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Lobbies demand action in Uganda rights violation

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NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 12-Human rights defenders’ across Africa are now calling upon international organizations including the United Nations, African Union and the European Union to intervene in the ongoing assault of Uganda’s democracy ahead of Thursday polls.

Ugandans vote Thursday in a highly-charged election after one of the bloodiest campaigns in years, as veteran leader Yoweri Museveni seeks a sixth term against a singer-turned-lawmaker half his age.

Bobi Wine, the 38-year-old popularly known as the “ghetto president” who hung up the mike to enter politics, leads the opposition field trying to unseat Museveni, a 76-year-old former rebel leader who has ruled since 1986.

Kenya Human Rights Commission, Inuka Trust Kenya, Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network, The Orature Collective, Open Bar Initiative and Alliance for Africa have condemned the violation of human rights targetting popstar-turned presidential candidate Bobby Wine and his supporters.

The group wants the Ugandan government to be compelled to restrain from undermining elections and engaging in human rights violations as well respect the freedom of the press by allowing journalists to cover the elections.

“We stand in full support of the people of Uganda as they exercise their democratic right to elect their leaders and participate in the governance of their country. We call upon Uganda’s government to conduct the 14 January 2021 general elections in a transparent, credible, free, and fair manner and respect the people’s sovereign will,” reads the statement.

They also want the Uganda government to investigate and hold to account those responsible for extra-judicial killings and attacks on opposition leaders and their supporters, and unconditionally release those detained for participating in a peaceful political assembly.

Some 18 million voters are registered for the presidential and parliamentary ballot, which follows a pre-election crackdown more severe than any seen in recent times, and growing signs the race has been tilted against Museveni’s rivals.

His opponents — most visibly Wine, who spent much of the campaign in a bulletproof vest and combat helmet — have been arrested, denied permission to rally, and seen their meetings dispersed with tear gas and supporters shot in the streets.

Journalists covering opposition rallies meanwhile have been attacked, government critics locked up, and election monitors prosecuted, raising concerns over the transparency of the electoral process.

The bloodshed, particularly the deaths of 54 people over two days of protests in November, was condemned abroad and has intensified international pressure on Museveni to ensure a free and fair vote.

Greeting voters in his folksy broad-brimmed hat, cutting ribbons on tarmacked highways and unveiling new airliners, Museveni has been counting down the days to victory in upbeat campaign posters in the signature bright yellow of his National Resistance Movement (NRM).

He has never lost an election, and most observers expect this week to be no different.

In his 35-year rule Museveni has fused state and party so effectively, and crushed political opposition so totally, that any serious challenge to either him or the NRM at the ballot box is seen as next-to-impossible.

“The ground simply does not make it possible to win any election against Mr Museveni. It does not really matter who the challenger is,” Bernard Sabiti, a Kampala-based political analyst, told AFP.

– Young and free –

But Wine’s rise has rattled Museveni, who has outlasted all but two of Africa’s long-serving rulers, and watched as ageing strongmen elsewhere on the continent have been ousted in popular, youth-led uprisings.

The septuagenarian son of cattle keepers harks to an older, rural Uganda but presides over an overwhelmingly young population, with a median age less than 16, that is increasingly urban and educated.

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