By David Cassels
Members of Ryerson’s African Students’ Association (ASA) organized social media campaigns to promote democracy in Uganda during the country’s turbulent 2021 presidential election.
Sanyu Galabuzi-Kassam, a third-year nursing student who works as ASA’s graphic design and administrative associate, reposted a series of infographics on ASA’s Instagram about the Ugandan election. The posts originated from the #REDPEARL movement, an online campaign by Ugandan youth around the world to remove current president Yoweri Museveni from his 34 years in office.
Galabuzi-Kassam, who is Tanzanian-Ugandan, said that she wanted to promote the movement on social media because mainstream media rarely cover issues on the African continent.
“Seeing as we’re an African student organization, I think it was really important for Ugandans that go to Ryerson to feel validated and feel like they’re being seen when their family members are in complete danger,” she said.
Political turmoil in Uganda peaked when Bobi Wine—currently the opposition leader of Uganda’s National Unity Party (NUP), and former singer and social activist—was arrested on Nov. 18 for breaking COVID-19 regulations. While Wine was held for two days, protests against his arrest resulted in at least 54 civilian deaths at the hands of police across the country; the most bloodshed Uganda has seen in decades.
Incumbent Museveni won the Jan. 14 election with 59 per cent of the vote, while Wine trailed with 35 per cent according to the country’s electoral commission. Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, unofficially named himself president-elect after calling the results “daylight robbery” and the election a fraud. Protests following the election have led to two additional deaths.
Information on protests following the election is incomplete, however. On Jan. 13, President Museveni ordered a nationwide internet shutdown. The government instructed internet service providers to temporarily suspend all internet access. The blackout lasted five days and was not restored until after the election had ended.
“It’s nothing to me, right? I’m not sacrificing anything to post the story on Instagram,” Galabuzi-Kassam said. “But it’s everything to Ugandans right now. I think that that’s what our drive is, we feel like it’s our obligation to support.”
The majority of Wine’s support in the 2021 election came from youth and young adults. Over 75 per cent of Uganda’s population is under the age of 30. With Museveni having been in power for 34 years, the majority of the country has only lived under one president.
“But it’s everything to Ugandans right now. I think that that’s what our drive is, we feel like it’s our obligation to support”
The NUP’s platform is primarily focused on anti-corruption and reinstating presidential term limits, which Museveni’s government removed from the constitution in 2005.
Some members of ASA had family and friends in Uganda during the election.
“I have friends that are there. They’re scared, they’re really scared,” said Galabuzi-Kassam. “They had to hide out in the village from tear gas. I honestly can’t imagine what it’s like.”
“I’m kind of worried in general, if [protesters] don’t get justice, what’s going to happen moving forward?” asked Darius Itaagi, a third-year economics and management science student who works as ASA’s director of internal relations. “I don’t want there to be a huge conflict between the government and the youth. The government has weapons! I’m just worried moving forward.”
ASA’s next step: Upcoming red table talks
On Oct. 30, ASA hosted their first red table talk, a platform for African students to raise awareness of social and political issues happening in their home countries.
“I’ve struggled with this, because I’m an international student, because I’m far from home. You see lots of people doing what they can back home, and then you’re here and you’re just like, ‘man, I can’t do anything,’” said Itaagi. As such, the red table talk was intended as a platform for political activism across borders.
Itaagi, who is from Kampala, Uganda, said upcoming red table talks intend to feature a panel of experts to discuss African issues in depth.
“There is a stigma that it only can be Africans [at ASA events],” said Itaagi. “Obviously it’s for African students and everything, but we want all people to come,” Itaagi said. After the previous talk, he said a few white students said they’d learned a lot from the event. “They were like, ‘What can we do to help?’”
Galabuzi-Kassam said that future red table talks will also include fun activities, such as sharing cultural foods.
“With so many things going on, we wanted to make sure that we address hardcore issues of what’s going on in Africa right now, and then also, have some lighter stuff like, ‘food wars’ or things like that,” she said.
What’s happening in Uganda now?
Following the election, Wine’s property was intruded by security forces who held the 38-year-old and his wife under house arrest for 11 days. Wine has been arrested several times since entering politics in 2017.
Museveni denied claims that Wine’s arrest has anything to do with his politics. He said that Wine was arrested because he continues to incite riots.
“You see lots of people doing what they can back home, and then you’re here and you’re just like, ‘man, I can’t do anything”
The EU Election Observation Mission cancelled their monitoring of the election in November. They said that the Ugandan government had failed to make changes based on feedback from previous elections.
The U.S. Embassy in Uganda announced the cancellation of their observation mission on Jan. 13. They claimed the Uganda Electoral Commission had not met their requirements for accreditation.
Coming up for the African Students’ Association
The ASA’s next event is a talk on Black hair in safe spaces on Feb. 12, hosted in collaboration with Ryerson’s Tri-Mentoring Program. The campus community group makes regular updates for their events and activities on Instagram.