Ugandan security forces have killed forty one people over two days in operations to quell protests triggered by the controversial arrest of presidential candidate Bobi Wine as the government scuttled to send military troops in armored vehicles to rein in on growing peaceful protests.
In a statement, police added that 65 people had been injured while 350 people were arrested as protests swept major cities across the country.
The “Pearl of Africa”, a moniker used to refer to the landlocked East African nation that is the source of the world’s largest and oldest river, is approaching yet another election that has the hallmarks of irregularities and continuation of power in the hands of veteran autocrat President Yoweri Museveni.
Ugandans have been here before. In 2016, elections were marred by protests which claimed the lives of dozens and led to that infamous scene – a mock swearing-in ceremony for defeated yet battling Kizza Besigye, the country’s most significant challenger to Museveni’s rule.
Besigye threatened to shake up the status quo, and that landed him tens of arrests, some of which were caught live on camera – as a message to any potential successor to his role of uprooting a presidency that has moved all constitutional goalposts to remain in power.
If Besigye threatened, enter Boby Wine who has given new life. Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, is a musician whose music is popular with the youth. He easily won his parliamentary seat despite millions plowed in to support his challenger by the governing pseudo military political party National Resistance Movement (NRM) and has now replaced Besigye as the man who may put an end to Museveni’s 34-year rule.
Museveni, a former rebel who took power forcefully in 1986, promised reforms and democracy in the country. That never happened. While his regime is stronger militarily than ever, thanks to billions of security aid from the U.S. and European Union and experience intervening in wars in Rwanda, DR Congo, Sudan, and Somalia, he doesn’t have the biggest weapon of all. Demographics.
Uganda is Africa’s most youthful country, 85% of its populace are below 35 years, meaning none has known any other president in their life than Museveni, and a median age of 13 years means that even if the 76-year-old may survive this election, finishing his five-year term or running for the seventh time will be a step too far.
Over the last two days, protestors have chanted songs in support of rising opposition star Bobby Wine, who was detained while campaigning in eastern Uganda.
Authorities accused him of violating anti-coronavirus measures by holding mass rallies.
While in most cases the protests were largely peaceful, that was met with brutal force by police officers with cell phone video capturing officers firing on innocent civilians, removing people from their homes, and frog-marching them to police vans and cars branded with graffiti of President Museveni ramming into protestors.
Police have described the situation as “riots” and the government quickly sent in troops to reinforce a stretched police force.
Byekwaso, the army spokeswoman, said squads of both military and police were skirmishing with protesters in different parts of Kampala. At least two witnesses in the city confirmed some streets in the city center were deserted.
“This is a war-like situation, so the army has to deploy,” army spokeswoman Brigadier Flavia Byekwaso said.