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Uganda's New Generation Is Disappointed That Museveni's 35-Year Rule Continues

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Ugandans yearning for change have suffered a huge loss. Bobi Wine, a young singer turned politician, represented a new dawn for the country. But earlier this month, he was crushed by the country's longtime ruler in an election that critics called rigged. The loss has left Ugandans seeking answers. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORGAN MUSIC)

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: The day after election results are announced, Ugandans stream into St. Paul's Cathedral for mass. They look up at the altar, pray underneath the high arches and the crystal chandeliers. And in his homily, the Reverend Samuel Muwonge offers solace.

SAMUEL MUWONGE: Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today is a gift.

PERALTA: He says humans with pent-up anger are rushing to their death.

MUWONGE: (Non-English language spoken).

PERALTA: He says Ugandans could choose to be mad at election officials or at the police, but instead, he says, they should focus on life - love life, love everyone, no matter how they voted. What is done is done.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in non-English language).

PERALTA: His parishioners don't clap. Some nod in approval. But most just hang their heads in resignation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORGAN MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in non-English language).

PERALTA: This election was supposed to be different. Finally, a new generation was challenging the 35-year rule of President Yoweri Museveni. The country's most popular singer, Bobi Wine, drew huge crowds with the slogan, we are removing a dictator. But in the end, the electoral commission handed President Museveni a huge win.

SHEILA KAWAMARA: I was one of those people who was saying, we don't need to go out for elections at all because if the results are going to be the same, why are we wasting our time?

PERALTA: That is Sheila Kawamara, a political analyst and former politician. She says Bobi Wine went into the elections with naivete. He was confronting a deeply entrenched regime, one with tons of money, one backed by the military. Yet Bobi Wine came at them with music and social media and earnest messages of hope and change. But this regime, she says...

KAWAMARA: They are old, but they are not fools. And they are not going to let go just because you're making a lot of noise. They will not.

PERALTA: In fact, as elections approached, Museveni's machine kicked in. Security forces arrested hundreds of Bobi Wine's organizers. The military deployed to make sure protests never took off. Authorities turned off the Internet, which Bobi Wine had used to turn out young people. And Bobi Wine was put under house arrest. He hasn't been able to rally his supporters or effectively challenge the election results. So what everyone thought would be Museveni's most formidable challenge just fizzled.

(CROSSTALK)

PERALTA: As mass ends, Reverend Muwonge tells me that he fasted for three days seeking divine guidance for this sermon. And God told him he should preach love, that Ugandans need each other more than they need their government.

MUWONGE: It's a message beyond politics - beyond - because politics is for some time...

PERALTA: Yeah.

MUWONGE: ...And eternity is forever.

PERALTA: But as the reverend walks away, one of his young parishioners, Edward Mugisha, whispers that Ugandans don't want to get over elections. They're silent because they're scared.

EDWARD MUGISHA: Policemen, military men are in here.

PERALTA: Yeah.

MUGISHA: All guns are cocked.

PERALTA: Even - I saw a policeman...

MUGISHA: Yes.

PERALTA: ...Even here at church.

MUGISHA: At church. Even now, as I'm talking to you, if there is any policeman around, they can arrest me.

PERALTA: But their yearning for change remains. This silence, he says, is temporary, and it shouldn't be interpreted as defeat.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Kampala.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.