Uganda: the 2021 General Election 

By Grace Pattison

Uganda’s general election to elect both the president and the parliament was held on the 14th of January, 2021. Two days later, the country’s Electoral Commission declared the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni the victor with 5.85 million votes (58.6%), second was Bobi Wine with 35.08%. The president’s party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), won 336 out of 529 seats in the parliament, following this, independents won 74 seats and Bobi Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP) won 57.  

This is Museveni’s sixth term, having been in power for more than three decades. However, the election process was marred by pre- and post-election violence and claims of irregularities, including “the late opening of most polling stations, missing ballot papers and illegally opened ballot boxes”. The U.S. State Department’s top diplomat for Africa, Tibor Nagy, labelled the process as “fundamentally flawed” citing fraud reports, denial of accreditation to observers, violence and harassment of opposition members and the arrest of civil society activists. The internet was also shut down nation-wide on the eve of the election. Whilst it was restored a little over 100 hours later, a social media ban remained until the 10th of February, with the government stating that it was “for the security of our country”. Prior to the election, political rallies were largely banned under COVID-19 regulations.

Bobi Wine, the president’s main rival, challenged the presidential election results in the Supreme Court in early February, accusing Museveni of staging a “coup” in the election; however, he withdrew the challenge on the 22nd of February stating that “the courts are not independent, it is clear these people [judges] are working for Mr Museveni”. 

Since gaining independence from Britain in 1962, Uganda’s transitions of power have consistently eluded peace. Following the dictatorships of his predecessors, Milton Obote and Idi Amin, Museveni came to power in 1986 subsequent to the 1981-1985 guerrilla war, promising “a fundamental change in the politics of our government”. He is credited with bringing economic growth and stability as well as decreasing the prevalence of HIV/AIDs. However, he and his government are critiqued for high levels of corruption, increasing government digital surveillance and censorship of opposition members and citizens and insufficiently addressing increasing rates of unemployment. In 2005, the two-term presidential limit was removed and in 2017, a constitutional amendment was implemented to remove the 75-year age limit for presidential candidates. Museveni is currently 76 years of age.

Uganda is a presidential republic with a unicameral parliament which operates as the country’s legislative body. The parliament currently has a total of 529 seats, including 353 representatives elected using first-past-the-post voting in single winner constituencies. Whilst multi-party democracy has been the status quo since 2006, the government’s critics have often labelled Museveni’s leadership as autocratic

Women’s Political Participation

In alignment with the constitution, using the first-past-the-post method, 146 seats were reserved and filled by women, with one seat per district. According the Electoral Law, 30 seats are indirectly filled via special electoral colleges: 10 by the army, 5 by youths, 5 by elders, 5 by unions, and 5 by people with disabilities. In each of these groups, at least one woman must be elected (at least two for the army group). It is not yet clear the exact proportion of women MPs following the January election, but it is estimated to be 171 seats (32.3%). The 2016 parliament consisted of 160 out of 459 seats being filled by women (34.9%). Out of these 160 seats, 12.1% were directly elected. According to the UNDP (2020), 45.7% of seats in local government are held by women. 

Similar to the 2016 elections, there was only one woman presidential candidate. Out of eleven candidates, Nancy Kalembe ran as an independent and won 0.36% of the votes. Notably, Stella Nyanzi, a feminist and political activist, academic and known critic of Mueseveni, was forced to flee Kampala with her family to neighbouring Kenya following the January election. She unsuccessfully ran for a seat in parliament and has reported that a week after the election, her partner who is a member of Bobi Wine’s National Unity Platform, was abducted and tortured. Nyanzi was previously jailed for 16 months for writing an explicit poem about the birth of Museveni

The Democratic Governance Facility highlights that although the gender quotas have certainly improved women’s political participation, “the message relayed to the electorate is that women have reserved seats and thus they should not contest for direct positions so as to reduce competition for male contestants. Moreover, the quota system is usually controlled by political parties, and this often means that women feel they must be loyal to the party line, even at the expense of promoting gender-centred legislative reforms.” 

The Ugandan Constitution enshrines women’s human rights and the country has ratified a number of international agreements. Uganda ratified CEDAW in 1985 and the Maputo Protocol in 2010. In 2008, Uganda launched a National Action Plan for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325.

As discussed in our 2018 AWD Report, with respect to protecting women’s rights and advancing gender equality, the Government of Uganda has made notable progress in developing legal frameworks, policies and programmes. The Constitution of Uganda prohibits laws, customs or traditions that are against the dignity, welfare and interest of women, and protects an affirmative action policy. For example, Article 21 of the Constitution provides for equality of men and women, and prohibits discrimination of a person on the grounds of sex. 

The Report highlights the main barriers for Ugandan women’s political participation as: 

  • The patriarchal and militarised political system 
  • Deep-rooted cultural and traditional discriminatory practices 
  • Traditional views of a woman’s role & lack of support from spouses
  • Intimidation of women voters and access to political campaigns 
  • Women have less access to resources than their male counterparts 
  • Media bias in i) allocating equal space and ii) coverage of women MPs is more often negative than their male counterparts, reinforcing stereotypes against women. 


Whilst Uganda’s political quotas for women MPs have ensured their representation is above the global average of 25.5%, greater efforts are needed to instil cultural shifts for transformational and meaningful gendered change in Uganda’s political systems. Additionally, the Uganda Media Women’s Association have called upon “different stakeholders involved in electoral processes to put in place measures to mainstream gender in the media during the elections and commit to continue taking keen interest in equal participation of women as candidate and the voters”. 


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