Ugandan election: Museveni wins sixth term as opposition leader put under ‘house arrest’

Police and special forces outside home of Bobi Wine, who claims vote was rigged

As Yoweri Museveni was once again declared the winner of Uganda's presidency, soldiers, police and special forces were stationed outside the house of his main competitor, Bobi Wine, who is effectively under house arrest.

The east African country of roughly 44 million went to the polls last Thursday to decide whether Mr Museveni would serve another five years, and get the mandate to rule Uganda for a full four decades.

Mr Wine, a 38-year-old musician whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was elected to parliament in 2017. He began a hugely popular “people power” movement, rallying large numbers of young people with the slogan “we are removing a dictator”.

Mr Wine received 3,475,298 votes, compared with 5,851,037 for Mr Museveni. Only 57 per cent of registered voters cast a ballot.


While Mr Wine and his team made accusations of vote-rigging, many citizens were dissuaded by the large military presence and warnings by the ruling party that a Wine win would destabilise the country and potentially herald a return to war.

Don Wanyama, a spokesman for Mr Museveni, said allegations of vote-rigging were “a natural reaction by losers”. Instead, “Ugandans voted for continuity.”

At least 54 civilians were killed by security forces in November; opposition supporters have been arrested or attacked; and journalists denied accreditation or deported.

Last Wednesday evening, the internet was cut off nationwide. Police and military took over the roofs of high buildings and patrolled for days before and after the vote.

Facial recognition cameras made by Chinese company Huawei, which have been installed across the country, were another deterrent for would-be protesters.

Boda boda drivers

There were few celebrations following Saturday afternoon’s final result, which was announced on TV and radio stations. About 200 boda boda motorbike drivers, in yellow clothing, drove en masse around capital city Kampala, holding aloft photos of Mr Museveni, while beeping and shouting.

Mr Wine – who has called the results “daylight robbery” – remains with his wife in their home in Magere, on Kampala’s outskirts, where they are effectively under house arrest. His spokespeople say they are exploring options to legally challenge the results.

On Saturday, journalists were prevented from walking up Freedom Drive, the road where Mr Wine lives. Francis Zaake, an opposition MP, tried to approach the house, but he was beaten and taken away shouting in the back of a police van. Shortly before the final results were announced, four portaloos were driven there at speed, suggesting security forces plan to stay a while. A drone flew overhead.

Mr Wine won nearly 73 per cent of the vote in Kampala, but Mr Museveni scored highly in rural areas, particularly the north and west of the country. Mr Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP) party won all but one of Kampala’s parliamentary seats, and is now the largest opposition party.

On Saturday night, Mr Museveni addressed the nation. “I am not in politics [to get] anything for myself,” he said, adding that it may be the “most cheating-free election” since Uganda’s independence.


The 76-year-old wore a camouflage coat, which he also donned in his final speech before the election. This was interpreted by some local media as a warning to civilians and a reminder of the power the military holds.

The president then showed videos of people whose lives had apparently been changed by his National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. Esther Magaga, from Kiruhura district, said Mr Museveni taught her how to keep Friesian cows, which enabled her to upgrade her home and educate her children. “All I know is the peace the government has brought,” she said.

In markets in Kampala, where protests took place last year, the mood was sedate. “Voting is a waste of time and money,” said one supplier. “Let us stay calm and see how [Museveni] treats us the next five years.”

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa