Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Uganda's President Extends 30-Year Rule, Detains Rivals After Election




Uganda's President Extends 30-Year Rule, Detains Rivals After Election


"I have never seen another president and it seems it will be like that until he dies."

02/20/2016 10:36 am ET |

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni won 60 percent of the vote in Thursday's election, the electoral commission said. Here, a policeman chases opposition supporters on Friday.
KAMPALA, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni extended his 30-year rule on Saturday, winning an election that international observers said lacked transparency and his main opponent, under house arrest, denounced as a sham.
One of Africa's longest-serving leaders, Museveni won 60.8 percent of the vote, while main opposition candidate Kizza Besigye secured 35.4 percent, according to the electoral commission.
"We have just witnessed what must be the most fraudulent electoral process in Uganda," Besigye said in a statement, calling for an independent audit of the results.
Besigye, who had been detained three times this week, said he had been placed under house arrest. A Reuters reporter saw his home encircled by police in riot gear and media were barred from approaching it.
The United States on Friday urged Museveni to stop the security services harassing his opponents. Another of Museveni's rivals, former prime minister Amama Mbabazi, had also been put under house arrest, according to his spokeswoman.

Kizza Besigye, one of Museveni's main challengers, was placed under house arrests as the results were announced.

Museveni, 71, has presided over strong economic growth but is accused at home and abroad of repression of dissent and failing to tackle rampant corruption in the nation of 37 million people.
Museveni's ruling National Resistance Movement party said the veteran leader's victory showed that "opponents failed to offer any alternative apart from empty promises."
European and Commonwealth observers criticized the handling of Thursday's vote.
The EU observer mission said it had been conducted in an intimidating atmosphere, while Commonwealth observers said the poll "fell short of meeting some key democratic benchmarks."
Eduard Kukan, chief observer for the EU mission, told reporters in Kampala the poll had been undermined by a "lack of transparency and independence" at the Ugandan electoral commission.
"State actors created an intimidating atmosphere for both voters and candidates," he added.
Besigye urged the international community to denounce the poll win by Museveni, who has won favor with the West by sending Ugandan troops to Somalia to battle Islamist militants with ties to al Qaeda.
"Please reject the temptation to ratify this sham election," said Besigye, who was Museveni's personal doctor in the 1980s.

The opposition says the poll was rigged, and international observers criticized the lack of transparency and "intimidating atmosphere."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Museveni on Friday to voice concern over Besigye's detention, the harassment of opposition figures and the shutdown of social media such as Facebook and Twitter on election day.
"(Kerry) urged President Museveni to rein in the police and security forces, noting that such action calls into question Uganda's commitment to a transparent and credible election process free from intimidation," the U.S. State Department said on Friday.
Museveni replied to Kerry that Besigye had tried to assault a police officer and had not been arrested but rather escorted home by police, according to Ugandan media.
"I told Kerry not to worry a lot about the internal affairs of Uganda because we know how to handle the issues," the Daily Monitor newspaper quoted the president as saying.
Besigye's detention on Friday contributed to a day of chaos in some parts of Kampala, with opposition supporters hurling rocks at police and erecting street barricades.
Police officers set off stun grenades and fired tear gas at crowds outside the headquarters of Besigye's Forum for Democratic Change, where senior members of the party accused organizers of rigging the vote.
Museveni brought calm and stability to Uganda after decades of chaos under leaders Idi Amin and Milton Obote, but many opposition voters accuse the former guerrilla fighter of becoming increasingly autocratic and wanting to rule for life.
The opposition had tried to tap into mounting anger among young voters, especially in urban areas, where unemployment is high and many are frustrated by the poor state of schools and hospitals.
"We are disappointed, the election has been rigged," said 23-year-old Brenda in Kampala, who declined to give her second name out of concern for her security. "I have never seen another president and it seems it will be like that until he dies."
Also on HuffPost:

‘Tweeting from Canada, voting in Uganda’: How Ugandans evaded an election day internet crackdown

More from Tristin Hopper | @TristinHopper

As Uganda’s ruling party arrested opposition leaders and shut down social media in the midst of a disputed presidential election, a Toronto scholar is among those the charge to circumvent media controls using the same technology that Canadians use to watch American Netflix.
“We are like ninjas,” Gerald Bareebe told the National Post in a Twitter direct message from Uganda.
“There is a feeling you get that I cannot even describe. You feel more powerful than the mighty state. You feel like you have broken the chains that have been holding you captive,” Bareebe added by email.
On Thursday, Ugandans went to the polls in a presidential election that will decide the future of Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who first took power in a 1986 coup.
But as voting began Thursday morning, Museveni’s government cut off access to social media platforms including Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter.
 (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)
(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)In this September 28, 2016 file photo, Uganda's President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni speaks during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters. Uganda's long-time president is attending a televised debate Saturday Feb. 13, 2016 night, in which he faces seven challengers, including his former prime minister.
The president explained that the shutdown was ordered as a “security measure to avert lies … intended to incite violence and illegal declaration of election results.”
Ugandan police were showing a similar suspicion of free media in the lead up to the vote. “I fear the camera more than the bullet … because it distorts the truth,” Kale Kayihura, head of the Uganda Police Force, told domestic media earlier this week.
However, the blockage can be circumvented via the use of a “virtual private network,” a method that can be used to hide a user’s identity and location. Commonly used by Canadians to view international versions of Netflix or Hulu, VPN services are also popular in China to access websites blocked by government firewalls.
Because local media houses are very scared of the regime, we have used Twitter and Facebook to break stories about opposition arrest and published images of voters being beaten by the military on polling station.
Born in Western Uganda, Bareebe is a PhD student at the University of Toronto and a former Jeanne Sauvé Scholar at McGill University.
After voting first thing Thursday morning, Bareebe said he noticed the outage, immediately installed a VPN to bypass it and then joined other Ugandans in using phone calls and text messages to alert others to the workaround.
“Once I tried and it worked for me, I started spreading information to my colleagues,” he said.
According to Google Trends, Ugandan web searches for “VPN” went up dramatically on Election Day. By Friday, one VPN provider, Trust.Zone, reported 300,000 downloads of its software coming from Uganda on the first days of the election.
Other counts had Uganda’s total number of VPN downloads reaching more than 1.5 million, although this number could not be confirmed.
“Because local media houses are very scared of the regime, we have used Twitter and Facebook to break stories about opposition arrest and published images of voters being beaten by the military on polling station,” said Bareebe.
“These guys came to power through a guerrilla war, it is no surprise that they want to rule like bandits.”
Images have emerged appearing to show ballot boxes being stuffed and of heavy military presence in opposition areas. One particularly widely shared image showed a soldier appearing to seize a ballot box before voting had finished.
A hashtag #1986pictures was also started to mock Museveni’s three decade hold on power. Amid images of boxy cathode ray tube televisions and a pre-pubescent Leonardo di Caprio, one 33-year-old Ugandan wrote “I was three years old when these rebels took power.”
“We’ve mocked them online!!” said Bareebe, noting that in some cases, government Twitter accounts have started responding to the avalanche of criticism coming by way of Ugandan VPN users.
After configuring their VPNs to show their location as being in Canada, some Ugandans even openly touted being virtually “in” Canada on election day.
“Tweeting from Canada, voting in Uganda,” wrote Twitter user Samuel Gaamuwa.
The internet crackdown attracted swift condemnation from international sources, particularly the United States mission in Uganda.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Museveni to demand that the internet blockage be removed “immediately” and added that the United States “stands by the Ugandan people as they undertake this most essential democratic endeavor.”
A statement from Amnesty International called the shutdown “nothing but an exercise in censorship.”
Museveni remained poised to win as of press time, although amid the chaos of the voting observers had severe doubts as to the legitimacy of the result.
Most notably, Thursday saw the arrest and brief detention of opposition leader Kizza Besigye as he was leading reporters to a house where he alleged that ballot stuffing was taking place.