East African nation head to the polls to bring an end to Yoweri Museveni’s 35-year reign.
2020 will always be remembered as a landmark year for progressive, populist uprising and action. Whether the protests in Hong Kong, BLM marches worldwide or the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria, it was a year when ordinary people, especially the young, organised both on the streets and social media, to bring about the change that they urgently needed to see. Just because the year has changed, though, that doesn’t mean that the momentum that was built has at all slowed.
Today in Uganda, 18.1 million registered voters will take to the polls in a historic election, one that many are hoping will topple the East African nation’s incumbent dictator, Yoweri Museveni, who first came to power 35 years ago. At the age of 76, he’s running for what could be his sixth term — a feat only made possible by the constitutional amendments he’s made during his presidency, abolishing both term and age limits for sitting leaders. Standing in his way, though, is Bobi Wine — whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi — a reggae singer-turned-politician who has been championed by the country’s youth.
The run-up to the election has been marred by bloodshed — in November, on the official announcement of Bobi’s candidacy and his subsequent arrest, more than 55 people were killed when police and plainclothes security agents opened fire on young protesters. They had taken to the streets to express their outrage. Undeterred by state-sanctioned brutality, young people in Uganda took their fight online, using the hashtag #weareremovingadictator as an organisational tool. Their efforts, however, were scuppered when, earlier this week, Museveni announced that platforms including WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were to be taken offline ahead of the vote.
In the wake of this silencing, Africans both on the continent and in the diaspora have rallied around the hashtag to draw global attention to this breach of the human right to free speech. What we see unfolding in Uganda, though, is not an episode in isolation. Rather, it is yet another example of the generational shift in morals and values taking place across the continent. In a country where the median age is 15.7, common consensus is drifting away from the platform of religion-fuelled moral conservatism and flagrant corruption on which politicians like Museveni stand. As we saw multiple times over last year, when young, disenfranchised voices rally together to call for their demands to be met, they open doors to the possibility of building a better world. Today, we hope they do again.