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A frank memo to Winnie Byanyima

 Stop faking …. you supported and defended a government that banned all activities of political parties

THE LAST WORD by Andrew Mwenda

Last week, Oxfam Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, accused me of losing my soul by “supporting dictatorship” and “defending gross human rights abuses”. This was after she said police blocked her from accessing her home. I had reminded her that use of police to harass opposition politicians in Uganda is not new. In fact, it was much more rampant in the early years of NRM when she was close to President Yoweri Museveni – both literally and figuratively. Her husband, Kizza Besigye, was the Minister of State for Internal Affairs (in charge of police and prisons) and later National Political Commissar and blued-eyed cadre of Museveni.

In response Byanyima tweeted: “My record on human rights is in the CA and the parliamentary Hansard. Get me right Mwenda, I have used every platform I have had to advance human rights.” That is of course true and nothing but the truth. But it is also true that in 1986, Byanyima lived in Museveni’s State House and also wore military fatigues as a soldier in the NRA. During this period human rights were an exotic luxury not enjoyed by many Ugandans, especially in northern Uganda. The NRA was fighting remnants of the defeated army. It sometimes conducted a scotched earth policy – burning granaries, looting cattle, and conducting mass arrests called panda gari. Suspects were tied Kandoya, summarily executed, and in some cases, like in Boro-Coro allegedly burned alive in a pit.

In 1991, NRA declared Operation North commanded by Gen. David Tinyefuza (now Sejusa) Before this, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, George Kanyeihamba went to the NRC (then-parliament) and pushed through a law that gave the state power to arrest without trial anyone suspected of collaborating with rebels. He went to Makerere University to defend this law.

As Byanyima enjoyed the pleasures of power inside State House, the NRM government banned all activities of political parties through Legal Notice Number One of 1986. Meanwhile police under Besigye was arresting scores of opposition politicians: Yona Kanyomozi, Paulo Muwanga, Samwiri Mugwisa, Edward Rurangaranga, James Rwanyarare, Adonia Tiberondwa etc. They were all sent to jail for no other reason except that they were in UPC. Police arrested even DP politicians that were allied with NRM – Andrew Adimola, Andrew Kayiira, Zachary Olumu, Ojok Mulozi, Evarasto Nyanzi, Tibero Okeny etc. Those who were not in jail were in exile. Today, there is not a single senior politician in jail – even Besigye is either free or occasionally under house arrest in his luxurious home.

There were more people (politicians and ordinary people) charged with treason in the period 1986-1990 than in the entire history of Uganda before and since. There is no official record of Byanyima or Besigye denouncing these gross abuses of human rights and draconian policies and practices.

Byanyima joined the NRA in 1985 when the government of Milton Obote was accusing it of being a terrorist organisation that was looting banks, cooperative stores and blowing up ambulances. These were violent actions that were causing deaths of innocent nurses and patients. In fact Obote and many UPC have accused NRA of conducting most of the killings in Luwero. Byanyima says this illegal and violent usurpation of power was “liberation.” At the time, she might not have known that whoever employs criminal violent means to acquire power would not hesitate to use similar methods to retain it. If Uganda has a “criminal regime” as Ms Byanyima and her husband claim, they were instrumental in constructing and consolidating the culture of criminality as an instrument of politics.

Byanyima should not narcissistically employ selective indignation, picking whatever serves to advance her personal ambition and ascribing virtue to it while tarnishing as criminal whatever doesn’t serve her. She believes that only her positions are representations of reality. Those who disagree with her are compromised. So when she was with NRA/NRM as it violently and brutally usurped and consolidated power, it was “liberation”. Now that she is not with it when it is using similar tactics – even if on a highly reduced scaled – it is a dictatorship.

Frank memo: Opposition leader Kizza Besigye’s wife, the Oxfam Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, gets paid in kind after she accuses Andrew Mwenda of losing his soul by “supporting dictatorship” and “defending gross human rights abuses”.

The NRM she condemns today is much more improved and democratic than when she was in State House, diplomat, MP, Spokesperson etc. In 1986 NRM had no process or pretence of electing its chairman. Museveni was president by force (worse than being president after an election with significant irregularities). Museveni was also chairman of NRC i.e. speaker of parliament, then an assembly of hand-picked individuals.

Today’s NRM at least has the pretence of an election for its chairman. There are elections for president (whatever the weaknesses) who canvases for votes across the entire country. And we have a speaker who is not also the president i.e. some semblance of separation of powers.

In the days when Ms Byanyima and Besigye held sway over the politics of our country, Museveni would wear military fatigues and chair parliament and force through legislation. Today he has to invite MPs to State House, serve them food and bribe them for him to get his way. And Byanyima should know that bribery is an essential part of democratic politics – just follow USA. The progress on democratisation in Uganda may not meet our expectations but we are better today than when Byanyima in State House and later MP and spokesperson of NRM.

Here is my frank memo to Byanyima: Stop this self-indulgent pretence that you are an altruistic advocate of human rights. Your blind and reckless pursuit of power is obvious even to the blind. In the past you participation in and defended a government that was grossly brutal and violent.

It could be appropriate for you to argue that some of the human rights violations of the time were necessary but regrettable actions to consolidate power after a civil war. But this would apply to today: Some people could argue that a lot of the actions against your husband may be necessary albeit regrettable in the process of maintaining order in a fragile state. And most critically, never launch a missile from a canoe. You need a powerful ship made of steel. Unfortunately in trying to attack me, you did not examine the ground on which you stood.





  1. Political correctness is not a virtue! History will judge many of us and I wish people could just humble themselves and apologize to Ugandans! The scars of the wars and injustice can not be erased so why is it more prominent when you are the one feeling the heat! Don’t be holier than the pope KB and wifey! You made your bed lay in it! Winnie your job was given on a silver plater by the same govt you pretend to demonize? How many have that privilege? Resign and then we shall know you love country! Ofcourse you know which side of your bread is buttered!

  2. Throughout this “attack” one thread seems to stick out, Museveni’s rule has been getting progressively better and less repressive since the days when Byanyima and Besigye were part of it. Now, I and quite a handful of others must be total dimwits, but ….!!!

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