Ugandan opposition presidential candidate Bobi Wine said soldiers raided his home on Tuesday and arrested his guards, two days before an election pitting the singer-turned-lawmaker against one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.
Patrick Onyango, police spokesman for the capital Kampala, denied Wine’s home had been raided or that anyone was arrested, saying: “We were just rearranging our security posture in the area near his home, specifically removing some checkpoints.”
Campaigning ahead of Thursday’s vote has been marred by crackdowns on opposition rallies, which the authorities say break COVID-19 curbs on large gatherings. Rights groups say the restrictions are a pretext for muzzling the opposition.
At 38, Wine is half the age of President Yoweri Museveni and has attracted a large following among young people in a nation where 80% of the population are under 30. He is considered the frontrunner among 10 candidates challenging the former guerrilla leader who seized power in 1986.
While security forces have cracked down on the opposition at previous polls, the run up to this year’s vote has been especially violent. In November, 54 people were killed as soldiers and police quelled protests after Wine was detained.
Wine said the raid on his compound in Kampala and the arrest of his guards happened while he was doing an interview with Kenya’s Hot 96 FM radio station.
“I have to end the interview because I can see soldiers beating my security guards,” he said.
Wine also said a team member who works mainly as a mechanic was shot dead by the military overnight.
Museveni, 76, has won every election since the first under his presidency in 1996, though they have been tarnished by intimidation of the opposition and accusations of vote rigging.
Uganda is a Western ally, a prospective oil producer and is considered a stabilising force in a region where war has plagued some neighbours. It also contributes the biggest contingent of an African Union force fighting Islamist insurgents in Somalia.
While Museveni was welcomed for bringing stability after the brutal reigns of two dictators, opponents say his government has become riddled with corruption and nepotism.
Museveni said on Twitter that he would address the nation at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) on Tuesday ahead of the presidential and parliamentary votes on January 14.
The European Union is not deploying election observers as advice from previous observers about how to make the polls fair went unheeded, the bloc’s ambassador to Uganda has said. The African Union will deploy observers.
On Tuesday, many people reported being unable to access Facebook and WhatsApp. During the 2016 election, both social media networks were shut off for days around the vote.
Wine and his supporters have been using Facebook to relay live coverage of his campaigns and news conferences after he said many media outlets had declined to host him.
Most radio and TV stations are owned by government allies while the country’s leading daily is state-run.
Museveni and his supporters have also been using Facebook, though the U.S. media giant said on Monday it had taken down a network linked to the ministry of information for posting from fake and duplicate accounts.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Wine and two other opposition candidates – Patrick Amuriat and Mugisha Muntu – urged Ugandans to turn out and “protect their vote” by staying at polling stations to observe counting.