Ugandans began voting in a tense election on Thursday under heavy security and an internet shutdown as veteran leader Yoweri Museveni runs a sixth term against a former pop star who is half his age.
The Internet went down before the vote, with some parts of the country reporting complete disruptions or significant slowdowns.
Museveni is seeking a sixth term after ruling for nearly four decades against the singer who became MP Bob Bob, 38, whose popularity among a youthful population has plagued the former rebel leader.
In the Kamwokya slums, where Vin grew up and is hugely popular, voters flocked to a polling station as police tried to enforce social distance after weeks of severe coronavirus outbreaks in the East African nation.
A group of about two dozen riot officers marched past, with heavy military and police presence in other parts of the capital.
“I’m here to change the nation’s leadership because for years they have told me they will secure my future. They have not done so,” said driver Joseph Nsuduga, 30, one of the first in line to vote. “I have to see change for my children. People long for change but we see nothing.”
Voting was delayed in several places in the capital Kampala and began about half an hour after the official start time at 07.00. Voting closes at 16.00
About 18 million voters are registered for the presidential election and the parliamentary vote, and the results are expected by Saturday.
Museveni has ruled Uganda without a break since taking control in 1986 when he helped end years of tyranny under Idi Amin. Once praised for his commitment to good governance, the former rebel leader has crushed every opposition and adjusted the constitution to run again and again.
The United States, the European Union, the United Nations and global rights and democracy groups have expressed concern about the integrity and transparency of the election. Only one foreign organization, the African Union (AU), has sent monitors together with an AU women’s group.
On Wednesday, the United States, a major donor to Uganda, announced that it was suspending a diplomatic observer mission after too many of its staff were denied permission to monitor the election.
In a statement, US Ambassador Natalie Brown warned that the refusal meant that the election “will lack accountability, openness and trust” caused by independent oversight.
On Tuesday, Museveni announced the temporary suspension of social media networks and messaging services such as Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp in response to Facebook closing accounts linked to government officials that the technology giant said was spreading misinformation.
Vin is the strongest of ten opposition competitors trying to beat Museveni. But most observers expect the aging president and his ruling national resistance movement to emerge victorious.
He has never lost an election and has counted down the days to victory in secure campaign ads and promised to invest more in infrastructure, health and education and build Uganda’s economy.
But Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has accused the president of presiding over corruption and not delivering jobs.
The population has a median age of just under 16, and many Ugandans have never known anyone other than Museveni in charge.
In Kamwokya Cate Nabbale, 20, an elementary school teacher, voted for the first time. “I’m so excited … I want to see Uganda grow, things change,” she told Agence France-Presse (AFP). Vin has promised non-violent street protests if Ugandans feel that the election was stolen.
The opposition leader has urged them to meet in large numbers and vote, saying they should not fear threats from the authorities. Museveni has warned its opponents against taking to the streets. “If you use force to protest an election result, it is treason,” Museveni said in a national address Tuesday.