victory his administration's first Africa issue - but the outcome is not in doubt.
Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986 when his challenger Bobi Wine was 3-years-old, is almost guaranteed to win. This is what all the publicly available evidence suggests. In fact, the only real intrigue now is how large the margin will be. Will he “win” by 99 percent like Paul Kagame did in Rwanda in 2017 or settle for a moderate two-thirds “win” as in 2011?
Sham elections under Museveni is not news for the Ugandan people. It is something they have been resisting and telling the world for decades. However, its effects on the wellbeing and welfare of Ugandan people cannot be overestimated.
Unemployment rates are skyrocketing, especially among university educated youth – Boni Wine’s supporters. After 35 years of Museveni, more than one-third of all young children – 2.4 million – are stunted. And then there are the accusations of Museveni's violence and pillage in Congo.
This is not simply an ongoing and painful lived reality for millions in Uganda; it is a moral challenge for us all. For Black lives that matter everywhere.
Biden, of course, like other world leaders, faces several pressing issues - bigger problems than a bogus election in Uganda. The pandemic, climate change, Black Lives Matter, Yemen, Syria, Ethiopia, and the creation of an International Criminal Tribunal for Congo.
Yet, Museveni's sham election cannot be ignored, because if ignored and allowed to stand, it will further push Uganda into poverty, disease, malnutrition, despair and strengthen Museveni's rule in Uganda.
Historically, the AU, UK, EU and US have helped to maintain the status quo in Uganda – and for that matter in Rwanda and Congo – with their silence or mealy-mouthed criticism of rigged elections and human rights abuses. For the sake of black lives mattering everywhere, we cannot allow this to happen this time.
The biggest threat to Museveni today comes from within. From Bobi Wine and the 75 percent of Ugandans under 30 fighting for peace, democracy and development. We must stand with them, and this starts by recognising fraudulent elections, and if Bobi Wine has legitimately won - then recognising him as the rightful leader of Uganda.
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