Police in Kampala have fired tear gas and live bullets to disperse protesters gathered on Thursday, November 19, to denounce the arrest of presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, known as Bobi Wine. A heavy police presence and associated disruptions have been reported in parts of the city. Roads in the capital's central business district have been blocked by burning tyres and piles of rubbish. Many shops and businesses have closed their premises; reports suggest security forces entered shopping malls and fired tear gas inside to disperse people. There have also been reports of police chasing and beating demonstrators, though there have been no confirmed injuries.
Seven people were killed and more than 30 injured in nationwide protests on Wednesday, November 18, as unrest broke out after Kyagulanyi staged a rally in Luuka district (Eastern Region) on Wednesday. He had been scheduled to address his supporters but police accused him of breaching coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions on gatherings of more than 200 people. It is not clear where the fatalities occurred, but earlier reports on Wednesday suggested live ammunition had been used in Kampala against protesters who'd gathered in the Kiseka Market area of the city. Demonstrators have also gathered in Jinja (Eastern region) on Thursday.
Further protests across Uganda are possible in the coming hours and days over Kyagulanyi's arrest and subsequent clashes between opposition demonstrators and security forces are likely to occur.
Political tensions in Uganda have been increasing ahead of the presidential election in 2021, after President Yoweri Museveni pushed through controversial constitutional reforms in December 2017 to remove the presidential age limit in a move widely seen as paving the way for him to stand for a sixth term in office. The debate around the proposed constitutional reforms was bitter with infighting within the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), regular protests and several opposition leaders being arrested. However, Museveni and his supporters, backed by a closely-aligned and powerful military, have largely succeeded in suppressing opposition to his candidacy within the NRM.
Having come to prominence during the constitutional reform campaign, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu has become a major opposition talisman following his move into politics in 2017. The outspoken critic of Museveni has been arrested multiple times by security forces on charges related to anti-government protests, with arrests sparking unrest amongst his populist support base. After announcing his bid to run for president in the 2021 general election in 2019, he assumed leadership of the National Unity, Reconciliation and Development Party and revamped it as the National Unity Platform, becoming the party's de facto presidential candidate.
Those in Uganda are advised to monitor the situation, avoid all demonstrations as a precaution, anticipate a heightened security presence, and adhere to all instructions issued by the local authorities.
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