Eyes on the Ugandan election

As we approach the Ugandan general elections in February 2021, we anticipate increased gatherings, localised unrest and further opposition- related crackdowns. Based on what we have observed during previous election cycles, election-related disruption can begin well before the date of the election itself. In Uganda, we expected unrest to increase when opposition figures begin mobilising supporters, holding rallies and making public appearances. International SOS had already started preparing to support clients during a potentially tense election period from November 2019. Security Manager, Kousar Abrahams from our Johannesburg Security Team, describes what that preparation entails.

In order to support our clients in embedding a sense of operational readiness and resilience, International SOS routinely conducts country assessment trips. The main purpose of these visits is to assess the capabilities of our trusted local providers to project support to our clients who are in-country as well as to supplement our country-level insights. I conducted such an assessment in Entebbe, Kampala and Jinja, to better understand how the election period and associated disruption will affect our client movement and operations.


Election periods in Uganda, including campaigning activities, have witnessed opposition-led demonstrations met with heavy-handed measures from the security forces. Politically motivated raids and arrests are likely during campaigning periods and have the potential to generate popular discontent and protests. Prominent opposition figures throughout the years have mobilized sizeable crowds, and reports of their detainment or torture can prompt notable unrest. Understanding the impact that these periods have on our client movements and operations enables us to prepare from both an information and assistance perspective.
Protests, rallies and large crowds can significantly impact personnel movement. In Kampala especially, where road networks and conditions coupled with varied terrain and poor driving standards already results in a chaotic traffic environment. Assessing the local security environment as well as the capabilities of our logistic and security providers enables us to plan for different scenarios, evaluating the impact that best and worst case scenarios will have on our clients.

Demonstrations have the ability to cause significant travel disruption severely impacting our members on the ground. The additional security risks that accompany being caught in the vicinity of a protest make it all the more imperative for clients to have timely, accurate information which we base our alerts and updates off of. There are also frequent claims of internet and social media disruption during election seasons, reinforcing the need for us to ensure we provide our members with reliable intelligence. Thus, the information from local sources and my own observations that I provided to our team guided them in terms of what to monitor and which security trends are likely in the run-up to the elections.

There was very little opposition election-related material displayed, with no major opposition rallies scheduled during my visit. Nevertheless, there was a visible presence of police and military deployed at strategic positions around the cities of Entebbe and Kampala. It was clear that if a gathering had to escalate, there were sufficient security resources to contain potential violence. Alternatively, clashes between protestors and security forces could also pose incidental risks to bystanders or to those who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The providers which were able to confirm their capabilities to support our clients in the event that they require assistance, according to our criteria, will be recommended to our members in the event they are caught unaware, or require transport or support. These potential developments also feed into our scenario planning, assessment and advice.

We will continue to monitor developments in the run-up to the elections as well as during the election period. This includes 24/7 monitoring of local sources for perceived as attempts to harass the opposition and tracking campaign activity which may degenerate into unrest or clashes between opposing supporters.


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