Uganda’s Museveni Extends 35-year Rule with Disputed Election Win

Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni has won a sixth term in office, the election commission said Saturday, extending his 35-year rule after a poll which his main rival said was marred by fraud.The 76-year-old leader, who took power in 1986, is one of Africa’s longest-serving presidents. He was accused of crushing the opposition and media ahead of one of the most violent election campaigns in recent years.Museveni won with 58.6% of the vote, seeing off a stiff battle from 38-year-old former ragga singer Bobi Wine, who fired up a youthful population where three quarters are under 30 years old.Wine was under heavy guard at his home on the outskirts of Kampala as the results were announced, with his party saying he was under “effective house arrest.” The government said it was merely providing him with security.The singer-turned-MP was among 10 opposition candidates and came second with 34.8% of the vote.”The electoral commission declares Yoweri Museveni… elected President of the republic of Uganda,” said election commission chairman Justice Simon Mugenyi Byabakama.He said turnout was about 57% of almost 18 million registered voters.Security forces poured into the streets of Kampala after the announcement, with one soldier atop an armored personnel carrier urging citizens to maintain social distancing as a helicopter buzzed overhead.Images on state television showed jubilant Museveni supporters in his home district waving flags and cheering, while soldiers in the capital helped marshal motorcycle drivers for a parade — handing them yellow vests and Museveni posters.Museveni, in a wide-ranging speech on state television after the announcement, thanked his supporters and said that now, “the only thing to avoid is violence.””I think this might turn out to be the most cheating-free election since 1962,” when the country achieved independence, he said.However, the election was marked by harassment and arrests of the opposition, attacks on the media and the deaths of at least 54 people.U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus praised Ugandans on Saturday for voting “despite an environment of intimidation and fear.”She added that the US was “deeply troubled by the many credible reports of security force violence during the pre-election period and election irregularities during the polls.”Wine alleged widespread fraud such as ballot box stuffing and said his party agents had in some places been beaten and chased from polling stations.”Whatever is being declared is a complete sham, we reject it and we dissociate ourselves with it,” he said on Friday.’We don’t control them’Wine’s home remained sealed off by soldiers and police on Saturday, after he told AFP Friday evening that security forces had breached the fence around it and he felt under “siege.”The army’s deputy spokesman Deo Akiiki said the soldiers were there for “his own security.”However, the spokesman for Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP), Joel Ssenyonyi, told AFP Bobi Wine “is under effective house arrest.””People are angry because their vote has been stolen. They don’t need me or Bobi Wine to tell them to get angry,” Ssenyonyi said. “Even we can’t control them.”Disappointed at Wine’s loss, 31-year-old carpenter Dennis Agaba complained that “the election was not fair.”However, 35-year-old electrician Dennis Tusiime was celebrating the result, describing himself as “very, very happy.”Tibor Nagy, the top US diplomat for Africa, tweeted the vote was “fundamentally flawed,” citing the denial of accreditation to election observers and “violence and harassment of opposition figures.”The internet has been down for four days, and government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said the measure was taken due to “abuse, misuse, disinformation, fake news with the overall objective of undermining the integrity of the electoral process including the results… and possibly to cause destabilization.”He said the internet would be restored once the threat had passed, possibly on Monday morning.Odds stacked against WineMuseveni has ruled Uganda without pause since seizing control in 1986, when he helped to end years of tyranny under Idi Amin and Milton Obote.Once hailed for his commitment to good governance, the former rebel leader has crushed any opposition and tweaked the constitution to allow himself to run again and again.For many in the country, where the average age is 16 and most have known only one president, Museveni’s glory days are no longer relevant or sufficient.Wine, with his humble origins in a slum and popular songs about economic and social injustice, struck a chord with young people. But observers said the odds were stacked against him with Museveni’s powerful grip on the state.Wine’s newly formed NUP is however on track to become the main opposition party in parliament, notably winning eight of nine constituencies in the capital Kampala.   

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UN Says Breakthrough Achieved in Libya Transition Talks

The top U.N. official for Libya said Saturday that an advisory committee for representatives of Libya’s different regions has proposed a way forward for choosing a transitional government that would lead the war-torn country to elections late this year.The talks in Geneva, structured around the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, have been taking place amid a heavy international push to reach a peaceful settlement to Libya’s civil war. Previous diplomatic initiatives have all collapsed.U.N. acting envoy for Libya Stephanie Williams told a news conference in Geneva that the advisory committee’s members “have met their responsibility with a constructive spirit, cooperative efforts, and a great deal of patriotism.”The committee is part of a 75-member forum that represents the three main regions of Libya. The 18-member committee has proposed that each region’s electoral college name a representative to a three-member presidential council, Williams said. A prime minister would be chosen by the 75-member forum. A successful nominee should receive 70% of votes.Williams said that the forum would resort to lists formed from Libya’s three regions, with each list consisting of four names, nominated for the presidential council and a prime minister position.She said a list should obtain 17 endorsements: eight from the western region, six from the eastern region and three from southern Libya. The wining list should receive 60% of the votes of the 75-member forum in the first round. A run-up is expected if no list received the required votes, she said.Williams said the forum would vote on the proposed mechanism Monday and the results are expected the following day.The transitional government would be “a temporary unified executive staffed by Libyan patriots who want to share responsibility rather than to divide the cake,” the U.N. acting envoy said.The U.S. welcomed the breakthrough and urged all parties of Libya “to work with urgency and in good faith” to establish an interim government, according to a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Libya.”It is time to move past the conflict and corruption facilitated by the status quo,” it said.The forum is part of the U.N. efforts to end the chaos that engulfed the oil-rich North African nation after the 2011 overthrow and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. It has reached an agreement last year to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Dec. 24, 2021.The oil-rich country is now split east to west between two rival administrations, each backed by an array of militias and foreign powers.The warring sides agreed to a U.N.-brokered cease-fire in October in Geneva, a deal that included the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya within three months.No progress was announced on the issue of foreign forces and mercenaries since they inked the cease-fire deal almost two months ago.

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UN Rushing to Relocate Ethiopian Refugees Away From Sudanese Border

The United Nations and other agencies are rushing to relocate thousands of refugees camped out along the disputed Sudan-Ethiopia border to safer areas further away.Tensions along the border region between Sudan and Ethiopia have grown since the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray province started in early November.  Since then, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that more than 58,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled for safety across the border into Sudan.UN Slams Ethiopian Government for Blocking Aid to Conflict-Ridden TigrayLack of food, water and health services are affecting hundreds of thousands of people and leading to a rise in malnutrition and water-borne diseasesThe agency reports between 200 and 500 refugees continue to arrive every day at two border crossings. UNHCR Representative in Sudan Axel Bisschop has just returned from a mission to east Sudan. He says the UNHCR is moving the refugees to designated settlements farther from the border where they will be safer and have better living conditions.“UNHCR is trying, together with partners, to actually decongest these border areas.  This is due to the fact that we do not want the refugees to be residing so close to the border,” said Bisschop. “So, we have relocated about 20,000 to the Um Rakuba area and we are about now to relocate the rest to the Tunaydbah area.”  The Um Rakuba camp is about 70 kilometers from the border.   It was constructed shortly after the refugee influx began in early November.  In less than two months, it had reached its capacity of 20,000 refugees. IRC Works With Sudanese Authorities to Expand Aid Delivery to Ethiopian Refugees Hundreds continue to flee Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region despite government assurances of safety back home Bisschop says the new Tunaybdah site, which is around 137 kilometers farther from the border, was opened January 3 to handle the overflow.“The Tunaybdah site is a site which has been developed on an area which is very, very remote.  At the moment, we do not have any electricity there,” said Bisschop. “We have pitched tents and we are trying, and we are actually racing against the clock here to get the camp up and running…At the moment, we have moved about 5,000 people but we expect to actually move about 20,000 additional people there.”   Getting to the camp is very difficult.   Bisschop says it can take up to 15 hours of travel over rough terrain to reach the site from the border.  He says aid agencies are now setting up shelters and infrastructure.  He says health care, water and food are available for the refugees.  As more refugees arrive, though, more relief will be needed.He says additional funding is required to quickly set up the remaining services and to ensure the increasing needs of the Ethiopian refugees are being met.  He is calling for more support from international donors, noting only 33% of the U.N.’s $147 million appeal, so far, has been received.

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Uganda’s Museveni Declared Winner of Presidential Election

Uganda’s election commission Saturday declared incumbent Yoweri Museveni the winner of the presidential election, extending his 35-year rule as his main rival alleged fraud and urged citizens to reject the result.Museveni won 5.85 million votes, or 58.64% of the total, while main opposition candidate Bobi Wine won 3.48 million votes (34.83%), the electoral commission said in a televised news conference.

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Families Hold Out Hope for Eritrea’s Disappeared Journalists

They haven’t heard from their loved ones in nearly two decades, but the families of imprisoned journalists in Eritrea still hold out hope after authorities freed several prisoners after 26 years. One of the journalists held incommunicado for nearly 20 years is Amanuel Asrat. The editor of Zemen, a newspaper that covered the arts and literature, has been detained since September 2001, without any contact with the outside world. No charges have been made public against him or other journalists jailed at the same time. His brother, Robel Asrat, said the family has demanded answers from Eritrean officials about Amanuel’s whereabouts but have heard nothing concrete. “The government just wants those people to be erased from the memory of everyone just to keep silent,” Robel told VOA. “Like they never existed. We don’t have any other information about them besides the rumors. But his work and legacy live on.” Amanuel is one of several journalists arrested in a widespread crackdown on independent media in 2001. The group were detained after publishing a letter to President Isaias Afwerki that called for government reform. Remembering Eritrea’s Disappeared JournalistsIn September 2001, Eritrean authorities launched an unprecedented crackdown on the free press. Seven of the country’s independent newspapers were shut down. At least 11 journalists were arrested in the roundup, and several more were jailed the following month. None of them have been heard from since that time, and their whereabouts are unknown to this day.Eritrea’s Minister of Information Yemane Gebremeskel did not respond to VOA’s emails asking about Amanuel and the other jailed journalists. The Eritrean Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to VOA’s call seeking information. Prior to the crackdown, Eritrea had a relatively vibrant news scene, with seven independent newspapers. Now it ranks 178 out of 180, where 1 is the most free, on Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index. After the arrests, independent news outlets closed and today the only media allowed are government-controlled, with the main access to media being the state-run radio stations and outlets EriTV, the Tigrigna-language Hadas Eritrea and English-language Eritrea Profile. Writer of courage As well as being a journalist, Amanuel is a celebrated Eritrean poet whose poem “The Scourge of War” was translated into 15 languages. The poem is an unflinching look at the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia that lasted from 1998 to 2000 and that, reports from the time say, left tens of thousands dead. “The ugliness of this thing, war,/ When its spring arrives unwished-for,/ When its ravaging echoes knock at your door,/ It is then that war’s curse brews doom, But … You serve it willy-nilly,” he wrote in 1999, capturing the devastation in Tigrigna. Amanuel last year was awarded the “Writer of Courage” by PEN International, which promotes freedom of expression and literature around the world. The award is given to writers persecuted for their beliefs. “The situation of forced disappearance aims to silence. It aims to create silence and to create fear, not just for the individual who has disappeared, but for their families, for their entire community around them,” Daniel Gorman, director of English PEN, told VOA. “The family of Amanuel Asrat and the family of many others who’ve been disappeared have been incredibly brave in speaking out,” Gorman said. “And I think what we need to do at PEN, as individuals and as people who care about this situation, is to try and amplify the voices as much as we can.” Advocates who follow Eritrea have seen some glimmers of hope related to political prisoners and those imprisoned for religious reasons. In December, the country released 28 Jehovah’s Witnesses after they completed lengthy prison sentences of up to 26 years. But there has not yet been a similar opening for imprisoned journalists. Data from the Committee to Protect Journalists show that 16 Eritrean journalists remain behind bars, one of the highest numbers on the African continent. Although there is little reliable news about the health or whereabouts of these journalists, Robel and other family members refuse to give up hope. In 2010, a prison guard who escaped to Ethiopia said that some of the journalists died in custody, but others were still alive. Rights Groups Urge Release of Journalists in Eritrea, Years After DisappearancesAaron Berhane, a former editor-in-chief and cofounder of Setit, once Eritrea’s largest independent newspaper, highlights the plight of colleagues who disappeared after being detainedAmanuel is among those believed to have been alive. “We cannot forget him and his colleagues easily. These people are treasures, the treasures of this era and the generation,” said Robel, who studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “He’ll be free to see how the world loves him.”

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Pandemic Closes, Repurposes Kenya’s Private Schools

Scores of privately owned schools in Kenya have closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. But some of the school buildings have been repurposed as businesses, such as providing residential housing and even selling coffins. Brenda Mulinya reports from Nairobi.
Camera: Amos Wangwa 
 

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UN Slams Ethiopian Government for Blocking Aid to Conflict-Ridden Tigray

U.N. agencies are criticizing Ethiopian authorities for blocking most humanitarian aid from reaching civilians and refugees caught up in the fighting in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray province.In early December, Ethiopian authorities struck a deal with the United Nations to allow unimpeded humanitarian supplies to reach the many people in need in Tigray.Unfortunately, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says most of that agreement has not been honored.UN Refugee Chief ‘Very Worried’ for Eritrean Refugees in TigrayTop UNHCR official says aid workers are unable to access two refugee camps since fighting broke out in NovemberOCHA spokesman Jens Laerke says the fighting in Tigray continues unabated and civilians continue to be killed and injured. Additionally, he says many people are still not receiving assistance in Tigray, more than two-and-a-half months since the conflict began.“Lack of food, water and health services are affecting hundreds of thousands of people and our colleagues on the ground are reporting a rise in malnutrition and water-borne diseases …Humanitarian assistance continues to be constrained by the lack of full, safe and unhindered access to Tigray caused both by insecurity, but also bureaucratic obstacles imposed by federal and regional authorities,” said Laerke.Laerke says U.N. and private agencies have managed to deliver aid in some areas, mainly in the cities. However, he says the number reached is far below the estimated 2.3 million people in need of assistance.The U.N. refugee agency also expresses alarm at its inability to assist tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees under its care in Tigray. Before the conflict began, some 96,000 Eritreans were sheltering in four refugee camps. Since then, many have fled the camps in fear of their safety, and others reportedly have been abducted and forcibly returned to Eritrea.UNHCR spokesman, Babar Balloch says staff on the ground recently were able to deliver food to some 25,000 Eritrean refugees in the Mai Aini and di Harush camps in Tigray. But he says the UNHCR does not have access to the two other camps, Shimelba and Hitsats.“Without being on the ground, it is really, really hard to say what has happened,” Balloch said. “But the disturbing reports and imagery, satellite imagery, in terms of open-source satellite imagery … that is really, really troubling. And that is why we repeat our call on the federal authorities to provide humanitarians unhindered access.”The UNHCR calls the situation of Eritrean refugees in Tigray dire and untenable. It says the refugees are extremely vulnerable and unable to provide for their own needs. It warns safe access and swift action are needed to save thousands of lives at risk.

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Uganda Soldiers Enter Home of Opposition After He Alleges Election Fraud

Ugandan soldiers entered the home of opposition leader Bobi Wine on Friday, after he said Thursday’s presidential election was marred by widespread fraud.  Wine claimed victory and declared himself president-elect, even as early results showed longtime leader Yoweri Museveni ahead 65 to 28 percent. The military moved in just hours after Wine said he would reject final election results – even before they were in — due to what he called the worst fraud in Uganda’s election history. We are under siege. The military has jumped over the fence and has now taken control of our home— BOBI WINE (@HEBobiwine) Election officials count the ballots after polls closed in Kampala, Uganda, Jan. 14, 2021.Wine declared himself president-elect over Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, despite early results from Uganda’s Electoral Commission showing the president with a strong lead over his challenger. “I am very confident that we defeated the dictator by far,” Wine told reporters.  “I call upon all Ugandans to reject the blackmail. General Museveni and his small click of oppressors are trying yet again to impose themselves on the people of Uganda.”If authorities had nothing to hide, asked Wine, why did they impose an Internet blackout since Wednesday? “We do not want to deal with speculation and allegations,” Uganda Electoral Commission spokesman Paul Bukenya said, responding to Wine’s allegations.   “We’ve not declared the final results and they are already being challenged.  So, I think let’s continue with what we are doing and if someone has an issue with them, they can challenge them.”Spokesman for Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement party Emmanuel Dombo said the president’s lead was no surprise.“Given our old track record, we are not surprised that people have continued to trust us.  But we didn’t know we would be this overwhelming.  And we are grateful to the population for demonstrating that they still love the old man in the hut.”Security forces patrol the streets of Kampala, Uganda, Jan. 14, 2021.If 76-year-old Museveni is declared the winner over Wine, who is half his age, he would enter a sixth, five-year term as president. But it’s not necessarily his last.  Uganda removed term limits in 2005.  Ahead of the election, U.N. rights officials warned the elections were unlikely to be free and fair due to violence, rights violations, and restrictions on opposition candidates and supporters.      
The U.S. Embassy in Uganda declined to observe the election after authorities denied more than 75 percent of their accreditation requests.   Sadly, I announce 🇺🇸 decision not to observe #Uganda’s elections due to @UgandaEC’s decision to deny more than 75% of our accreditation requests (see https://t.co/QmNqFHQFmg). A robust contingent of observers, including local entities, promotes transparency & accountability. pic.twitter.com/66nV9M52mU— U.S. Ambassador to Uganda (@USAmbUganda) January 13, 2021  

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