Uganda Pop Star Could Oversee Major Oil Projects

Uganda Pop Star Could Oversee Major Oil Projects
The victor in the Jan. 14 election will oversee the implementation of about $20 billion in oil pipeline, refinery and other projects.

(Bloomberg) -- A Ugandan pop star-turned-politician is banking on technology and a high voter turn-out to help him unseat one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.

Bobi Wine is the main challenger to President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled since seizing power in a coup in 1986. The lead-up to the vote has been marred by the deaths of at least 54 people following protests that erupted after the musician’s arrest in November, and allegations that there are moves afoot to rig the outcome in the incumbent’s favor.

To counter that threat, Wine’s party, the National Unity Platform, has helped develop an internet-based application that will facilitate the tallying of votes as they are posted at polling stations. It can be downloaded via Google Playstore or a WhatsApp link, and will enable people to input the results or upload documents reflecting them -- providing a cross-check against the official count.

The Electoral Commission threw a potential spanner in the works last week when it announced restrictions on the use of phones and cameras at polling stations -- although it remains unclear whether pictures may be taken of the tally sheets. Wine said the unprecedented curbs are unlawful, a position echoed by the nation’s biggest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change.

“There is no law that bars people from observing the election, there is no law that bars cameras form the polling station,” Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, said in an interview. “We will have every right to demand a transition that people will have democratically and legally voted for.”

The victor in the Jan. 14 election will oversee the implementation of about $20 billion of projects, including an oil pipeline, refinery, airport and roads as the east African nation prepares to produce and export crude starting in 2024. A contested outcome that sparks civil unrest could jeopardize the investments and derail efforts to revive the coronavirus-battered economy.

Wine, 38, who has pledged to uphold the rule of law and tackle corruption if elected, has relied extensively on digital technology to get his message across to the electorate and bypass the state-controlled media. He sees the political landscape being fundamentally altered if the nation’s tech-savvy youth turn out in large numbers to vote. More than 80% of Uganda’s 42 million people are under the age of 40, and almost half have Internet access.

“Museveni represents the past and I represent the future,” Wine said. “A Uganda under a different leadership will mean a government that is accountable to the people.”

While Museveni’s share of the vote dropped to 61% in the last elections in 2016, from 74% in 1996, he still commands strong support in rural areas and especially among older citizens.

Despite mounting calls for the 76-year-old Museveni to be replaced by a younger leader, Zaynab Mohamed, an analyst at NKC African Economics expects him to retain power. The president’s edge stems from the considerable control he wields over the state, and the fact that opposition supporters have been suppressed and intimidated, Mohamed said.

Opposition Arrests

Wine started wearing a bullet-proof vest after his car was shot at and an explosive device was detonated near him while on the campaign trail. He and his team said they spent several nights sleeping in their vehicles after officials prevented them from booking into hotels.

“The regime is on rampage, arresting all our members,” Wine said. “Right now all my campaign team is in prison.”

Ongoing divisions within the ranks of the opposition that will result in their share of the vote being diluted between several candidates, will work in Museveni’s favor. Besides Wine, the other presidential hopefuls include the FDC’s Patrick Amuriat, former army commander Mugisha Muntu and ex-security chief Henry Tumukunde.

Museveni has won five consecutive elections over the past quarter century, and rejected prior opposition allegations of rigging. The United Nations and Amnesty International are among several organization that have voiced concern about the integrity of the coming vote.

“We have increasingly observed that the Covid-19 restrictions have been enforced more strictly to curtail opposition electoral campaign activities,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a Jan. 8 statement.

Don Wanyama, the president’s spokesman, denied that there was an attempt to steal the election.

“Museveni doesn’t have to rig to win,” Wanyama said. “His track record on peace and development is what will compel Ugandans to overwhelmingly re-endorse him.”

--With assistance from Karl Maier.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.


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