Museveni Sworn in Amid Tension, Social Media Blackout

KAMPALA—Dancing to marching bands and musicians, supporters decked out in yellow – the color of the ruling party – awaited Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s arrival at the Kololo Airstrip.

The longtime president took his fifth oath of office Thursday. 

“We came on the bus, we are too excited,” said one supporter who traveled in from Karamoja, nearly 500 kilometers away.  “We are big fans and we shall need him again for the next term.” 

Museveni arrived amid a chorus of cheers, and within the hour, he was sworn into office.  He has been in power since 1986. 

But the celebration took place against a backdrop of tension.  The government cut all social media before the inauguration.  Police were out in force in downtown Kampala, after unrest Wednesday.

Surprise appearance 

The opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, had managed to escape house arrest and make a surprise appearance in town.  He vowed to continue his campaign of defiance as the “people’s president.”  Supporters flocked to see him.

Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd and began beating civilians, according to witnesses and videos posted on social media.  

“They [police] found us when we were closing the shop, they told us you close your shop, and we go,” said one shopkeeper who was beaten.  He said people panicked and ran to nearby buildings.

“Then they started caning, seriously, without something to do… men and women, anyone that entered the building.  Now what should we do?” he said.

Besigye finished second in the February vote but has called for an independent audit of results that saw Museveni win 61 percent of votes.

The opposition FDC party said it held its inauguration for Besigye, tweeting a video of the event Wednesday.  Shortly after, the government cut social media access in the country.

This is the second time a social media blackout has been enforced.  The first time was during the February 18 poll, though many got around it using VPN, or virtual private network. 

Before the inauguration, tech-savvy Ugandans began warning friends on social media to make sure their VPN apps were updated.

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