Uganda: Opposition Leaders Speak in One Voice After Release of Bobi Wine

Bobi Wine in a police van after his arrest in Luuka District on November 18, 2020.

Presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine was on Friday released on a Ush1 million ($270) bail, ending three days of tension in Kampala. His arrest on Wednesday triggered protests in the city and major towns, and were crushed by Uganda's security forces.

Bobi Wine was ordered to report back to court on December 18.

Immediately after his release, five presidential candidates jointly issued a statement raising concerns that "the Electoral Commission (EC) has been overrun by security agencies and is no longer in charge of the elections".

The unified position by the major opposition candidates seems to be taking shape going by the joint statement issued on Friday by Gen Mugisha Muntu (Alliance for National Transformation), Gen Henry Tumukunde (Independent), Norbert Mao (Democratic Party), Patrick Oboi Amuriat (Forum for Democratic Change) and Bobi Wine (National Unity Platform).

"We are in this together as leaders who are responding to a failing state," their statement reads. They are seeking to oust President Yoweri Museveni, 76, who has been in power since 1986.

"We've agreed to design a common response to the arrests, brutalisations and harassment of candidates aimed at denying them access to the electorate. We are on different fronts but our cause is the same - CHANGE," the statement says.

Police arrested Bobi Wine for allegedly addressing rallies and having processions, which is against the Electoral Commission's guidelines of having only 200 people in a gathering to contain Covid-19 infections.

Bobi Wine's supporters and those of Mr Amuriat -- also arrested on Wednesday and released the following day --have been tear-gassed while on the campaign trail for the past 10 days.

The EC called on candidates and their supporters to observe the follow the agreed Covid-19 standards.

"The commission warns that all candidates who continue violation of the guidelines may have their campaign programme cancelled," EC chairperson Justice Simon Byabakama said in a statement on Thursday.

Cost of arrest

When news of Bobi Wine's arrest while on his campaign trail in the eastern district of Luuka got around, protests broke out in Kampala and spread to neighbouring urban areas as his supporters, mostly youth, demanded his unconditional release. Security personnel responded with tear gas and live bullets.

Bobi Wine was detained at the Nalufenya Police Station.

By Friday afternoon, the official death toll from the violence had reached 28, with over 100 people injured and more than 300 arrested across the country, provoking local and international condemnation.

The US embassy in Uganda in a statement urged "all parties to renounce violence, undertake good-faith measures to reduce tensions, and respect fundamental freedoms".

Josep Borrell Fontelles, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy tweeted: "Saddening loss of life in violent incidents in Uganda. The government must ensure the safety of all election candidates and their supporters, whatever political affiliation. Respect for democratic rights and rejection of violence are essential in wake of elections."

The European Union delegation backed out of observing next year next year's election.

The chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs at the US House of Representatives Eliot Engel in a statement condemned the violence, calling for the unconditional release of Bobi Wine and Mr Amuriat. (Both had been released by time of going to press).

"For almost two decades, President Museveni has shown he is incapable of conducting an election without jailing his opponents and brutalising Ugandan citizens expressing their desire for a more inclusive democracy. This type of conduct on the part of Mr Museveni and state security forces is completely incompatible with holding a free, fair and credible election which is scheduled for January 2021," Mr Engel said.

Gen Muntu, Mr Mao, Gen Tumukunde, Willy Mayambala and John Katumba suspended their campaigns to protest of the arrest of one of their colleagues.

"We have discussed among ourselves as Renewed Uganda Platform and we have agreed to call off this campaign in support of our colleagues and in protest of unfair treatment we are receiving in this very election," Gen Tumukunde said.

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