COVID-19 casts shadow on Uganda’s election campaigns

JOHANNESBURG 

The novel coronavirus has cast a shadow on election campaigns in Uganda, which officially started this week with 11 candidates challenging President Yoweri Museveni, 76, in power since 1986.

“When it comes to election campaigns in Uganda, most voters are used to open rally campaigns with large crowds, which is different this time round,” Sultan Kakuba, a political scientist at Kyambogo University in the capital Kampala, told Anadolu Agency.

He said the country’s electoral body has allowed only 70 people at meetings during campaigns to avoid the spread of the virus, barring open rallies which often attract several hundreds.

“I don’t think new entrants [first time contenders] will be able to reach out to potential voters through virtual means.”

Kakuba said the restrictions will favor President Museveni who has unlimited access to the country’s mass media and well-established grassroots political campaign structures.

Another political analyst, Nsanji Siraji, agrees that COVID-19 has indeed totally restricted campaigns making them one of the non-competitive election campaigns in the country’s history.

He expressed concern that some voters might end up voting for candidates who have not properly explained their election manifesto because they do not have enough air time to explain their agendas to voters via radio or television.

Uganda has recorded over 14,900 COVID-19 cases and 139 deaths so far.

Despite large gatherings being barred, some candidates such as pop star and opposition figure Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, still attract large crowds lined along streets whenever they arrive in a city to campaign.

Election contenders

Kyagulanyi, 38, a pop star turned politician, is seen by many as the new face of Uganda’s opposition, viewed as a major threat to Museveni.

Kyagulanyi joined politics less than five years ago after he was elected to become a member of the parliament in a by-election for Kyadondo East constituency.

He has been promising to change the lives of youth, downtrodden and those living in slums.

After being nominated as a presidential candidate last Wednesday, Kyagulanyi promised to fix the economy, health services, and education. To the surprise of many, he was arrested by the police shortly after addressing the media and driven back to his home on the outskirts of Kampala where he was released.

Other key contenders in the race include, Patrick Oboi Amurait of the Forum for Democratic Change party, who has promised to create equal opportunities for all, and improve health care and education.

Others are former Security Minister Henry Tumukunde and former army commander Mugisha Muntu, who both served under Museveni.

There is also a 24-year-old graduate, John Katumba, contesting in the polls, while the only woman in the race is Nacy Kalembe, an independent candidate.

The presidential candidates have 60 days left to promote their parties’ manifestos across the country to convince 17.5 million registered voters to elect them.

Ugandans will vote for a president, members of the parliament, and local government representatives on Jan. 14, 2021.



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