KAMPALA —The US State Department has issued a travel warning to Americans traveling to or living in Uganda ahead of the country’s general election on January 14.
The lection campaigns have been marked by the worst political violence in Uganda for decades, with over 60 people shot dead by security forces over two days of protests following the arrest of a leading opposition candidate Bobi Wine, 38, in November.
“Clashes at these gatherings and outbreaks of violence have occurred before, during, and after past general elections in Uganda. Police routinely use force, including tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition, to disperse protests,” the State Department said, asking US citizens to “exercise caution.”
The statement added: Demonstrations throughout Uganda are likely to remain common and may escalate to violence”.
The US Department of State said the election may also be an ”opportunity for criminal elements or terrorists to target participants and visitors.”
Some diplomats worry that the international community, which helped monitor the past elections will be distracted too distracted this time over coronavirus protocols.
Uganda is due to hold a general election in January of 2021.
The travel advisory could also hurt Uganda’s already struggling tourism industry, the country’s largest source of foreign exchange.
The industry is only just now recovering from coronavirus pandemic.
The United States last month warned Uganda to ensure free and fair elections.
Opposition presidential candidates have accused security forces of brutally breaking up their rallies and beating their supporters.
In November, one of the candidates – Bobi Wine was arrested and charged for defying COVID-19 regulations governing mass gatherings.
Scores of people were killed and hundreds more injured as police and the military fought to quell the protests that followed Wine’s arrest.
“The United States is a longstanding partner of Uganda. We expect our partners to live up to their obligations to hold free and fair elections. We are paying close attention to the actions of individuals who seek to impede the ongoing democratic process,” said Mike Pompeo, the Secretary U.S. Department of State in a tweet Thursday evening.
Pompeo’s remarks came a day after Eliot Engel, the chairperson of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, demanded that several Ugandan security officials be sanctioned for what called a worsening human rights in the country.
“My desire to see a better human rights record in Uganda is firmly rooted in the country’s own constitution and legal code, which prevent torture and enshrine the right to freely assemble and express viewpoints that may not be in accordance with those of President Museveni,” wrote Engel.