March 27, 2016
KAMPALA, UGANDA — Elections were held in Uganda in February, but for many people here, life is still returning to normal.
Daily work stalled in the capital city in the days before the election, as some urban dwellers, fearful or violence or disruptions to daily life, headed for their villages.
The nine buses that make up the Bismarkan Coaches fleet were “exceptionally busy” around the time of the election, says Abdu Busulwa, the company’s operations manager.
“The buses would go full and return empty, which made us increase the fare to compensate the return fuel,” he says.
But the rate increases didn’t stop people from leaving the city, he says.
Even those who left the city to return to towns or villages where they were registered to vote noted that they were relieved to be away from potential disruptions to daily life in the city.
There were multiple reports of violence in the days leading up to the election, and in the weeks following it. The Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda reported that, in one Feb. 29 incident, eight journalists were arrested. The group has reported other arrests of journalists in recent weeks.
Opposition candidate Kizza Besigye was repeatedly detained by police in the run-up to and in the days after the election, according to widespread news reports. Besigye has been held in custody or barricaded in his home since Feb. 19, according to Human Rights Watch.
Tensions related to Uganda’s political system are nothing new, Human Rights Watch reports. Government security forces have in the past had a “lethal response” to demonstrations and protests.
Even people who were not directly involved in political activity were affected, as social media channels were blocked during the election.
President Yoweri Museveni, who has been Uganda’s leader for 30 years, took the election with about 60 percent of the votes, according to the country’s Electoral Commission.
With the status quo restored, people have returned to Kampala. Global Press Journal spoke with people who left the city, as well as people who stayed.
“I went to my village, because it is the place I had registered to vote. Since the voting day was a holiday, I felt that I was better off in the village, with my little ones tucked away from the city just in case something unpleasant happened. I am glad the situation is now okay.”
“I was ready for anything, including war. Nothing was going to deter me from participating in a decision that would affect Uganda for the next five years. This was my first time to vote, so it was a very crucial moment for me.”
“I was lactating at the time and looking at what was going on, it seemed like everybody was on tenterhooks and waiting to run to where their legs could carry them. So I decided to go to the village till things normalized. There was also no guarantee that food supply in town would be assured. And social media networks had been disrupted, meaning I would not get many clients.”
“I could not leave the capital, because I wanted to vote for my candidate. I was also sure that the security would be contained. I also had to keep guard of my merchandise in case there was some form of looting or vandalism.”
Edna Namara, GPJ, translated interviews from Luganda and Runyankole.