In the days since the Ugandan Electoral Commission announced President Yoweri Museveni won his sixth term in office, the streets of the capital city, Kampala, have begun to return to some semblance of preelection normal.
People who had left Kampala, either out of fear of postelection violence or to vote from rural outposts, are coming back to the city. The streets, eerily quiet in the lead-up to the election — are filled with the sounds of urban life once again and the military presence seems to be tapering off.
Still, for many in Kampala, the air is heavy with profound disappointment. Museveni secured 58% of the vote, overall, but according to local media, more than 70% of the District of Kampala voters supported political newcomer and musician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, popularly known as Bobi Wine.
“People expected something to change. But nothing has changed in this election. So, according to me, I won’t vote again in Uganda.”
“People expected something to change. But nothing has changed in this election. So, according to me, I won’t vote again in Uganda,” lamented Mahamoodu Tenywa, a 26-year-old who runs a food stall in Kampala.
Tenywa opened the stall after having to drop out of school when he could no longer afford the fees. As he spoke, he chopped onions to add to kikomondo, a local dish made of beans and sliced chapati bread.
“You can find someone who is educated. But you can get him making chapati [local flatbread] because of the situation that is in Uganda. Corruption,” Tenywa said, explaining how hard it is for people to break into local politics.
He hoped Bobi Wine, a political newcomer whose anti-corruption message resonated with many, would change the status quo.
But those who voted for Museveni, it seemed, wanted business as usual.
In the Bugolobi market, Sam Kato Kyazze, 57, waited for his shoes to be shined. As if emboldened by the election results, Kyazze wore a bright yellow shirt with Museveni’s face printed on the front — a rare show of support for Museveni in Kampala.
“I’m feeling quite good. Very happy for winning. My party has won,” said Kyazze, who works as a casual laborer, finding odd jobs to support his four children.
Kyazze points to free public health care as an example of how the president has improved the lives of ordinary Ugandans in the past 30 years.
“If you go to hospital, sometimes I’m treated free of charge. And other ones, like immunizing. That one he has done a lot.”
During a presidential speech on Saturday evening, Museveni said he would continue to develop these programs over the next five years, and claimed, “I think this may turn out to be the most cheating-free election.”
Museveni, who first became president in 1986 at the age of 44, was only able to run again after Uganda’s Parliament, headed by his party, removed an age restriction for candidates.
But this election was criticized both at home and abroad, long before votes were cast on Thursday.
“From the human rights perspective, there’s been a bit of high-handedness, torture, arrest. A number of cases have been reported where people have disappeared,” human rights lawyer and Chapter Four program manager Peter Gwayaka Magelah told The World in an interview last Tuesday.
“I can safely say this is the worst yet,” Magelah said, referring to the violence that has mostly been directed at members of Bobi Wine’s National Unity Platform and other opposition members and their supporters.
Many international and local election observers were also restricted from observing the election, Magelah said.
One Kenyan election observer, Sen. Fredrick Outa of Kenya, said his preliminary evaluation of election day itself was that it was free and fair — with one major exception: “A hitch was the blackout of the internet. Now, I can’t even know what’s happening. That’s the only thing I think needs to be improved in the future.”
During the election on Thursday, many Ugandans told The World that the internet shutdown made them feel less confident in the electoral system, and made others suspicious that the government was trying to rig the election by preventing Ugandans from sharing videos of election irregularities online.
After a five-day shutdown, the internet in Uganda was restored on Monday, although social media continues to be restricted.
“There was gross fraud. Gross irregularities.”
“There was gross fraud. Gross irregularities,” candidate Bobi Wine told The World on Friday, from his home in Magere, which remains surrounded by military and security forces who have set up checkpoints to control who can enter.
“The military facilitated ballot stuffing, and in some areas, people were blocked from voting,” he claimed.
Bobi Wine and his party have said they will produce evidence of electoral fraud.
For now, Bobi Wine remains effectively under house arrest.
On Saturday, a military spokesman told The World that the heavy security presence was for Bobi Wine’s protection. But on Monday, US Ambassador to Uganda Natalie Brown was prevented from entering his home, according to the US Embassy. Still, Bobi Wine remains undeterred and says the primary mission in his campaign has been accomplished.
“Now, we are paying attention to the way we are governed,” said Wine, who has been arrested and beaten and seen his family members and friends disappear or be killed over the course of his campaign.
Despite losing the presidential election, members of Wine’s nascent political party won a number of parliamentary seats.
“I know it will never be the same again,” he said, adding that he will consider all peaceful legal and constitutional pathways to contest the election.
“I did not show up just to run for an election. I showed up to add to many efforts to remove a dictator. And the sooner we do that, the better.”