By Samantha Adkins
Central Ohio missionaries recount the totalitarian rule of President Yoweri Museveni
Central Ohio native, Cana Ditty, spent five and a half years in the African nation Uganda as a missionary with her family. She moved there with her family in 2015 but recently left them to return home to pursue her college education.
The recent unrest around the election has left her concerned for the well-being of her family and friends in Uganda.
“[President] Museveni has been in power for way too long, and the longer he stays, the worse it’s going to get,” Ditty said.
Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, has been the epicenter of the civil unrest, only three hours from where Ditty said her four siblings and parents still currently reside. She moved back to the United States only months before losing contact with her family for a week.
Ditty’s fiancé and fellow Ugandan missionary, Wyatt Pierce, says President Yoweri Museveni has a history of totalitarian rule.
“[He] has shown immense amounts of voter fraud and suppression along with torturing and/or arresting his opposition candidates.” Pierce said.
The recent reelection of President Museveni of Uganda has ignited rumors of voter fraud and anger over dictatorship rule. Heated protests and suspicious government interference have become more common in the wake of the election.
Since the first election of President Museveni in 1986, a new constitution has been adopted in Uganda that removes the term limit. This allows a president to remain in control indefinitely. Online opposition to his rule has increased but the government corruption decreases chances that an opposing candidate will ever be elected.
“Lies spread faster than the truth, so you can’t take every one of them down,” Findlay Assistant Professor of Communications, Megan Adams said. “I think it’s going to be really fascinating to see what happens with these social media platforms and how they’re going to police it.”
Leading up to the election this year, Museveni has used military interference to shut down all social media and internet access. This muted the rising majority that has been speaking out against his totalitarian-esque rule.
“These conversations are conversations that need to be had in a safe space,” said Adams. “We need to be able to express ourselves.”
In order to prevent the planning of uprisings and talk of protest, Museveni has restricted residents in Uganda from contacting anyone in and outside of the country using telecommunication. All connection to and in Uganda was shut down for a week beginning Jan. 12, two days before election day.
“The residents of Uganda didn’t even know who ‘won’ the election because all forms of communication were off,” said Ditty. “Bobi Wine is his opposition and Museveni has done everything in his power to silence [him].”
Physical force has been used to control the election outcome in Uganda as well. Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was trapped in his house for days at a time by Museveni’s military officials. They surrounded his house and would not leave even after Wine insisted.
Wine filed a legal challenge against the election results, accusing Museveni to have intimidated voters and manipulated online information.
“I’m afraid from a very global, macro perspective, that a lot of the divisiveness that we’re seeing right now, it’s because of social media,” said Adams.
According to Wine’s attorney, 76-year-old Museveni snagged the election by a questionable 59 percent. Wine was said to have won 35 percent of the vote.
Many young people are fed up with Uganda’s persistent corruption. Protests arose in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, after Wine was arrested. This sparked controversy over the government’s authority.
“With the young generation that is rising up, I see them as a powerhouse,” said Pierce.
Protestors were met by the military and police with tear gas and violence, and at least 45 people died as a result of the protests. 836 people have been arrested after participating in the protests, and so far, 362 have been charged in court.
While the unrest has progressively settled down due to the threat of violence, Ugandan citizens are still uneasy with the immediate future of their country.
Ditty and Pierce currently reside in Jackson, Mississippi where Ditty attends Belhaven University. They have plans to get married and stay in America but hope to return to Uganda sometime in the future.