Uganda has stepped up security patrols and shut down the internet, as voting started in a hotly contested election.
The vote pits pop star-turned-politician Bobi Wine, 38, against a man twice his age – Yoweri Museveni, who’s been in power for 35 years, and for three-quarters of Uganda’s population, is the only president they have known.
Long queues snaked around polling stations from as early as 6am in the capital, Kampala. There are more than 18 million registered voters in the nation of about 45 million people.
Armoured-personnel carriers, police and soldiers patrolled the streets of Kampala, in operations they said were aimed at thwarting any unrest.
The lead-up to the poll has been marred by violence. At least 60 people died in protests that erupted after opposition presidential candidate Bobi Wine’s arrest in November. The government has also clamped down on social-media platforms after both Facebook and Twitter announced they had blocked accounts linked to the State.
MTN Uganda said it received a directive from the Uganda Communications Commission to suspend all internet gateways and associated access points from 7pm, on Wednesday, 13th January
“MTN Uganda, in compliance with its national telecommunication operator licence, and in accordance to MTN’s group-wide digital human-rights due diligence framework, has implemented the directive,” spokeswoman Rhona Arinaitwe said in a statement.
According to Godber Tumushabe, an associate director at the Kampala-based Great Lakes Institute of Strategic Studies, the internet outage has raised concerns about accountability during the election.
“The internet blackout means there is an absolute lack of transparency,” he said.
Museveni has been in power since a 1986 coup and lawmakers have changed the nation’s constitution twice to enable him to keep running. While his share of the vote dropped to 61 per cent in the last election in 2016, from 74 per cent in 1996, his popularity in the rural areas and among older citizens is what he is relying on to help him extend his rule.
Results are expected within 48 hours after balloting ends at 4pm.