Potential for violence and intimidation as Ugandans head to polls, UN says

Opposition front-runner Bobi Wine says “world is watching” tense January 14 presidential election

epa08934989 Election posters for presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu otherwise known as Bobi Wine adorn a locked store front in the capital Kampala a day ahead of the presidential elections in Uganda, 13 January 2021. The Ugandan presidential elections are due to take place on 14 January 2021, with Bobi Wine emerging as the top opposition challenger against incumbent Ugandan president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who has been President since 1986. President Yoweri Museveni has ordered the shutdown of some social media and messaging apps including Facebook ahead of the election.  EPA/STR
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The UN said there was a potential for violence and hate speech in the Ugandan elections on Thursday amid widespread concerns of vote-rigging in the absence of US and European monitors.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Wednesday called for an “inclusive, transparent and peaceful” voting process.

The election pits Yoweri Museveni, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, against 10 candidates including front-runner Bobi Wine, a pop star and actor.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is “concerned about reports of violence and tension in parts of Uganda ahead of these polls, and calls on all political actors and their supporters to refrain from the use of hate speech, intimidation and violence”, Mr Dujarric said.

Police and security troops in the landlocked African country should “show maximum restraint during this period and act according to established human rights principles”, he said in New York.

Past Ugandan elections have been marred by crackdowns on Mr Museveni’s opponents, but campaigning has been notably violent this time, with dozens killed and rival candidates and campaign teams repeatedly arrested and intimidated.

There have been growing concerns of a rigged poll.

While the African Union and East African Community were expected to send observers, the US and EU said their offers to send election experts were not taken up.

A coalition representing hundreds of Ugandan civil society groups on Wednesday said it filed 1,900 accreditation requests to monitor polling but only 10 were granted, Reuters reported.

Mr Dujarric said there would be “some international monitoring” from African regional organisations and that while the UN was not mandated to monitor, it would be “keeping a close eye on the elections”.

“Our concerns have been raised locally, they've been raised from here and the UN human rights office in Geneva has also raised concern, notably on the deteriorating human rights situation in Uganda,” he said.

Mr Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu and who has repeatedly faced beatings and arrest as he airs the grievances of young Ugandans, said on Wednesday that there could be a government-imposed internet blackout during polling.

“Information coming in is that the regime in Uganda is going to order a complete shut down of the internet in a short while,” he said on Twitter. “No matter what they do, the world is watching.”