Uganda and the US: A Tale of Two Elections
By: Ryan Lafferty
American political affairs recently of late can hardly be described as stable: with the U.S. Capitol riots, the inauguration of a new administration, and the historic second impeachment of an American President, the landscape of the U.S. government has been rife with uncertainty, insurrection, and chaos.
But alas, the U.S. doesn’t possess a monopoly on contested elections, nor does it reign supreme when it comes to political and domestic instability. Last month’s general elections held in Uganda are proof that the authoritarian leanings and incendiary rhetoric of contemporary American politics has spread abroad in pernicious and hazardous ways.
But first, some context is necessary. Since 1986, President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement has ruled Uganda, and while Uganda is, indeed, a democracy, its democratic infrastructure is weak and flimsy: for multiple electoral cycles, independent observers from the European Union and United States have uncovered substantial amounts of voter fraud and election rigging. Throughout the political and economic turmoil of Museveni’s rule, many have called for his resignation.
And those calls have only intensified after yet another election of cheating and falsehood.
Uganda’s electoral system utilizes a “two round system” under which nearly a dozen candidates face off in the second round of voting. In January, Museveni faced eleven opponents, but Bobi Wine of the National Unity Platform quickly emerged as the primary contender. Last November, Wine was arrested – ostensible for breaking quarantine restrictions – but it is widely believed that the arrest was a politically-motivated effort to cement Museveni’s position as the incumbent.
The situation has only escalated since then. A mere two days before the election on January 14th, the Ugandan government cut access to the Internet throughout the country. Amnesty International quickly condemned the move, as did other international organizations – since the Museveni administration has amassed substantial control over most media outlets in the nation, the primary outlet for opposition candidates has been platforms like Facebook. All in all, restricting access to the Internet was likely a politically calculated move to silence dissidence.
Even since the election, significant evidence has come out that – unsurprisingly – corroborates the narrative of opposition candidates like Wine that the election was rigged unfairly in favor of the incumbent Museveni. Subsequently, Wine, as well as other political officials, filed lawsuits against the Ugandan government, claiming that voter fraud was responsible for Museveni’s inexplicable victory.
In many ways, though, the Ugandan elections asymmetrically mirror those of the United States. Last November, when Americans went to the polls, many decried the results as the byproduct of fraud; yet in nearly every lawsuit filed over the matter, lawyers supporting the cause of fraud were laughed out of the courtroom. But in Uganda, the story is different. A corrupt incumbent has, at least until this point, emerged unscathed by a systematic effort to silence the democratic willpower of the Ugandan people.
Two countries, thousands of miles apart, but strangely united in their political and governmental instability.