Ugandans faced a stark choice at the ballot box today between strongman Yoweri Museveni and singer-turned-opposition icon Bobi Wine, who was just 3 years old when Museveni took power 35 years ago.
Why it matters: Wine has tapped into the discontent and aspirations of young people, particularly in cities like Kampala. Two-thirds of Ugandans have known no leader but Museveni, and many are struggling to find jobs. When Wine's campaign caravan rolls into a neighborhood, massive crowds rise up to meet it.
- Museveni has campaigned on stability, security and his record of delivering economic growth.
- He's strongest in rural areas. One farmer told the Economist he only ever heard Wine's name when young people returned to the village for Christmas.
It would be difficult to predict the results were this a free and fair election. It won’t be.
- The EU and U.S. both canceled plans to dispatch observers due to obstruction from the government (the African Union did send observers), and an internet blackout was imposed on the eve of the election. Scattered reports have nonetheless emerged of irregularities at polling stations.
- Not only was Wine prevented from mobilizing his supporters on social media today, but he also reported that his phone was blocked from making calls. Some supporters who gathered near his home on election day were arrested.
- Authorities thwarted Wine’s efforts to campaign at every turn, citing COVID-19 restrictions, which seemed to apply almost exclusively to the opposition and were enforced with tear gas, arrests, beatings and even live bullets.
Zoom in: In a press conference with international media last week, Wine described a daily process in which he sets out with a large campaign team and “by the end of the day, some are in prison, some are in hospital, and some are dead.”
- As if to prove his point, a policeman began shouting at Wine and rapping on the window of his car, which had been pulled off the side of the road.
- “You are embarrassing our country,” Wine scolded the officer as he was pulled from the car and briefly detained. When Wine resumed the call, he said international attention had kept him alive thus far, but “I expect a live bullet, targeted at me, at any time.”
What to watch: Since independence in 1962, Uganda has never seen a peaceful transfer of power.
- Wine claimed ahead of the election that the results would be compromised because Museveni controls the electoral commission.
- After polls closed, he told his supporters that "the picture still looks good" if the commissioners "declare the will of the people."
- He has not said whether he will call his supporters into the streets if Museveni is declared the winner, but Museveni has spoken in threatening terms about the force with which any potential “uprising” will be greeted.
The state of play: Voters gathered at polling places in Kampala tonight, cheering as ballots for Wine were read out, per Reuters. The full results could be announced on Saturday.
Flashback: Museveni, 76, helped topple two dictators. Since taking power, he has changed the constitution twice to remain in office.
- In an interview with NPR ahead of the election, Museveni described Ugandans as lazy and in need of a strong hand.
- “It’s very risky,” Museveni said, referring to the idea of stepping aside. “The people don’t know whether to go north or south, and you say, 'You just go.'"
- Some Ugandans clearly disagree. As of November, just 36% had confidence in their government, per a Gallup poll, and only 32% had confidence in the honesty of their elections.