From the May 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No. 05)


Troubled Election

Sarah Coleman, World Press Review associate editor

Uganda’s bitterly contested election on March 12 left many questions unanswered as Kampala was rocked by postelection bombings. Though incumbent President Yoweri Museveni won 69 percent of the vote, allegations of vote-fixing and intimidation tainted his victory.

“This has been the most violent election in Uganda since independence in 1962,” wrote V.P. Kirega-gava in Kenya’s independent Nation (March 15). A March 14 editorial in Uganda’s independent weekly The Monitor lamented that “elections are becoming a mere public relations ritual.”

During the campaign, Museveni faced his first serious political challenge from Kizza Besigye, his former friend and physician. Besigye had been the leader’s personal doctor during the five-year guerrilla war that launched Museveni to power in 1986. He served as a state minister twice and married the politician Winnie Byanyima, previously a girlfriend of Museveni’s.

Besigye campaigned aggressively against Museveni’s National Resistance Movement government, which allows individual candidacies but bans political parties. He promised to restore pluralism to Uganda. In one bizarre moment of the campaign, Museveni accused his rival of having the AIDS virus.

During the violent campaign period, two of Besigye’s supporters were killed when police dispersed a rally in January. Election time saw reports of vote-buying, ballot-stuffing, premarked ballots, and missing voters’ lists. In its March 14 editorial, The Monitor regretted the candidates’ “lack of political will to have a clean election.”

The days following the election were marked by bombings and violence. On March 17, rebels killed at least 11 people and burned 54 vehicles in the town of Kasese in western Uganda.

Besigye, who had appealed the election results, was prevented from boarding a flight to South Africa on March 17 by Uganda’s military intelligence, on suspicion of being connected with the bombings. “I think what is happening is an attempt to muzzle any political opposition,” he said in a report quoted by the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network on March 19.

Museveni, who has won praise from the international community in the past for pulling Uganda out of the chaos left by dictators Milton Obote and Idi Amin, is now faced with the task of resurrecting his own image.

Writing in London’s liberal The Guardian on March 15, Simon Tisdall proposed that “if he really wants to go down in history as the man who put Uganda back on its feet, Museveni should concentrate in his final term on building a democratic, pluralist democracy that can withstand the passing of a president.”

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