THE run-up to elections in African countries with long-ruling leaders is often fraught with risk for the opposition, and keeping with tradition Uganda lined up Thursday.
The Police arrested two top opposition leaders and presidential candidates hoping to challenge veteran President Yoweri Museveni in elections early next year.
Ex-prime minister Amama Mbabazi was arrested in central Uganda, while Kizza Besigye, a former leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) but aspiring presidential candidate for the party, was arrested at his home just outside the capital Kampala.
Both were arrested ahead of campaign rallies they had planned.
Museveni, who has led the east African nation since 1986, has been endorsed by the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) to represent it in next year’s election.
But Mbabazi, a former close ally of the president, announced last month he would challenge the 70-year-old incumbent for the nomination, sparking criticism from the government, which pointed out that many of the failings of which Mbabazi accuses Museveni happened when he was the party’s secretary general.
Besigye is a three-time presidential election challenger and a former personal doctor to Museveni when they were in the bush as guerrillas in the early 1980s.
Kizza Besigye interviewed in Kampala. (Photo/FB).
After he lost elections in 2011, Besigye led repeated anti-government protests, at which he was regularly arrested and held for a few hours before being released.
Besigye’s colleague, FDC president Mugisha Muntu, a retired army general, has also said he will run.
Museveni on Thursday left for neighbouring strife-torn South Sudan to celebrate that country’s fourth independence day.
The celebrations are taking place under the shadow of an 18-month civil war, between government forces backed by thousands of Ugandan troops and rebels led by a former vice president.
As in other African countries where opposition challengers are embattled, it has become the norm that ahead of presidential elections in Uganda, the main rivals to Museveni are hamstrung by harassment.
In 2001 Besigye - then nominally still a member of the ruling NRM and an officer in the military, faced disciplinary action for “using the wrong forum” to criticise the party and declare his presidential ambitions. After the elections, he fled to exile in South Africa before returning home at the end of 2005.
Ahead of the 2006 election, he was arrested and charged with what his supporters and lawyers said were trumped up charges of rape in an attempt to lock him out of the race. The court eventually dismissed the charges, and he ran in what was another acrimonious and violence-plagued contest.
It had been widely expected that Mbabazi would face the same hurdles. Several meetings of a youth group supporting him have been disrupted by police and their members arrested.
It has been the same story - and worse - over the last 12 months for the continent’s opposition parties and leaders.
Ahead of the June 29 parliamentary elections, and the controversial presidential poll next week, Burundi was rocked by violence, and a failed coup, as the opposition protested what they say is President Pierre Nkurunziza’s illegal bid for a third term. The Burundi constitution provides for two presidential terms.
Burundi’s Nkurunziza: He has cracked quite a few opposition skulls in Burundi. (Photo/AFP).
Over 140,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries as refugees to escape the violence.
In May Zedi Feruzi, a leader of an opposition party, was shot dead alongside his bodyguard in Bujumbura.
Earlier in April Burundian police arrested opposition leader opposition leader Audifax Ndabitoreye after he attended a meeting of foreign ministers from the East African Community who were seeking a solution to the unrest in the country.
The ruling party - the CNDD FDD – eventually won 77 out of 100 elected seats in parliament, in a June 29 vote boycotted by the opposition.
In Sudan in June last year, as the parties and the Omar al-Bashir government squabbled over the elections that were held in April this year, Sudanese authorities arrested the head of the opposition Congress Party, Ibrahim al-Sheikh, three weeks after the arrest of another opposition leader sparked violent anti-government protests.
Leader of the Umma Party and former prime minister Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, was arrested after he accused security forces of rape and other civilian abuses in the Darfur region of western Sudan.
In April Bashir was declared to have won the presidency with nearly 95% of the vote, a poll that was boycotted by the weakened opposition.
With the exception of Eritrea, all countries in Africa now hold elections, the argument against the vote having become difficult to make any longer. However, in many countries they go for the form and ritual, not the substance. Free and truly competitive elections are still few and far in between.
-Reporting by AFP.