Morning Brief

Uganda Goes to Polls in Tense Election

Political violence has marred the run-up to an election that opposition candidates say is already rigged.

A voter casts a ballot at a polling station in Kampala, Uganda, on January 14, 2021.
A voter casts a ballot at a polling station in Kampala, Uganda, on January 14, 2021. YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Uganda holds presidential and parliamentary elections, the U.S. House of Representatives impeaches Trump a second time, and Italy’s government wobbles.

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Museveni Faces Uganda’s Voters for Sixth Time

Since it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1962, Uganda has never had a peaceful transfer of power. That streak is likely to continue, if the run-up to today’s presidential and parliamentary elections are any indication.

The presidential contest pits President Yoweri Museveni, an autocrat in power since Ronald Reagan was in the White House, against ten other challengers. Most prominent among them is Bobi Wine, a charismatic musician from the slums of Kampala.

Although there has been no reliable pre-election polling, the vigor with which Museveni’s forces have moved to silence Wine’s campaign speaks to their fears of the young candidate. Wine has been arrested twice since November after authorities accused him of breaching COVID-19 regulations barring mass gatherings. One of those arrests led to riots, with at least 54 people killed in the ensuing government crackdown.

Wine’s campaign is light on policy, speaking instead to the demand for new leadership in a country where roughly 80 percent of the population is under 30 years of age and almost half are aged 14 or under. That’s not the only challenge: Corruption still plagues the country; relatively high economic growth is expected to halt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic; and a majority of citizens still rely on subsistence farming to survive.

Free and fair? A changing of the guard is unlikely, such is the power Museveni holds over the country’s institutions, including its electoral commission. The U.S. State Department abruptly cancelled its observation mission, saying its accreditation requests had been denied. It followed a similar admission by the European Union. The African Union will have monitors on the ground, however.

Uganda’s Chief Provocateur. Bobi Wine is not the only candidate capturing the imagination of the nation’s youth: Stella Nyanzi, a controversial academic and activist, is running for a seat in parliament representing Kampala. Unlike Wine, her arrests have landed her in prison. She spent 33 days in a maximum security facility for calling President Museveni a “pair of buttocks” and dismissing the first lady as “empty-brained” in a poem posted on Facebook. In Foreign Policy, Carey Baraka profiles Nyanzi’s rise, illustrating the emerging complexities in Ugandan politics that go beyond today’s presidential contest.

What We’re Following Today

Conte loses governing partner. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has lost his parliamentary majority after Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva withdrew its support for his governing coalition. Renzi, a former prime minister, had publicly criticized Conte’s coronavirus recovery plans and has urged Italy to apply for a loan from the European Union to fund its health service. Italian politics enters into another period of uncertainty following Renzi’s move: Conte could seek to coax Renzi back into coalition, a government of national unity could yet be formed, or new elections could be called.

Trump impeachment 2.0. The United States House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald Trump again on Wednesday on a charge of incitement to insurrection. This time, the bill passed with backing from a bipartisan group of lawmakers that included 10 Republicans. The vote was 232-197.

It is unclear when the Senate might conduct a trial and it is likely to occur after Trump leaves office on Jan. 20. A Senate conviction with a two-thirds majority and a subsequent simple-majority vote on disqualification could bar Trump from ever seeking federal office again.

WHO in Wuhan. A World Health Organization team is in Wuhan today to begin a long-awaited investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. The mission had been delayed over problems issuing visas to some of the WHO group, something China attributed to a misunderstanding. A Chinese government spokesman said the WHO team will “exchange views” with Chinese counterparts while they undergo a 14-day quarantine period.

Biden gives COVID-19 address. U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is to lay out his national COVID-19 policy today, including approaches to vaccine distribution, economic recovery packages, and testing regimes. Although some of the information has yet to be released (including to some members of Biden’s own COVID-19 advisory board), Biden has already promised 100 million vaccine injections in his first 100 days as well as an initial $1.3 economic and health spending package.

Keep an Eye On

CAR government repels rebels. Central African Republic government forces successfully pushed back an attempt by rebel groups to seize the capital, Bangui, on Wednesday in ongoing violence related to the Dec. 27 re-election of President Faustin-Archange Touadera. At least 30 rebels were killed in the fighting according to Prime Minister Firmin Ngrebada while the United Nations peacekeeping mission reported at least one of its peacekeepers had also been killed.

Iran ramps up nuclear research. Iran has begun developing uranium metal-based fuel, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Wednesday, in a move that breaches the terms of the 2015 Iran nuclear accord. The deal, which President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin, had imposed a 15-year ban on Iran producing or acquiring the material, as it is used in the core of a nuclear bomb. Iran told the IAEA that is merely designing an improved fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor and that there are no limits on its research and development activities.

Odds and Ends

A racing pigeon that endured an unplanned 8,000 mile journey from the United States to Australia has attracted the attention of animal control authorities who want the bird dead—if they can catch it first.

The bird, named Joe who belongs to an Alabama-based owner, is thought to have hitched a ride on a cargo ship somewhere in the Pacific. After completing its journey, an emaciated Joe landed in the back yard fountain of Kevin Celli-Bird in Melbourne, who was then contacted by Australia’s strict Quarantine and Inspection Service.

“They say if it is from America, then they’re concerned about bird diseases,” Celli-Bird told the Associated Press.

Celli-Bird said his enthusiasm for birds doesn’t extend past his last name, but that he couldn’t catch the bird as it had regained its previous strength. Efforts to contact the owner in Alabama have so far been unsuccessful.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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