Protests ignited in Uganda early last week following the arrest of Robert Kyagulanyi, a presidential candidate, more commonly known as Bobi Wine. Groups of young individuals came together setting up barricades with burnt tyres and piles of trash and random materials all over the capital city of Kampala and numerous other towns. The protests were so intense that the army was deployed and law enforcement and security forces were seen responding to the protests with tear gas and shooting live bullets into the crowds in an attempt to disperse people. According to police, 350 people have been arrested and detained as a result of the protests and a heavy police presence remains in Kampala, meanwhile, the death has been estimated to be around 37 people while reports vary from different organizations and individuals.
Bobi Wine rose to prominence through his music which accused the president and the ruling government of limiting personal freedoms and rights, and standing in the way of Uganda’s progress. This form of open defiance paved a path for him to parliament as he won a seat in 2017. This is not the first time Wine has found himself under the eye of the law and police, as following his win in the parliament, he has been arrested and assaulted by law enforcement officers on numerous occasions even once travelling to the United States for medical treatment following what he claimed to be “brutal torture at the hands of SFC soldiers.” Earlier in the month, he was temporarily blinded by law enforcement a few moments after being approved as a candidate in the presidential election happening next year.
Only two days following Bobi Wine’s arrest, he was granted bail in the town of Iganga and charged with disregarding the Covid-19 guidelines which state that presidential candidates cannot address more than 200 people. Wine’s lawyer, Nicholas Opiyo however stated that “the actual reason really is that it is part of the broader attempt to stifle opposition campaigns,” as he commented on the lack of police interference at political rallies also held by Museveni. This is a sentiment that has been echoed by Human Rights Watch, a watchdog group that advocates for the rights of individuals worldwide and who have recently accused current Uganda President Yoweri Museveni of weaponising the covid-19 crisis in an attempt to repress oppositions while largely ignoring the same guidelines and holding massive campaign events. Wine was not the only candidate to be arrested that day as Patrick Amurait, one of the other 11 candidates running against President Museveni was detained for allegedly planning to hold an unauthorised rally, but he was later released on the same day. This is the worst unrest within Uganda in a decade, and many expect to see more of these follow as the election creeps closer.
Museveni has been in power since 1986 and is now campaigning for a sixth term following a decision made by the country’s top court last year to dismiss the presidential age limit, which was set to 75. In his early years in power, he was praised for creating peace in Uganda, and the stability and economic growth that rose in the country following years of turmoil and political unrest and instability. This praise did not last long however as his government has recently been faced with numerous criticisms of corruption, and oppression of his political opponents and mistreatment of the LGBTQ+ community, journalists and many other groups.
The last peaceful transfer of power in Uganda occurred in 1962 when they first received independence.