Conflict & Justice

Uganda's presidential elections

By Dennis Porter

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Long-serving leaders in North African countries have seen their hold on power crumble in the past few weeks, with the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. But in east Africa, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni says he is confident that won't happen in his country.

"There will be no Egyptian-like revolution here, because we are freedom fighters, we are not office people," Museveni said on Wednesday, two days before the country holds a presidential election. "There is nobody who can use extra-constitutional means to take power here. All authority belongs to the people."

Museveni is running again, for the fourth time. Over the years, he has kept a tight grip on power. Museveni began his political career as a rebel commander, and he played a part in overthrowing Uganda's two previous autocrats: Idi Amin and Milton Obote. In 1986, Museveni seized power for himself.

Museveni has been accused of human rights violations. But he is also credited with bringing a degree of stability and prosperity to Uganda after the horrors of the Amin and Obote years. Museveni has also attracted a lot of political and financial support from the West.

Museveni has won re-election two times, but there have been questions about how free and fair those elections were. During the last one, Museveni's main opponent was charged with treason, and kept busy with court dates.
Issues with the elections

Charles Mwanguhya, host of a popular political radio talk show in the capital, Kampala, said the opposition filed legal challenges in that election, and the one before that. "The supreme court pronounced that there were major issues with the elections, though it did not nullify them," Mwanguhya said.

There are issues this time around as well. Kristof Titeca, who specializes in Ugandan politics at the University of Antwerp, said groups of young men armed with sticks have tried to break up opposition rallies in the run-up to the vote.

"Police were standing next to these guys who were beating up the opposition and they didn't intervene. That's just one of the examples showing that there are things going on that aren't exactly free and fair," Titeca said.

Museveni's ruling party has also been accused of handing out money to win over supporters, Titeca added. "It's unclear whether it's government programs that are used or personal party money. But the end result is the same. People on the ground, they perceive that the government or the party is handing out money to them," he said, and that is having an effect.

While many in Uganda express gratitude for what Museveni has brought the country over the years — peace, stability and more – others say enough is enough.

"Too much of anything is bad," said Christine Agelo in Kampala. "We know he has done a lot for us, we appreciate that, but he should give others the opportunity to take the country forward."