Supporters of the opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) leader Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, scuffled with police on Monday, November 23, as the presidential candidate held campaign events in the Kyenjojo and Kyegegwa areas of the Western Region. Police reportedly fired tear gas to disperse some crowds who had gathered to meet Kyagulanyi's convoy in Kyegegwa on Monday morning, whilst NUP supporters were blocked from a later campaign event in Kyenjojo after security forces blocked a number of local roads. Several members of Kyagulanyi's campaign team had earlier been arrested in Kyegegwa after police raided their hotel on Sunday, November 22, but it is currently unclear whether the activists have been charged with any offense.
The incidents come as Kyagulanyi resumes campaigning following his arrest on November 18 at a rally in the Luuka district. At least 45 people were killed in several days of unrest in Kampala and other areas after police aggressively broke up the rally, citing violation of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions on gatherings of more than 200 people. The NUP leader was subsequently charged with violation of COVID-19 restrictions and released on bail on Friday, November 20, but the arrest is widely seen as having been politically motivated.
Further disruptions and unrest linked to political events and rallies are likely across Uganda in the medium term, with a high risk of clashes between security forces and opposition supporters in the run-up to the election on January 14.
Political tensions in Uganda have been increasing ahead of the 2021 presidential election 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, Kyagulanyi has become a major opposition leader 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 and political gatherings as a precaution, anticipate a heightened security presence ahead of and during planned political rallies, and adhere to all instructions issued by local authorities.