I’m reading Franklin Foer’s excellent “How Soccer Explains the World”, and I’m more cognisant than usual of a good sports metaphor. The UK’s chief election monitor recent remarked that the playing field for Uganda’s upcoming election was “not level”. It seems to me like the pitch where Besigye and Museveni are facing off on Thursday is slanted at a 20 degree pitch, strewn with broken glass and surrounded on all sides by armed soldiers loyal to the current president.
Last week, a rally by Besigye supporters ended tragically when a retired solider shot and killed two of Besigye’s supporters. Today’s final campaign rally for the opposition candidate came to an abrupt halt when the Kampala police fired tear gas and water cannons in the stadium where it was taking place. Museveni has announced that 12,000 army reservists are being called out to “prevent poll violence” – opposition supporters see this as clear intimidation, a sign that Museveni will use the army to retain power even if he’s unsuccessful at the ballot box.
The scariest threat raised so far involves the Ugandan army as well. Northern Uganda, destroyed by over a decade of almost incomprehensible guerilla war against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, is not strongly inclined to vote for Museveni. They percieve the President, a southerner, as being less than serious about ending the war and protecting citizens – in the last, one-party elections, only 14% of the Northern population voted for Museveni. Human Rights Watch notes they’ve heard reports that Ugandan officers threaten to pull their troops out of Northern Uganda if the local don’t vote for Museveni – this will leave citizens even more vulnerable to the LRA, who have a history of kidnapping, enslaving and raping children.
You’d think an election filled with intrigue, the emergence of multiparty democracy and the future of a war-torn but dynamic nation would capture attention, at least locally. Not so much, according to a study conducted by the IRI (International Republican Institute, an organization affiliated with the Republican party in the US, which works on election monitoring and democracy abroad.) According to their survey, only 53% of Ugandans polled knew the election was taking place on Thursday. This may reflect an attempt to dampen voter turnout by Museveni, or the complications of advertizing an election in a poor nation… but it seems surprising that a pivotal election would be so poorly known about.
My prediction: Museveni will “win” 55% of the votes on Thursday, obviating the need for a run-off. Besigye will point to ample evidence of voter intimidation and miscounting and demand a run-off. His legal woes will increase and he’ll be forced to leave the country again. Harder to call? Whether or not Western governments are watching – will Museveni’s clumsy attempts to retain his perpetual presidency merit critique from Western democracies? Or is this just another African story that only Africans and Afrophiles are watching?