Ugandans began voting in a tense election Thursday under heavy security and an internet blackout as veteran leader Yoweri Museveni pursues a sixth term against a former pop star half his age.
The internet went down on the eve of the vote, with some parts of the country reporting complete disruptions or significant slowdowns, after one of the most violent campaigns in years.
Museveni is seeking a sixth term in office, having ruled for almost four decades, against singer-turned-MP Bobi Wine, 38, whose popularity among a youthful population has rattled the former rebel leader.
In the Kamwokya slum, where Wine grew up and is hugely popular, voters streamed to a polling station as police tried to enforce social distancing after weeks of surging coronavirus cases in the East African nation.
A group of about two dozen riot officers marched past, with heavy military and police presence in other parts of the capital, AFP reports.
“I am here to change the leadership of this nation because for years they’ve been telling me they will secure my future. They have not done that,” said driver Joseph Nsuduga, 30, one of the first in line to vote.
“I need to see change for my children. People are yearning for change but we are seeing nothing.”
Voting was delayed in several locations in the capital Kampala, beginning about half an hour after the official starting time of 7am (0400 GMT). Polls close at 4pm (1200 GMT).
Some 18 million voters are registered for the presidential and parliamentary vote, and results are expected by Saturday.
Museveni has ruled Uganda without pause since seizing control in 1986, when he helped to end years of tyranny under Idi Amin.
Once hailed for his commitment to good governance, the former rebel leader has crushed any opposition and tweaked the constitution to allow himself to run again and again.
The run-up to polling day was marred by a sustained crackdown on Museveni’s rivals and government critics, and unprecedented attacks on the nation’s media and human rights defenders.
In November, at least 54 people were shot dead by security forces loyal to Museveni during protests against one of Wine’s numerous arrests.
On Wednesday armoured-personnel carriers with mounted machine guns patrolled parts of Kampala and army helicopters and surveillance drones flew over the teeming capital where the political opposition has traditionally enjoyed support.
The energetic and often genial Museveni is active on social media such as Twitter — where he released an exercise video to help citizens stay fit during lockdown — and retains support among voters such as Ceria Makumbi, 52.
“He has brought security to our country… He built hospitals, roads and brought Uganda to an international standard,” the businesswoman told AFP.