Ugandans vote in general elections following a violent campaign that has left dozens dead.
President Yoweri Museveni is seeking his sixth term elected after 35 years in office.
The 76-year-old faces 10 challengers, including Bobi Wine.
Human rights groups accused security forces of using excessive force to disperse opposition rallies during the campaign. But the government says strong measures are needed to ensure people comply with the ban on large crowds imposed to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Here are the five things you need to know about crucial voting:
1. The man who wants 40 years in power
President Museveni is one of the oldest presidents in Africa. He and his national resistance movement came to power in 1986 at the end of a five-year war, and have ruled Uganda ever since.
His supporters praise him for bringing relative peace and prosperity to the country, and especially for his health policies. It has helped limit the spread of HIV and, more recently, its severe lockdown – which closed schools and businesses, banned vehicle traffic and mandated the use of public masks in May – is credited with the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Johns Hopkins University, Uganda has recorded less than 40,000 infections and about 300 deaths from the disease.
But while he was once hailed in the West as part of the new generation of African leaders, his critics accuse him of transforming into yet another authoritarian leader.
Mr. Museveni has no designated successor within his party, and in 2017 signed a law removing the presidential age limit of 75, allowing him to run for president again.
He has seen a number of protesters over the years of his rule, including longtime opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who has been arrested several times and has decided not to run for president again in 2021.
While Mr. Museveni maintains a broad base of support, especially in rural areas, he faces growing opposition in the face of rising inequality and his rigid control over the country.
2. The pop star challenger
One of 10 candidates challenging him for the presidency this year is musician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, known by his stage name Bobi Wine.
Affectionately referred to as “president of the ghetto,” the 38-year-old rose to an East African music superstar in the early 2000s before stepping into politics and winning a seat in parliament in 2017.
Bobi Wine is considered the biggest challenge to the rule of Mr. Museveni and has mobilized many young people who were not involved in politics before. He has sharply criticized the president in the past and accused him of “fearing the people”.
The president did not take this challenge lightly. He accused Bobi Wine of being a foreign agent of those “who don’t like the stability and independence of Uganda” and said opposition figures were deceiving young people into getting involved. in violence during the election campaign.
Bobi Wine has been arrested several times since entering politics. He spoke of a “revolution” against Mr. Museveni. He posted on Twitter using the hashtag “WeAreRemovingADictator”.
3. The generation gap
Part of Bobi Wine’s popularity is its age. At 38, he is only half the age of President Museveni, in one of the youngest nations in the world.
According to the CIA World Factbook Uganda has the second lowest median age in the world, at just 15.7 years old – only Niger is younger.
The “ghetto president” grew up in a slum in the capital, Kampala. His journey and his efforts to promote social justice in his country through his music and as a politician have endeared him to this younger, more urban generation.
But Bobi Wine also surprised authorities by drawing large crowds of supporters to rural areas – seen as a stronghold of support for President Museveni.
4. Repression of Covid
Tensions are high and the countryside has been marred by serious violence, which has left dozens dead and hundreds arrested.
Officials cited measures taken to combat the Covid-19 pandemic for their efforts to break up political gatherings. But Human Rights Watch alleged that the security forces use these regulations “as a pretext to violate rights and suppress the opposition and the media”.
Bobi Wine himself was arrested last November for allegedly violating Covid measures. His detention sparked protests that led to a wave of arrests and killed dozens, most of whom were reportedly shot dead by security forces.
Then, Security Minister Elly Tumwine highlighted the fact that 11 security personnel were injured and said that “the police have the right to shoot and kill you if you reach a certain level of violence”.
“May I repeat? The police have the right to shoot you and you die for nothing … do so at your own risk.”
Bobi Wine has since started wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet during the election campaign.
Late last year, he halted his campaign after a number of his team were injured as security forces dispersed one of his political rallies. He later told CNN that he had survived multiple assassination attempts.
5. Uganda’s role in the region – and beyond
A country of over 42 million people, Uganda is surrounded by Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
It has one of the highest refugee populations in the world, welcoming about 1.4 million people neighboring countries.
Some watch with concern the political turmoil in the country and worry about what could happen after the vote. There has never been a peaceful transfer of power in Uganda and it is unclear what would happen if Mr. Museveni lost, and what the military would do.
The president announced a reshuffle of the armed forces in November, bringing in the former head of Ugandan operations in Somalia, Major General Paul Lokech, as Deputy Inspector General of Police to coordinate the security forces around the capital during the election period.
The European Union has chosen not to send election observers this year – apparently because Ugandan officials ignored advice from former observers to make polls fairer – which means there will be less international scrutiny.