On Saturday, long-time Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of the country’s disputed presidential election, with his main rival rejecting the results, stating that they are fraudulent and calling for an independent audit of the country.
According to the final results, which were announced by the election commission, Museveni got more than 60 percent of the votes while his nearest rival Kizza Besigye received 35 percent. While Museveni was re-elected president, at least nineteen of his ministers lost their parliamentary seats. Amongst them was defense minister Crispus Kiyonga, who is spearheading regional efforts to end the political crisis in Burundi, and attorney general Fred Ruhindi. Some 9.7 million Ugandans voted, a turnout of around 63 percent, for president and members of parliament, with 290 assembly seats contested by candidates from 29 political parties. Furthermore, on Monday, election commission spokesman Jotham Taremwa disclosed that Saturday’s election results did not include tallies from at least 1,242 polling stations – effectively about 4 percent of all polling stations. While Taremwa has disclosed that the missing results cannot change the outcome, Besigye’s supporters have noted that they could bring down Museveni’s margin of victory. Museveni needed 50 percent plus one vote in order to avoid a runoff election.
Besigye was under house arrest as Museveni was declared the winner. On the ground sources have reported that heavily armed police were standing guard near his residence, which is located on the outskirts of the capital, Kampala. In a video, Besigye rejected the results, stating, “we knew right from the beginning the electoral commission that was organizing and managing these elections was a partisan, incompetent and discredited body as from the previous elections,” adding, “we knew that the military and security organizations were going to be engaged in a partisan and unfair way like they did in the past.” Besigye urged the international community to reject the official tally. The president’s ruling party, the National Resistance Movement, has urged “all candidates to respect the will of the people and the authority of the electoral commission and accept the result. We ask all Ugandans to remain calm and peaceful and not to engage in any public disruptions.”
While following the announcement of the results, the capital, which has been under a heavy security presence, was calm on Saturday, tensions increased on Monday when police arrested Besigye as he tried to leave his home where he had been confined under house arrest. On the ground sources reported seeing police push Besigye into the back of a blacked-out van and take him away to a police station in a rural area outside the capital. Besigye had been going to the election commission to get detailed copies of results from the presidential elections. Uchenna Emelonye of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Besigye in the police station, telling reporters shortly after that he “has not been informed, formally or informally, why he is being detained. Polly Namaye, a police spokeswoman, has however disclosed that officers arrested Besigye in order to keep him from “storming the electoral commission with his supporters.”
Thursday’s voting was marred by lengthy delays in the delivery of polling materials. There were also some incidents of violence as well as a government shutdown of social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, which remained inaccessible on Saturday. The European Union (EU) observer mission has since reported that the election was marked by an “intimidating atmosphere, which was mainly created by state actors. Speaking to reporters on Saturday, EU mission leader Eduard Kukan stated that Uganda’s election commission lacks independence and transparency and does not have the trust of all the parties. According to the EU’s preliminary report, opposition supporters were harassed by law enforcement officials in more than twenty districts. Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the head of the Commonwealth observer mission, also reported that Uganda’s elections “fell short of meeting key democratic benchmarks,” while the US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner disclosed that “the Ugandan people deserved better…We encourage those who wish to contest the election results to do so peacefully and in accordance with Uganda’s laws and judicial process, and urge the Ugandan government to respect the rights and freedoms of its people and refrain from interference in those processes.”
The United States embassy in Uganda reported Saturday that Ugandan security forces have stopped a cell of al-Shabaab insurgents who are apparently “planning for an imminent attack.” On Monday, a Ugandan military spokesman confirmed that nineteen terror suspects were arrested over the weekend in a raid on an al-Shabaab cell that was supposedly plotting to carry out an attack in the East African nation.
A statement released by the US embassy Saturday disclosed, “Ugandan authorities reported the discovery of an al-Shabaab terrorist cell in Kampala,” noting that US officials “…remain in close contact with our Ugandan counterparts as investigations continue into what appears to have been planning for an imminent attack.”
Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga confirmed that forces had arrested nineteen foreigners on Saturday in connection with a foiled attack. On Monday, Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda disclosed that police seized “substantial amounts of explosives” and suicide vests from the suspects, who are all of Somali origin. The operations were carried out in the Kisenyi neighbourhood, which is known for its large Somali population, and targeted a hotel and a flat where the Somalis recently had moved.
In the wake of an imminent terrorist attack, US security forces have increased their patrols around major sites and have warned its citizens about travel to the country. Embassy officials have disclosed that “at this point we are not aware of specific targets, and the Ugandan authorities have increased security at key sites, including Entebbe International Airport….If you must move about, remain aware of your surroundings, avoid crowds, monitor local news stations for updates, and maintain a high level of vigilance.” The US embassy warning comes nearly a week after US embassy officials warned that al-Shabaab insurgents may try to exact revenge for a US strike that killed the militant group’s commander earlier this month. Last Monday, officials warned US citizens to “stay alert to the on-going potential terrorist attacks in Uganda…we also caution US citizens of the possibility of retaliatory attacks in Uganda by al-Shabaab in response to the US and Ugandan military actions in Somalia, which killed al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane.”
Uganda, which has troops fighting al-Shabaab militants in neighbouring Somalia, is currently on high alert amidst concerns that the al-Qaeda-linked militant group is planning to carry out a similar attack to the Westgate assault that occurred in Kenya last September. The country has in the past been targeted by al-Shabaab. In 2010, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for bomb attacks that killed at least 76 people who were watching a soccer World Cup final in Kampala.
One month after Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants stormed Kenya’s Westgate shopping centre, killing sixty-seven people during a four-day siege, the threat from the militant group, and local sympathizers, remains high as officials in Somalia and in the African Union (AU) look towards increasing troop numbers in a bid to completely destroy a group which has transformed itself into a regional threat.
Posters reading “if you haven’t learnt the lesson Westgate, more is coming,” which were posted up last week during rallies held in the southern Somali port of Barawe, an al-Shabaab stronghold, confirm what is already going on throughout the country. Over the past number of months, al-Shabaab has significantly increased its attacks, both within Somalia and near the border regions with Kenya and Ethiopia, both countries which have deployed troops to Somalia in order to combat the militant group. While these attacks will not stop any time soon, recent remarks made by commanders within the group have indicated that al-Shabaab may increasingly place pressure on those states that have deployed troops in Somalia in a bid to force their withdrawal.
While over the past two years, AMISOM forces throughout Somalia have dislodged al-Shabaab from a number of its strongholds, including from the capital city of Mogadishu and the surrounding regions, as well as from the southern port city of Kismayo, the militant group has continued to carry out assassinations of politicians and journalists along with a number of suicide bombings that have targeted troops and security officials. While most of the groups‘ previous attacks have typically been small in scale, al-Shabaab has carried out large scale attacks in Somalia and in the region, such as the June 2013 attack on a UN compound in Mogadishu or the 2010 bombings in Kampala which killed seventy-six people. However this more recent attack on the Nairobi mall has demonstrated a significant and worrying step up in al-Shabaab’s operations, with the group now seemingly increasingly concentrating on attacks that require longer periods of planning and surveillance. Uganda’s announcement last week that it had increased its security level in the capital city of Kampala, after officials from the US Embassy indicated that they had credible information of a possible terror attack linked to al-Shabaab, also signified that the terrorist group may now increasingly focus on targeting regional interests, especially in those countries which have deployed troops to battle the militant group in Somalia. This recent move may also signify that al-Shabaab is turning its focus from Somalia’s internal politics to a more global agenda, similar to al-Qaeda, which the group is aligned with.
The battle to defeat al-Shabaab will now likely have to concentrate not only within Somalia, but also throughout the wider region, including in the countries that have deployed their armies in Somalia, such as Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. While the AU force in Somalia has requested that its size be increased by a quarter, which will amount to 23,000 troops, preventing al-Shabaab from attaining territorial gains within Somalia will not eliminate the group entirely. A UN report recently indicated that “al-Shabaab continues to pose a regional and international threat through its affiliates,” noting that as AU troops have seized more territory throughout Somalia, there has been an “increasing exodus” of foreign fighters, some of whom left “with the intention of supporting jihad in the region.” Last week’s announcement that a Norwegian citizen of Somali origin, 23-year-old Hassan Abdi Dhuhulow, was suspected of being one of the attackers in the Westgate incident confirmed what United Nations experts have already noted. That dozens, if not hundreds, of young men from countries across the Horn of Africa travel to Somalia in order to train with al-Shabaab militants. In turn, it remains unknown whether the Westgate attackers were sent specifically from Somalia, or whether they were a “homegrown” team recruited within Kenya. Consequently increasingly focusing on fighters coming from Western or Arab nations, along with local sympathizers and groups aligned with al-Shabaab across eastern Africa, will be a necessary step in fighting the militant group.