Business, Economics and Jobs

Uganda quiet before election day



Roberto Schmidt

KAMPALA, Uganda — Here in Kampala, Uganda, it’s a sleepy start to the day.

Yesterday saw huge political rallies crowding the capital as President Yoweri Museveni and his main rival, a former friend called Kizza Besigye,
addressed their supporters, and tomorrow will be the election. Today is a hiatus.

At Kololo Airstrip, an unused runway in the middle of a posh neighborhood popular with diplomats and other wealthy sorts on top of one of Kampala’s many hills, tens of thousands of people wearing yellow party T-shirts gathered to cheer Museveni.

Besigye chose Makarere University, a once bright light of learning in East Africa that has dimmed in recent decades, for his final rally and filled a playing field with thousands of his young backers.

Speeches were made and supporters cheered on cue, but there was an unavoidable sense of things being done by rote, of people going through the motions. The biggest cheers of the day came not at the rallies but late that night when Arsenal scored a winning goal against Barcelona in a European football showdown.

Nevertheless, the scene is set for another showdown — the third in a row — between Museveni and Besigye with the broad expectation that, once again, Museveni will carry the day.

Outbreaks of violence and protest that marred the last election in 2006 are unlikely to be repeated because of a quite staggering police presence in the capital. These are no smiling bobby-on-the-beat coppers: They wear brand new blue camouflage fatigues and carry AK47s. They are a highly militarized, and worrying, presence. They ensure security, say Museveni’s people; They intimidate, say Besigye’s.