Photos credit: Sami Disu
Ugandan New Yorkers were the latest of a list of African demonstrators coming to the United Nations Plaza with the hope of getting the UN and President Biden to intervene in a process that, in any self-respecting independent and democratic country, should be handled internally.
Ugandan protesters braved the cold weather on January 23, 2021 to draw attention to the latest elections won by incumbent President Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986. Elections they say were stolen.
Museveni’s main, and most popular, opponent among the 11 candidates running, Ugandan musician and legislator Bobi Wine, has also questioned the credibility of the elections held on January 14, 2021. Wine and his wife were under house of arrest until January 26, 2021.
This has been the situation at my house these past days. Aside from the military and police surrounding us, military and police helicopters have been consistently hovering over our residence in breach of our privacy rights. Cowards! #WeAreRemovingADictator pic.twitter.com/8nr6nDCfeJ
— BOBI WINE (@HEBobiwine) January 26, 2021
Two days prior to the military takeover of his residence, Wine tweeted: “The private security company that has been guarding my home for the last 12 years has been ordered to withdraw security at my house. Their supervisors showed up unannounced at midnight, disarmed my guard and said they had instructions to immediately withdraw my security.”
The High Court ruled this morning that my continued house arrest (11 days now) is illegal & unconstitutional. Several hours later, the military still surrounds my home, blocking access to all! Perhaps (as always) waiting for Gen. Museveni's orders on the next course of action.
— BOBI WINE (@HEBobiwine) January 25, 2021
Former President of Burundi and East African Community observer Domitien Ndayieze shared with the press what he witnessed during the elections — a late delivery of polling materials and a late opening of most polling stations because of malfunctioning of the biometric voter verification kit.
The 74 East African Community Observers were stationed at 140 polling stations out of a total of 34,684 and because of “restrictive internet access,” said Ndayieze, “the mission was not able to observe transmission of results from the polling stations to the district and national Tally Centers. We were also not able to transmit our field information in real time.”
On January 13, 2021, the day before the elections, Ugandans citizens were cut off from the rest of the world when an internet blackout initiated by the government started. The blackout ended on January 18, after the elections were already held and Yoweri Museveni declared winner by the Ugandan Electoral Commission.
— DefendDefenders (@DefendDefenders) January 25, 2021
According to the mission, four top officials of the Electoral Commission resigned few months before the elections.
In a statement released on its website on January 28, 2021, the Electoral Commission stated that Museveni received 58.38% of the vote and Wine 35.08%. The Ugandan Electoral Commission also pointed out that the “results of 83 polling stations, with a total number of fifty-four thousand, three hundred and fifty-seven (54,357) registered voters, were not included in the final tally”. One of the reasons cited was a total vote cast exceeding the number of registered voters at specific polling stations.
Tanzanian President Magufuli was one of the rare leaders in Africa and abroad to congratulate Musevini, but Bobi Wine, who encouraged his supporters to stay peaceful, is expected to contest the election results.
“Congratulations Hon. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni for being declared the winner of the presidency by the Ugandan Electoral Commission,” President Magufuli tweeted in Swahili. “Tanzania will develop our friendship and brotherhood in the wider interests of the people. Congratulations to Ugandans for completing the General Elections, continue to maintain peace and love.”
During the days leading to elections, the mission stated that: “The Election Commission and the government accused opposition parties and candidates for defying the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Covid-19 containment put in place. The enforcement led to arrests and detention of some candidates and death of some opposition supporters.”
When it came to visibility and equality in allocation of media coverage time for all presidential candidates, the mission noted that, “Some opposition candidates and parties had difficulties accessing media houses because security forces constantly blocked them.”
The civil society in Uganda was muffled when “Civil society domestic observation coalition National Elections Watch-Uganda (NEW-U), created with a special purpose of observing the 2021 general elections, was banned by the government in the period leading up to the election. Operations of some civil society groups with human rights and democracy programs were hampered when their bank accounts were frozen on accounts of aiding terrorist activities in the country.”
Two amendments to the Ugandan Constitution — one in 2005 abolishing term limits and another in 2017 removing the 75-year age cap for presidential candidates — along with the intimidation of candidates and protesters, as well as alleged voter fraud, have helped secure President Yoweri Musevini’s 6th term in office. An additional factor is that there were only a few local organizations, the African Union and the East African Community, allowed as observers.
The mere fact that foreign observers are needed to legitimize elections in Africa says a lot about the state of democracy on the continent.
Democracy, in many African nations, is a suit tailored to the incumbent president. Many so-called democratic nations lack the independence and accountability system that would keep presidents in check. Opposition leaders are jailed often on made-up charges, the press censored, freedom of speech and assembly challenged, military or police used to repress civilians, elections rigged, and constitution changed as many times as needed to make sure that one that claims to be loved by the people can stay in power forever. The question is, if one is so loved by the people, why bother doing some, or all the above, to stay in power in a so-called democratic country?
And depending on how useful these leaders are to certain Western countries, their human rights violations can be met in the West with either public outrage or total indifference.
Until Africans on the continent and in the diaspora yearning for change find a way to deal with these types of leaders, they will need international pressure to hold those who were sworn-in to serve them, accountable.
For that reason, Ugandan New Yorkers have a list of 6 demands for the Biden administration:
1. Suspend military aid to the Museveni regime and non-essential aid.
2. Not recognize the “results” of the Jan. 14, 2021 election which has already been rejected as “fundamentally flawed.”
3. Support Bobi Wine’s call for an international forensic audit.
4. Join the call for an immediate end to Bobi and Barbie Wine’s house arrest.
5. Support the demand made by Sen. Bob Menendez, and Rep. Eliot Engel in the 116th Congress, that the U.S. initiate targeted sanctions against military officers and political leaders involved in planning, sanctioning, or carrying out human rights abuses.
These sanctions must include, but not be limited to applying the global Magnitsky Act, which authorizes the U.S. government to sanction individuals it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the United States.
6. Block any other financing from the World Bank and IMF until Constitutional Rule is restored to prevent millions of dollars from being embezzled or diverted for military repression. A $300 million loan from the World Bank to combat the Covid-19 pandemic was reportedly diverted to Uganda’s repressive military.
To sign the petition, visit: http://chng.it/bZrqD4kTrS