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Uganda's Longtime President Facing Contest For Latest Re-Election

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to head to the East African nation of Uganda now, which held a contentious presidential election earlier this week. The country's electoral commission announced that the incumbent longtime ruler, President Yoweri Museveni, beat back the challenge from his young opponent, the singer-turned-politician Bobi Wine. The election campaign was marred by violence against protesters and the opposition, and now Bobby Wine is contesting the results. We're joined now by NPR's Eyder Peralta, who's been in Uganda for the past week.

Eyder, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: So, first of all, just tell us the latest. What are you hearing on the streets in terms of reaction to the results?

PERALTA: Yeah. So I listened to the results in a neighborhood called Karamoja, and it's poor and full of young people who had really been given hope by opposition leader Bobi Wine. They had hopes that maybe things could change in Uganda. And I listened on a radio with a few guys. And when the electoral commissioner announced that President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 35 years, had won with almost 59% of the vote, there was silence, and I mean total silence.

Bosco Kalibala (ph) - he was angry. He was emotional. So many people died during the campaigns, he said, and maybe instead of that death, he said, maybe it's time for President Museveni to just stop holding elections altogether and stay in power. Let's listen to a bit of our conversation.

Does that mean that you're just giving up then, though? Does that mean that you will have one president for life?

BOSCO KALIBALA: (Through interpreter) Yeah, unless God helps us and takes him away. Other than that, we cannot even win when it comes to an election because he knows that if he (unintelligible) an election and then we argue over it, he's going to kill us.

PERALTA: And, Michel, I mean, I think it's important to note that the streets here have been totally militarized for the past week. There have been military helicopters in the skies and water cannons on corners. And military men are walking through neighborhoods in formation with their weapons in hand. And what Kalibala and others told me is that they're scared. And that fear seems to mean resignation that President Yoweri Museveni will stay in power.

MARTIN: And what's the opposition leader saying about all this?

PERALTA: So he is calling the elections the most rigged elections in the history of Uganda. And, you know, the government is rejecting these allegations. But Bobi Wine says he has evidence of military involvement and ballot stuffing. And he says full regions of Uganda didn't even vote. But he has not presented evidence to the Ugandan people because of the Internet blackout and because his house is surrounded by the military.

I had an interview scheduled with him - with Bobi Wine. And when I got to his house, a huge contingent of troops and police and special forces told me that I had no authorization to enter his house. And then later in the day, the government just beefed up that security. And when a group of us journalists approached, they told us to leave and marched toward us with their weapons.

I did manage to speak to Bobi Wine over the phone, and he said that he has essentially been put under house arrest. I asked him what he would tell Ugandans if he could speak to them, and this is what he told me.

BOBI WINE: I would tell them to stand firm, not to lose heart and claim that their voice reigns supreme. I would tell the Ugandans to be strong and know that this is not the end, but just the beginning of a large and lengthy struggle for the voice of the people to reign supreme.

PERALTA: And, you know, he promised to use any legal means to fight, but it's unclear what that actually means.

MARTIN: So, Eyder, that sounds like a very fraught and tense situation. Like, what's the biggest concern now that the results have been announced?

PERALTA: There had already been intense violence in the runup to the elections. So, you know, more violence was the fear. But what I'm seeing and hearing right now in Kampala is resignation. It's silent. And I think what is important to note is what Bobi Wine has represented to Ugandans. Bobi Wine is one of Uganda's most popular singers, and he broke into politics just five years ago, and he took on President Museveni head on. He's been beaten, tortured, jailed, but he has also really inspired young people in this country.

And that's huge because here in Uganda, the average age is 17. And through his music and his campaign, he really electrified young people. He made them believe that maybe finally a new generation could take the reins here in Uganda. And I think today there was just a really chilling realization that even after 35 years, this regime still has a chokehold on the country.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Eyder Peralta.

Eyder, thank you.

PERALTA: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.