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Opposition presidential candidate Bobi Wine has told Africanewsthat people in Uganda are eager to participate in the January 14 election despite an 'increasing climate of repression' in the country.
Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, is challenging longtime ruler Yoweri Museveni.
“We are in this election as a protest. And we have called upon the people to turn out massively and cast a protest vote”, Wine said in an interview with Africanews.
He said he would only accept results from a 'credible' exercise.
“But from the look of things, it is far from credible”, he said, lamenting that over 120 members of his campaign team are still in detention more than two weeks since they were arrested by security forces.
In November, 54 people were killed by security forces after two days of protests against the arrest of Wine.
In late December, Museveni named three army generals to head security in Kampala, a move criticized by the opposition as meant to intimidate people ahead of voting day.
He has staffed police’s top ranks with army officers, a move slammed by activists as an attempt at militarizing what ought to be a civil force.
“Well, the state of civil and civil liberties and basic freedoms is actually non-existent. Uganda is a military dictatorship that has been posing as a democracy”, Wine said, speaking from his home in Magere near Kampala.
‘The pandemic is being weaponized’
Wine has accused the country's elections authority of siding with the ruling party and of applying the rules selectively.
“You notice that gun violence has killed many more people in this electoral cycle than Covid-19. In just two days. Even though General Museveni says 54 people were killed, our human rights desk has received more than 100 reports of murders, not to mention the hundreds injured and thousands detained for no credible charge”, the singer-turned politician said, referring to the scores of people shot by security forces during two days of protests in November.
In December, the elections commission banned campaigns in Kampala and 12 other urban centres, citing Covid-19.
Wine has claimed that he was the target of the ban, meant to stop him from meeting people in towns where he is deemed popular.
He was charged in November with addressing large gatherings which have been banned in the country due to the pandemic.
On Friday, he called off a campaign event in Kalangala, an island district in central Uganda – saying there was a plot to harm him and his supporters.
This week, Wine took his four children to the United States for the election period over fears for their safety.
On Friday, the government denied it intended to harm the legislator's family.
“Nothing happened to the families of those who stood in the past elections. It has never been the NRM (ruling party) policy to harm opponents", said Adolf Mwesige, Uganda's defence minister.
‘International community must stop Museveni’
Wine has been arrested countless times on the campaign trail - starting with the very day he was nominated for the presidency on November 3, sparking clashes between his supporters and police.
Patrick Amuriat, another presidential aspirant, lost his shoes during his own scuffle with police while trying to file his candidacy papers, and now addresses voters barefoot in a symbolic act of defiance.
On Thursday, Amuriat was arrested and charged in western Uganda for campaigning while seated on top of his car.
“We thank the international community for raising their voice in times that they've raised them. But I want to remind the international community that it is such complacency of certain degrees that causes even bigger problems in developing countries like Uganda”, he said.
In December, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Ugandan authorities to hold free and fair elections.
“We want this to be a protest. General Museveni has been killing people for protesting. Now we are going to protest by voting”, Wine remarked.