Uganda’s Electoral Commission has put a ban in 13 districts on public campaigns ahead of the January 14, 2021 general elections in Uganda where President Yoweri Museveni is seeking to extend his 35 year rule in the East African nation. The campaigns, which were halted on the grounds of increasing numbers of COVID-19 among the population, have been violent and the ground unequal as opposition candidates and their supporters have on several occasions been violently stopped from holding rallies, beaten and arrested.

In the latest series of violent crackdown on Sunday December 27th, Francis Senteza Kalibala alias Franck has died. He was “run over by a military police patrol truck” as him and others transferred journalist Saif-llah Ashraf Kasirye, shot in the head, to a hospital in the capital city, Kampala from the southern district of Masaka. 

Francis Senteza Kalibala was a private bodyguard of Ugandan opposition candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, commonly known as Bobi Wine. 

Kalibala is the latest life lost in the election campaign. On the other hand, Kasirye remains in critical condition after surgery. 

On December 28th, Ugandan journalists walked away from a military press briefing in protest of what they called targeted beatings and shootings of members of the press while covering the election campaigns.

At the start of the campaigns, over 50 people were killed, hundreds injured in the country between November 18 -20 as security forces violently responded to protests over the arrest of the National Unity Platform (NUP) candidate and leading opposition figure Bobi Wine. Over 600 people were arrested in connection to the protest which police said took place in 116 scenes. The death toll in Kampala was the highest recorded in decades in political events.

Another presidential candidate Patrick Amuriat Oboi of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) was also arrested in the eastern district of Jinja on his way to another campaign site. His party reports that Amuriat was rushed to hospital after being pepper-sprayed and lost eyesight temporarily. 

The violent crackdown has also extended to the civic space where Non-governmental organisations have been targeted and their activities sabotaged.

The Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) had barely a week earlier frozen the accounts of Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET) and Uganda National-NGO Forum for alleged terror financing.

Renowned human rights lawyer and head of  Chapter Four Uganda, Nicholas Opiyo, was arrested on December 23 and jailed on charges of money laundering. His co-accused are other lawyers Simon Peter Esomu, Anthony Odur, Dakasi Herbert and Hamidu Tenywa, a human rights officer at NUP party. 

Article 29 of the Constitution guarantees protection of freedom of conscience, expression, movement, assembly and association including freedom of press and other media.

However, Museveni’s grip on power over the years has made it difficult for the most basic rights of citizens to be upheld in the country. The right to protest has been almost non existent as the 2013 Public Order Management Act (POMA) that regulates public assemblies has been used to curtail the rights. It wasn’t until March 2020 that the Constitutional Court nullified a provision in this law that granted “the Inspector General of Police, or such designated officer, absolute discretion and broad authority to: stop or prevent the holding of a public meeting on reasonable grounds that it is likely to cause a breach of peace; use force and disperse public meetings; as well as impose criminal liability on organizers and participants in public meetings.”

Despite this annulment, the largely partisan and militarised police holds unquestionable powers over public assemblies. The conditions for a free and fair election remain uncertain amidst the widespread violence against political opponents. 

AfricTivistes is concerned about the systematic crackdown on the media and the opposition and the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators.

AfricTivistes reminds Ugandan authorities that the COVID-19 pandemic should not be used to trample on the rights of citizens as the African Commission for Human and Peoples Rights recalled to all countries at the start of the pandemic.

AfricTivistes is worried that Ugandan authorities want to skew the electoral process under false pretences in order to rob Ugandans of their right to participate in an electoral process.

AfricTivistes recalls that the Constitution of Uganda should be upheld, ensuring all parties are guaranteed an equal playing field for the conduct of a transparent election that meets democratic requirements. 

AfricTivistes demands the unconditional release of all people including civil society leaders who have been held on trumped up charges and for authorities to ensure swift access for families and lawyers to the opposition supporters held incommunicado. 

AfricTivistes calls on the security forces to remain true republicans and not to follow the illegal and illegitimate orders of the Ugandan President who is brutalising his people.

AfricTivistes further calls for all those involved in the ongoing violence and the murder of over 50 people in November to be brought to book.

AfricTivists believe that Yoweri Museveni shames Africa by wanting to remain in power after 35 years in power.

AfricTivistes strongly believes that the international community, particularly the African Union and the United Nations, must not remain indifferent to Yoweri Museveni's dictatorial excesses. 

AfricTivistes stands in solidarity with the Ugandan people who continue to be vocal and defend their rights in the face of a deteriorating security situation in the country.