Many Ugandan young people today want to vote away their elderly leader Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 34 years. They choose Bobi Wine, not only politician, but also pop star. However, although more than three-quarters of the population in Uganda are under 30 years old, it is unlikely to succeed.
“ The situation is very tense. There are soldiers and army vehicles everywhere on the streets,” says 32-year-old Shira on the phone from the capital Kampala. “We don‘t dare to wear the colour red anymore, because then we’re afraid to be harassed by police or army.”
People have to stand in line for hours to vote:
Red is the color of the party of 38-year-old Bobi Wine, the biggest rival of Museveni (76). Wine is a musician who has become a politician. He was born Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu in a poor neighborhood of Kampala. His music, a mix of reggae and afrobeat, became increasingly political and against the current regime. Four years ago, he became a member of parliament. His nickname is the ghetto president.
DeccEit spoke to Bobi Wine in 2019, when he was in the Netherlands for a gig. Already then he used his music to involve young people in Uganda in politics:
Over those four years, his popularity has grown sharply, says Ugandan investigative journalist Solomon Serwanjja. “To the surprise of the government, he quickly built up a large following. He really caused a storm. He appeals to the young people, and that group is very big in Uganda.”
Museveni was actually working on his last term, because the Ugandan constitution set the President an age limit of 75 years. But a few years ago, Museveni had the constitution rewritten so that he can now run again.
He still has great support, especially in rural areas and in the elderly. For them, he is still the liberator who brought peace and stability after decades of conflict among dictators Idi Amin and Milton Obote. They don‘t need change.
Museveni also gets the votes of farmers because of his investments in agriculture, and because he defeated the Resistance Army of the Lord of Joseph Kony in rural areas. That group was known for the use of child soldiers. Museveni also provided free education and infrastructure improvements.
But young people have no longer experienced the time of instability and violence before Museveni. Museveni is their dictator. On Twitter, young Ugandans use the hashtag #weareremovingthedictator.
“ There is a lot of anger among young people,” says Shira who runs a small local community organisation. “This is mainly about the economy and the great youth unemployment. We want jobs. And we do not want our freedoms to be curtailed.”
Because that’s what happens. The old elderly leader Museveni is clearly getting nervous by the advance of the young charismatic musician. If Wines campaign procession passes by, chances are you‘ll see security forces driving behind it. They prevented him from campaigning freely, he was tortured and arrested. In November, the arrest of Wine led to riots in the capital of Kampala, killing dozens.
Museveni is developing more and more as an authoritarian leader who does not want to let go of power and who is not well ahead with critical sounds. Yesterday it was announced that the United States, which wanted to send observers to the elections, did not come because the majority of the delegation did not receive a visa.
And in recent days it has become increasingly difficult for Ugandans to go online. At first, certain websites were blocked. Many switched to using a VPN connection to get around that, including Shira. “But now my data bundle is also suddenly blocked,” she says on the phone. “Clearly they want to cut us off.”
Journalist Serwanjja watches this election day with excitement. “What we are going to keep an eye on, among other things, is how they deal with coronavirus rules. Authorities have broken up many of Wines’s campaign meetings in the name of corona enforcement. Are they going to be strict now? Or do they expose what it was really about?”
“ Furthermore, we will look closely at what is happening today at the polling stations,” says Serwanjja. “The authorities have said that voters should go home immediately after their vote. But Wine calls on its supporters to stay and see if everything is going fair.”
Result only Saturday
The fear that there will be electoral fraud in favour of Museveni is great. The electoral commission is in the pocket of the elderly leader, as well as the army, police and judges.
“ We hold our hearts for Saturday when the results are expected,” says Shira. “I already filled my fridge extra, in case it gets violent and we leave the doorcan‘t get out. It’s brewing here.”
Shira dared to be mentioned only by her first name because she was afraid to speak openly on politics. Full name known to DeccEit.