US slaps visa bans on Ugandans linked to disputed polls

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Uganda’s election process was ‘neither free nor fair’.

Washington called on the Ugandan government to hold to account those responsible for the 'flawed election conduct' [File: Sumy Sadurni/AFP]

The United States has said it is imposing visa restrictions on “those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda”, including during an election in January and the campaign period.

President Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, secured a sixth term in the January 14 poll garnering 58.6 percent of the votes. His closest challenger Bobi Wine, who secured 34.8 percent of the votes, disputed the tally and alleged fraud.

“Opposition candidates were routinely harassed, arrested, and held illegally without charge. Ugandan security forces were responsible for the deaths and injuries of dozens of innocent bystanders and opposition supporters,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Friday, adding that the election process was “neither free nor fair”.

“The Government of Uganda must significantly improve its record and hold accountable those responsible for flawed election conduct, violence, and intimidation,” he added.

The statement, however, did not specify who was affected by the visa restrictions. There was no immediate reaction by the Ugandan government.

The 76-year-old Museveni has dismissed allegations of vote-rigging, calling the election “the most cheating-free” since the country gained independence from Britain in 1962.

The run-up to the election was marked by violence and crackdown by security forces on opposition rallies.

In November, 54 people were killed as security forces tried to quell riots that erupted in several cities after Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was detained for alleged violation of anti-coronavirus measures. He was arrested multiple times during campaigning.

Following Museveni’s re-election, the US had warned it would consider “targeted actions” against members of security forces responsible for election irregularities and abuses against opposition candidates.

For its part, Uganda accused the US of trying to “subvert” the election after the US ambassador attempted to visit Bobi Wine, who was at the time under house arrest.

US Ambassador Natalie E Brown was stopped from visiting the opposition leader at his residence in a suburb in the northern outskirts of the capital, Kampala.

The embassy had said in a statement on January 18 Brown wanted to check on the “health and safety” of Bobi Wine, who became famous after years of singing about government corruption and nepotism.

Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo responded that Brown had no business visiting Bobi 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.”

Under Museveni, Uganda’s relationship with the US has been built on military cooperation, including in Somalia, where Ugandan troops, trained and equipped by the US, are the core of the peacekeeping mission that is battling the armed group, al-Shabab.

The US gives about $1bn per year in security and development assistance to Uganda.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies