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Uganda: Voting slow, security high

High security in Kampala as Yoweri Museveni prepares to extend his 25-year rule.

Nevertheless, on the eve of the vote Uganda’s state-run communications commission ordered mobile phone companies to block text messages that included the words "Egypt" or "Tunisia" and the phrases "people power" or "tear gas."

The high security presence suggests the regime is ready. A few weeks ago China — which is set to help Uganda exploit newfound oil wealth predicted to be worth around $2 billion a year — delivered $30 million worth of uniforms, anti-riot equipment, batons, shields, tear gas and water cannons to Uganda’s police force.

“It is like they are preparing for war,” said John Mary Odoy, director of the Democracy Monitoring Group. “When you see so many of these police your mind is not peaceful. It is the opposite: The people are scared. It is intended as a threat.”

After voting, motorbike taxi driver Innocent Muwezi eyed the police nervously. “The incumbency fears the opposition that is why the police are there, to threaten and intimidate us,” he said. “Museveni knows what happened in Tunisia and Egypt.”

“It is intimidating,” agreed Andrew Mwenda, an influential journalist and political commentator, “but that is the trade-off that has to be made for security.” Mwenda said that fear of political unrest and violence had caused many to leave the city and to stockpile food and fuel supplies.

But early reports on election day itself suggested there had only been a limited repeat of the violence and intimidation that marred previous elections in 2001 and 2006.

There were two incidents of shooting outside the capital and observers reported some cases of pre-marked ballot papers and registered voters being refused the opportunity to participate.

A spokeswoman for Museveni's ruling National Resistance Movement said her party was satisfied that the vote was free, fair and peaceful, an appraisal challenged by an opposition spokeswoman.

After polls closed at 5 p.m. local time counting began immediately and full results are expected on Sunday. If, as predicted by opinion polls, Museveni wins a fourth term he will become one of Africa’s longest-standing leaders, in charge since seizing power after a bush war in 1986.