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Musevini Wins Ugandan Election Amidst Uneven Covid Legislation

Submitted by on January 17, 2021 – 5:00 pmNo Comment

“Covid consent”: Using health legislation to push authoritarian control

The new year continues with the pandemic being used by some authoritarian African leaders as a way to cling to power. 

Saturday saw Yoweri Musevini win his sixth term in office after the election was postponed in 2020 due to the risk of Covid, with Mr Musevini telling Ugandan NBS Television that “To have elections when the virus is still there… It will be madness.” However, after much deliberation it was decided that the election would actually go ahead in 2021 despite the virus persisting into the new year with Uganda’s total number of confirmed cases spiking to over 35,000 in December. Covid guidelines required voters to stand in queues and opposition gatherings were broken up.

A wave of elections took place across Africa in 2020 and within the continent’s autocratic regimes, Covid was used as a way to combat dissent. Presidential and parliamentary elections took place in Burundi, Guinea, Malawi and Tanzania and, like Uganda, election dates were postponed, foreign election observers deterred, and social distancing laws ensured gatherings could not take place. Any opposition groups were met with violence or death from police or security services.

Violence in Uganda has ensued since the electoral campaigns began on 9 November. According to a statement from Amnesty International, they recognise that reasonable measures that halt the spread of the pandemic should be employed. But added that “it is apparent that in Uganda, COVID-19 regulations have been weaponized and disproportionately applied to the opposition as pretext for political repression and to restrict their activities […]”

The main opposition candidate, Bobi Wine, was abducted by police last year after he was accused of violating Covid social distancing guidelines by participating in campaign rallies, which prohibited gatherings of more than 200 people. More than 50 supporters of Mr Wine were killed by the police and security forces were also accused of torturing and blinding a lawmaker who supported Mr Wine, which they stated was due to violations of the pandemic and social distancing rules. In an interview with Reuters, Mr Wine’s spokesperson Joel Senyonyi, stated that “We have seen repression in this COVID-19 outbreak, they are using it to cement their grip on power, without doubt.” With campaign rallies prohibited, candidates were also met with internet blackouts and were forced to campaign only on radio and TV – which are largely government run.

During 2021, elections in 13 African countries will take place. The authoritarian governments in Benin, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and Zambia, have already postponed elections and clamped down on opposition gatherings under the guise of Covid.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) concerned about the need for free and fair elections on the continent amid the Covid pandemic states countries must “Ensure that the public health measures in place are enforced without discrimination and are not abused to frustrate opposition candidates and the free exercise of voting by the electorate […].”

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