What You Need to Know About the 2021 Elections in Uganda

Ugandans head to the polls on Thursday January 14, 2021 as pop star turned politician Bobi Wine seeks to deny incumbent President Yoweri Museveni a sixth term.

Presidential candidate Bobi Wine parades through crowds of people in Jinga, Uganda

Here’s what you need to know about this crucial vote:

1. The man who has led for 35 years

Uganda’s current president, Yoweri Museveni, has been in power for 35 years making him one of the longest-serving presidents in Africa. He and his National Resistance Movement came to power in 1986 at the end of a five-year war, and have led Uganda ever since. On Tuesday, just two days ahead of the polls, Museveni ordered internet service providers to block access to social media platforms, accusing them of “arrogance.” On election day there was a complete internet shutdown ordered by the government which forced many polling stations to use manual voting.

Photo: President Yowerii Museveni and First Lady Janet Museveni

2. Pop star challenger

There are 10 candidates challenging Museveni, but most notable is musician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, known by his stage name Bobi Wine. He currently serves as Member of Parliament for Kyadondo County East constituency in Wakiso District, in Uganda’s Central Region. He also leads the People Power, Our Power movement in opposition to President Museveni. Affectionately known as the “ghetto president,” the 38-year-old became an East African pop star in the early 2000s before switching to a career in politics in 2017.

3. A fresh face

Much of Bobi Wine’s popularity comes from the fact that at the age of 38, he is half the age of 76-year-old Museveni. Although Museveni is running his campaign under the slogan “securing your future,” the economic opportunities for Uganda’s younger population have been continuously scarce. The East African country has one of the world’s youngest populations, with a median age of ,16.7. Many of them are frustrated by Museveni’s regime and see little hope for the future. They identify with Wine who grew up in the Kampala ghetto of Kamwokya and has been able to successfully appeal to this demographic.

Posters on incumbent President Yoweri Museveni (yellow) and Bobi Wine are seen along a street in Kampala

4. A “staged” event

Tensions are extremely high as the campaign has been filled with serious violence. In November, 54 people were killed over two days of anti-government protests which has drawn scrutiny on the governments ability to ensure a free and fair election. More than 18 million Ugandans are registered to vote, according to the Uganda electoral commission. In December, Wine’s vehicle was struck by a bullet at a police and military checkpoint.

Bobi Wine with an injured supporter

5. So what’s next?

The election results are expected within 48 hours of polls closing at 4pm today. With more than 18 million registered to vote out of a population of 45 million, a candidate must win by more than 50% to avoid a run off vote. Ugandan elections are often surrounded by allegations of fraud by security forces. The country has never witnessed a peaceful handover of power since independence from Britain in 1962.

Bobi Wine, left, is challenging long-time leader Yoweri Museveni, right

*After this article was published the electoral officials announced that Uganda’s long time President Yoweri Museveni has been re-elected for his 6th presidential term.

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