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Anxious to show his people that his 34 years in power have not worn him out, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni likes to show off his feet or doing push-ups in the grass. At 76, the former Marxist rebel turned autocrat is clearly fit enough to run for a sixth term in the presidential election scheduled for January 14, 2021. “Guarantee your future” is the slogan of his campaign. The present, on the other hand, rhymes more with repression.
Thirty-seven people have been killed since November 18 in violence that erupted after the arrest – the second in a month – of Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine. The outgoing president’s main rival was holding a rally some 100 kilometers east of the capital Kampala when he was arrested. Aged 38, this singer, who became a deputy in 2017 and now a presidential candidate, is the icon of urban youth. A popularity which has already earned him several police custody and beatings.
Accused this time by the authorities of “Continued violations of the directives of the electoral commission and the ministry of health” regarding strict measures to combat Covid-19, he spent two days in custody before being released on bail on Friday, November 20th. Another opposition presidential candidate, Patrick Oboi Amuriat, had been arrested for the same reason in Gulu, in the north, and then released.
In Kampala, where Yoweri Museveni has never really been supported by the population, the situation is still very tense. To counter the demonstrators, roadblocks were erected by the police. Police and military patrol the streets. Images showing civilians armed with assault rifles are circulating on social media. According to the police, nearly 360 people have been arrested in the country. According to the Minister of Security, Elly Tumwine, they participated in a foiled project consisting of “Create chaos”.
The violence that marks the start of the campaign has prompted reactions of concern from Uganda’s partner countries. The European Union mourned the deaths and called on the government to “Ensure the safety of all election candidates and their supporters”. The United States, for its part, urged all political actors to “Reduce tensions”. But Yoweri Museveni did not really choose appeasement. On Friday, traveling to Kotido (North-East), the Head of State warned opposition demonstrators who attacked his supporters. “They will regret it”, he warned.
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