Democracy and rights
Democratic elections have been held regularly in Uganda since the mid-1990s. A multi-party system was introduced in 2005, but so far President Yoweri Museveni and his party NMR have been able to remain in power, not least because of the government’s harassment of the political opposition. Nevertheless, the country has a relatively lively political debate. Although the judges are appointed by the president, the courts have repeatedly demonstrated their independence towards the government.
Much of Uganda’s power is concentrated on the president, the NRM government and the military.
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The latest presidential and parliamentary elections held in February 2016 were conducted according to international observers in a climate of fear. Before the election, the authorities intervened several times against opposition meetings and opposition leaders were arrested on arbitrary grounds. Several attacks were also made against the media and during the election day itself, the authorities blocked all communication via social media. The Freedom House organization also pointed to shortcomings in the election commission’s work. During Election Day, many voters had to wait a long time to get their vote, which diluted the even-so-strong distrust of the election commission. Freedom House also criticized the state’s use of money to support NRM candidates.
Both the political opposition and many ordinary Ugandans have protested that the constitution has been changed to make it possible for President Museveni to stand for re-election (see Political system and Current politics).
In 2016, the Supreme Court (HD) rejected a petition from one of the opposition candidates in the presidential election to annul the election, but in doing so recommended a series of reforms of the country’s electoral laws – including the introduction of laws limiting financial donations to political candidates during the electoral movements and a ban against government officials participating in political campaigns – and urged the Minister of Justice to present a proposal within two years. The deadline passed without anything happening. However, the Minister of Justice claimed in early 2019 that some of the changes had been implemented as early as 2017. However, in the summer of 2019, HD increased pressure on the government and demanded that a plan for electoral reforms be presented in court by the end of the same year.
In the fall of 2017, there were 29 registered political parties in Uganda. Opposition parties’ ability to make themselves heard is hampered by their lack of space in state media, but also by their candidates and voters being harassed and subjected to violence by security forces and paramilitary groups (see also Current Policy). Legal processes are also used to undermine opposition politicians, as in the case of Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu (pop star Bobi Wine), who has been charged with high treason on loose grounds (see Current Policy).
There is an active civil society, but the activities of voluntary organizations are hampered by, among other things, extensive bureaucracy. Freedom of the meeting is enshrined in the constitution, but according to a law from 2013, permission must be sought three days in advance for all meetings where politics is discussed.
Women hold high positions in politics and administration and just under a third of MPs (mainly due to special reserved mandates) and an almost equal proportion of government members are women. There is some opposition to women taking part in the competition for the directly elected mandate, since it is considered that they are already represented in Parliament.
The country’s strict legislation on homosexuality, which is banned in Uganda, has attracted worldwide attention (see Current Politics and Social Conditions). This means that LGBTQ people are not represented in politics.
Corruption is a problem in Uganda that has been shaken by several corruption scandals with ramifications within the highest political sphere (see Current Policy).
According to the organization Transparency International’s index of perceived corruption in the countries of the world, Uganda 2018 ranked 149 out of 180 countries.
Freedom of expression and media
Freedom of the press and opinion are enshrined in the constitution, but there are a number of laws that allow the state to intervene in the media. Journalists who have written on sensitive issues, such as corruption in the top state government run the risk of being arrested, beaten or exposed to other harassment. In connection with the elections, President Museveni and the NRM favor government ethereal media, while some newspapers rather stand on the opposition’s side.
President Museveni tolerates almost no criticism and often uses a harsh tone when speaking about media. During a press conference 2018, according to Reporters Without Borders, he called journalists “parasites”.
It is mainly the newspapers that challenge power. The publication of the leading opposition newspaper The Monitor has been stopped several times and its journalists have been repeatedly imprisoned. It also appears that media are temporarily shut down by the authorities after publishing / sending inconvenient material to the government. Some of the violence against journalists also comes from ordinary citizens. Governors use advocacy laws to silence uncomfortable voices. Authorities routinely refuse journalists to release material that should be public
There are several extensible laws that are used by the government to attack the media, mainly provisions on rioting, slander and a law on counter-terrorism, according to which information “likely to encourage terrorism” can provide up to ten years in prison. New legislation from 2014 also gives the authorities greater powers to monitor what is written online and to intercept mobile phones. In 2017, a new unit was created at Uganda’s media center with the task of monitoring what is written in social media.
Even before the 2016 elections, the authorities intervened in independent media, including the radio station Endigyito FM was closed by the authorities after sending an interview with one of the opposition candidates in the presidential election. At the same time, it was clear that the regime had failed to stop criticism of the government that came via social media.
In July 2018, a new and unpopular social media tax was introduced. It has reduced Internet usage in Uganda, from 18.5 million users in July 2018 to 13.5 million in October of the same year, according to figures from the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC). Some critics of the tax have argued that the law poses a threat to freedom of speech in the country.
The Ugandan Communications Commission (UCC) shut down some 30 journalists in May 2019 for reporting the arrest of opposition politician Bobi Wine at the end of April that year.
The radio is the medium that reaches the most in Uganda. There are over 200 radio channels. A number of local radio channels have been started in recent years. Most of them are not particularly critical of those in power because they are driven by people close to the regime. There are also about 40 TV channels.
The largest daily newspapers include the English-speaking New Vision, where the government is majority owner. It still manages to maintain a relatively independent line, except in elections and political protests. Newspapers like Daily Monitor, Observer and Independent, contain more criticism of the government. Several new magazines have been started in the 2000s, including Red Pepper and Rolling Stone, with a great deal of sensation-oriented material.
On Reporters Without Borders index of freedom of the press in the world, Uganda ranked 2019 out of 125 countries in 180 countries. The country has steadily dropped investments in the list since 2015 when Uganda was in 97th place.
Judicial system and legal security
The justice system suffers from a great lack of resources, and many criminal suspects have to wait a long time to have their cases tried. Although the judges are appointed by the president, the courts have repeatedly demonstrated their independence towards the government. Both the Constitutional Court and the High Court (High Court) have repeatedly opposed the government in important cases, for example when opposition leader Kizza Besigye was arrested and prosecuted for obvious political reasons but eventually acquitted. Corruption is a major problem throughout the justice system.
In the country, serious violations of human rights are regularly committed. However, since the LRA was expelled from Uganda (see special chapter on LRA), the situation in the northern part of the country has improved.
Although the law does not allow arbitrary arrests of opposition politicians, protesters and journalists. Several more or less secret police forces have been charged with torture and other abuses against criminals and opposition supporters. At the same time, more and more police officers are being trained in human rights.
The conditions in the overcrowded prisons are poor. In many prisons there is a lack of food and the prisoners also do not receive the medical treatment they need. More than half of the prisoners are jailed awaiting trial, many of them as long as two, three years.
Abbreviated as UGA by Abbreviationfinder, Uganda still has the death penalty, but no one has been executed since 2005.
There is an official human rights body: the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHCR), which can act independently but whose board is appointed by the president.
In 2000, the government granted amnesty to people who had participated in armed uprisings against the government on condition that they put down their weapons. Of the nearly 27,000 who had been granted amnesty by 2013, about half had belonged to the LRA. However, the Amnesty Act does not include the LRA’s senior leader, who has been prosecuted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) following a request from Uganda. Over the years, Museveni became increasingly critical of the ICC. First, the criticism was that the ICC ‘s calls for the LRA leaders complicated the peace talks with the guerrillas. Later criticism has been that the court has so far only prosecuted Africans, and then also sitting heads of state.
The government and the LRA agree on a ceasefire.
Gerilla wants to negotiate with the government
In May, LRA leader Joseph Kony announces via a video recording in southern Sudan (in what is today South Sudan) that he wants to negotiate with the Ugandan government. However, when peace talks start in August in Juba in southern Sudan, Kony and the other LRA leaders who were indicted by the ICC do not participate because of fear of being arrested and sent to the ICC detention center in The Hague. Instead, the LRA negotiates via a group of exile politicians from the Acholi people.
Changed prosecution against opposition politicians
In March, the rape charge against Besigye was discontinued, while the charges of high treason (ie attempts to overthrow Museveni) remain.
The government is accused of electoral fraud
In Parliament, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) gains its own majority by taking home 205 of the 319 seats. The second largest party will be FDC with 37 seats. The opposition parties Uganda’s People’s Congress (UPC) and the Democratic Party (DP) win nine and eight seats respectively. Most of the other mandates go to independent candidates. According to observers, the choice is essentially carried out correctly. The FDC accuses the government side of electoral fraud, but the Supreme Court rejects the party’s demand that the election be redone.
Following a violent electoral movement, the presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on February 23, under peaceful conditions. The turnout is 72 percent. Museveni is re-elected president with 59 percent of the vote against 37 percent for Besigye.
Opposition politicians are allowed to stand in elections
Besigye gets a clear sign from the Election Commission to stand in the presidential election and be released in January.