The United States has cancelled its observation of Uganda’s presidential election because most of its accreditation requests were denied and said Thursday’s vote would lack accountability and transparency.
The announcement adds to a growing chorus of concern over the credibility of the election pitting Yoweri Museveni, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, against 10 candidates including opposition frontrunner Bobi Wine, a popular singer.
While previous elections have been marred by crackdowns on the opposition, campaigning this time has been particularly violent. Scores of people have been killed and opposition candidates, supporters and campaign staff have been repeatedly arrested and intimidated.
The European Union said on Tuesday that the electoral process had been seriously tarnished by the excessive use of force and its offer to deploy a small team of electoral experts was not taken up.
A coalition representing hundreds of Ugandan civil society organisations said on Wednesday that it had filed 1,900 accreditation requests but only 10 had been granted.
“Absent the robust participation of observers, particularly Ugandan observers who are answerable to their fellow citizens, Uganda’s elections will lack the accountability, transparency and confidence that observer missions provide,” the U.S. embassy in Uganda said in a statement tweeted by its ambassador.
Museveni’s spokesman Don Wanyama said the African Union and East African Community would deploy observers and he couldn’t remember when Uganda last sent monitors to the United States.
In an television address on Tuesday, Museveni dismissed interference by foreign partners saying they didn’t understand that Uganda’s strength came from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), the army and the economy.
“We therefore don’t need lectures about anything from anybody. Because there’s nothing we don’t know,” said Museveni, wearing a military camouflage jacket.
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.
Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, is one the first opposition politicians to channel the grievances of young people into a viable challenge and this has rattled the NRM, analysts say.
With nearly 80% of its people under 30, Uganda has one of Africa’s youngest populations. That means the majority of Ugandans were born after Museveni took power in 1986 following a five-year guerrilla war.
More than a dozen European countries, Britain, Canada and the United States expressed their concern on Tuesday about media freedom and the harassment of reporters ahead of the vote.
Reporters covering opposition protests have been attacked by the security forces. Last week, police chief Martin Okoth Ochola said reporters would be beaten for their own good, to stop them going to places where their lives might be at risk.
“It’s hard to say there wont be violence,” said a senior EU diplomat. “Every bit of the security apparatus will be on the streets. Theoretically that brings calm, but I think we know that just brings flashpoints.”
Uganda also banned all social media platforms and messaging apps on Tuesday until further notice.
Museveni apologised for the inconvenience but said Uganda had no choice after Facebook took down some accounts which backed his ruling party.
In what analysts called a display of force amounting to preventative intimidation, a convoy of armoured military vehicles rolled through predominantly opposition areas of the capital Kampala on Tuesday.
“The systematic attempt to stop free information, to intimidate voters, and to harass opposition candidates means that this is no longer a credible election,” said Nic Cheeseman, a professor of democracy at Birmingham University.