Uganda’s government accused the United States of trying to “subvert” last week’s presidential elections after the US ambassador attempted to visit opposition leader Bobi Wine, who has been under house arrest.
US Ambassador Natalie E Brown was stopped from visiting Wine at his residence in a suburb in the northern outskirts of the capital, the embassy said in a statement late on Monday.
The mission said Brown wanted to check on the “health and safety” of Wine, who became famous after years of singing about government corruption and nepotism, charges the government denies.
The former pop star-turned-legislator, who came second with almost 35 percent votes, rejected the results and accused his rival, President Yoweri Museveni, of winning by fraud. Wine has so far provided no evidence to support his allegations.
The electoral commission, however, on Saturday declared Museveni the winner with 58.6 percent of the vote. Museveni, 76, has been in power since 1986.
On Tuesday, Wine’s lawyers filed a petition in the high court challenging the legality of detaining Wine and his wife without charge. The court has not yet said when the petition will be heard, lawyer Benjamin Katana told Reuters news agency.
‘Meddle in Uganda’s internal politics’
Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said Brown had no business visiting Wine.
“What she has been trying to do blatantly is to meddle in Uganda’s internal politics, particularly elections, to subvert our elections and the will of the people,” he said. “She shouldn’t do anything outside the diplomatic norms.”
The sharp, public rebuke to the US from the Ugandan government is relatively unusual as the two nations are allies.
Kristof Tetica, a professor of international development at the University of Antwerp, noted Museveni’s relations with the international community took a turn for the worse since November when the president blamed anti-government demonstrations on “foreign groups and homosexuals”.
He added donor support from the international community has been crucial to Museveni’s government since the mid-1980s.
“Particularly, the US has been a key ally of Uganda. On average they support Uganda with $970m a year, they’ve given military support. The country is seen as a key source of stability in the region, and that has given Uganda leeway for transgressions like corruption,” Tetica said.
“So that’s why it’s so surprising relations have become so hostile.”
There was no immediate comment from Brown or the US embassy.
Opondo said, without providing any evidence, that Brown had a track record of causing trouble in countries where she has worked in the past. The government was watching her, he added.
The US embassy has said last week’s vote was tainted by harassment of opposition candidates, suppression of media and rights advocates, and a nationwide internet shutdown.
“These unlawful actions and the effective house arrest of a presidential candidate continue a worrying trend on the course of Uganda’s democracy,” it said in the statement on Monday.
Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, on Monday appealed to “fellow citizens of the world” to help him as he remained effectively under house arrest since Thursday.
The US supports Ugandan soldiers serving in an African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia and has donated about $1.5bn to Uganda’s health sector in the past three years.
The US and the European Union did not deploy observer missions for the polls because Ugandan authorities denied accreditation and failed to implement recommendations by past missions.
During the campaigning, security forces routinely broke up Wine’s rallies with tear gas, bullets, beatings, and detentions.
They cited violations of laws meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus for those actions.
In November, 54 people were killed as security forces tried to quell riots that erupted in several cities after Wine was detained for alleged violation of the anti-coronavirus measures. He was arrested multiple times during the campaigning.
Bobi Wine and his National Unity Platform (NUP) have rejected the results and said they were planning to challenge it legally.
On Monday, security forces cordoned off the party’s offices in the capital.