By Joseph Were
Otunnu reveals source of pressure
Will it make the 2011 elections free and fair?
The road ahead was straight smooth tarmac. Visibility was clear as the sunny day had not yet given way to darkness. Hoping to hurry passed the truck in front which was moving way too slowly, the driver signalled that he needed to overtake. Overtake; the driver ahead signalled back and whish, the car started to overtake ‘ then wham ‘ the truck ahead of the one being overtaken swung to block them suddenly. The driver swerved in the opposite direction to avoid a collision. But the car ahead swerved again to their side of the road. Their car was pushed off the road and into the bush, barely missing to hit a tree. It stopped.
Within seconds, they were surrounded by men in Uganda army uniform. Some were shouting: ‘Otunnu, Otunnu.’ Everyone sensed danger. How did this mob know Otunnu was in the car?
‘Who is in charge here?’ Otunnu asked. One man stepped forward. ‘What is your name sir, you almost got us killed.’ No response. Quick; get the truck number plates. No number plates on all trucks. Why? More questions and no answers; except for menacing noises and threats. Then as quickly as it had descended upon them, the mob melted away into the trucks and slithered off.
The man in the car was Olara Otunnu, a former United Nations Undersecretary General. He had just returned to Uganda after 23 years in exile and has intentions to be a presidential candidate on the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) party ticket in the 2011 elections. The trucks that pushed his car off the road belong to President Yoweri Museveni’s special protection unit, the Presidential Guard Brigade (PGB). Otunnu was driving to Kampala from Gulu on Dec. 21, 2009 when the incident happened.
Was it a ruse to lure him into an assassination disguised as an ‘accident’? After all, fatal accidents happen everyday on Ugandan roads.
Later during The Voice of America’s ‘Straight Talk Africa’ programme on Jan. 13 Otunnu said: ‘There is no doubt in my mind that it was an attempted assassination’.
Now, a report in the Black Star News of New York says an influential U.S. Senator has called for an investigation into the ‘suspicious’ incident.
|The Congress’s directive
‘The conference agreement provides $70,650,000 for assistance for Uganda. The conferees direct the Secretary of State to closely monitor preparations for the 2011 elections in Uganda, and to actively promote, in coordination with the European Union, Canada and other nations, the independence of the election commission; the need for an accurate and verifiable voter registry; the announcement and posting of results at the polling stations; the freedom of movement and assembly and a process free of intimidation; freedom of the media; and the security and protection of candidates. The conferees direct the Secretary of State to submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations not later than 90 days after enactment of this Act and every 120 days thereafter until 30 days after the elections, detailing actions taken by the Government of Uganda to address these concerns.’
‘The Congress is aware of that incident and it has been brought to the attention of the Obama Administration,’ Tim Rieser, a foreign policy staff member for Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee which funds U.S. foreign aid programmes, is quoted saying to BSN.
‘Senator Leahy is concerned about it and believes it should be investigated.’
A US State Department spokesperson in a statement echoed Leahy’s position: ‘We are aware of the reports that in December Olara Otunnu was involved in a car accident that may have occurred under suspicious circumstances. We take allegations of any attempt at political intimidation very seriously and have been monitoring the situation closely.’
‘While there are concerns about the progress of Uganda’s democratic development, we are working to support peaceful, free and fair elections in 2011,’ added the State Department spokesperson. ‘Our Embassy in Kampala has been working diligently for many months in preparation for these elections and will continue to do so in the coming months.’
In an interview with BSN, Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister for International Relations, Okello Oryem, denied that there was an assassination bid.
‘I do not believe it was an attempted assassination,’ he said. ‘The government of Uganda has no intention of assassinating Olara Otunnu or anybody else for that matter.’
He said the incident was already being investigated by the police.
‘All those who hope to participate in the political process, be it Olara Otunnu or others, are attempting to make statements trying to create some advantage or gain publicity, heading into the 2011 election,’ he said.
‘We welcome the interest of the United States government and we welcome the interest of our friends around the world,’ he added. ‘We have to be very careful about such statements.’
According to BSN, since President Obama’s Accra Speech last year, in which he called for a shift from one-man rule to democratic institutions in African countries, there’s been some shift in U.S.-Africa policy, and in the case of Uganda, a notable one.
|U.S. Ambassador Jerry P. Lanier comments on Congressional directive on 2011 elections
Recently the US Congress instructed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to report to it every three months on Uganda in the run-up to the 2011 election. How is Hillary expected to put together this information?
Of course we at the embassy will always report on the elections. Practically every US embassy in the world does this. So we will do the reporting on the election and we will have material that we will send back to Washington even without its request or this requirement. The people in Washington will them work together to make these reports and pass it through to Congress. We don’t expect to have any problem in gathering information to comply with that request. This time I believe these reports will be made public. Previously that kind of information would be relayed through diplomatic channels.
What is your opinion about Uganda’s preparedness for the 2011 general elections?
As many Ugandans, we are anxious that the preparations move forward. There is addition legislation to be passed in the next month to make certain that election comes off at the right time. We will be looking at the election preparations and up to now we know that there are some questions about a number of issues. But on the whole we think that a free and fair election is possible in 2011.
What does America think about leaders who overstay in power?
America believes that president Museveni’s stay for example in power is a reflection of the will of the Ugandan people. America had a president that served four terms, President Roosevelt. We then limited constitutionally our presidential term to two terms. There was a constitutional term limit here. The constitution was amended so that the president can run again. We think that there should be a rotation in office over time. The dimension and scope of that change is up to the people. We do not have term limits for members of our House of Representatives. 24 years is a long time. I think he is the third or fourth longest serving president in Africa. But look up to the next elections. Probably there will be an opportunity for Ugandans to speak out through the ballot if they want another leader.
The U.S. Congress has issued a directive as part of the 2010 Appropriations Bill calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to closely monitor the Uganda election, including the preparation, the independence of the Election Commission, the credibility and verifiability of the voter registry, posting of results at polling stations, freedom of movement and assembly, freedom of the media as well as the security of all candidates. What’s more, she’s to issue a report every four months and another 30 days after the election.
Rieser, the aide to Senator Leahy, told BSN that the incident involving Otunnu is illustrative of why the Congress included the directive calling for security and protection of candidates.
The American directive is not the first and only intervention from the donor community regarding the 2011 election in Uganda.
On Oct.27 last year the European Council, which comprises the heads of state or government of EU member states, at their meeting in Luxemburg issued a statement expressing concern over the elections.
It said: ‘The Council expresses its concern over September’s riots in Kampala and urges the Ugandan Government to resolve any political disputes through peaceful dialogue and democratic institutions. The Council also urges the Government to do its utmost to assure that there will be a level playing field in the run up to the general elections of 2011 and that these elections will be free, fair and transparent.’
Anna Wrange, the Political Affairs Counsellor at the Swedish Embassy in Kampala told The Independent that they were concerned about strengthening the independence of the Electoral Commission, adhere to international conventions and political party rights, improving training for polling staff, and improvements in the voter registration process basing on recommendation made after the 2006 elections by the Supreme Court and the EU Election Observation Mission.
‘Even though free, fair and peaceful elections are not the only requisites for democratic governance, they are indispensible. Sweden is therefore prepared to support Uganda in the preparations and carrying out of free and fair elections in 2011,’ she said.
Sweden is a member of the Deepening Democracy Programme (DDP), a joint initiative of the Netherlands, Great Britain, Ireland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark that is financially promoting inter-party dialogue in Uganda.
Its model is Ghana, where an inter-party dialogue platform successfully helped establish free and fair elections, a peaceful change of power, and democratic reforms.
But on Feb.5 in Kampala, the Netherlands Institute of Multiparty Democracy successfully herded the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC), which is a grouping of opposition parties, into signing a Memorandum of Understanding that included the ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM). Together, they set up a new organisation called the Inter Party Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD). Its objectives include: ‘to promote and uphold the establishment of fair electoral laws, effective and independent electoral management bodies and a level-playing field in elections’.
If this objective is to be achieved, the current Electoral Commission of Badru Kiggundu, which has been accused of being partisan, would have to be disbanded.
However, President Museveni last November appeared to snub calls for an independent EC when he renewed the tenure of its commissioners. The only hope now is for the EC to be expanded to accommodate ‘independent’ commissioners.
Meanwhile, pressure for free and fair elections appears to be mounting.
The American directive to Hillary Clinton is being seen among indications that America’s patience with the Museveni government is wearing thin.
‘The Congress does not take sides in the election. It is up to the people of Uganda to decide who their president or representatives will be. But the United States does care that the electoral process is free and fair,’ Rieser, Senator Leahy’s aide, told BSN.
Rieser said the Congressional directive was included because there is disappointment that the Ugandan government has not moved toward a multi-party democracy as many had hoped and expected.
‘There was recognition that coming out of the disastrous Idi Amin and Milton Obote eras it would take some time for the country to recover and for democratic institutions to develop. But a long time has elapsed and people have become impatient,’ he added.
‘Senator Leahy has visited Uganda and he has seen the progress that has been made. As chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds U.S. foreign aid programs, he has supported many hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for Uganda. But like others he wants real democracy to develop there. There is concern with reports that the government is limiting opportunities for political parties to organize.’
Rieser continued: ‘Congress wants to see the media able to broadcast and publish freely, political parties able to operate without harassment or threats, and the balloting to be free and fair. By signaling its interest and requiring the Secretary of State to regularly report on these matters, the Congress is saying that it intends to follow this process closely.’
When asked what would happen if the Secretary of State submitted a report showing shortcomings by the Uganda government in meeting the standards outlined in the directive, he said if there were credible evidence that the government was impeding the role of the media and political parties, then ‘we would convey those concerns’ to the Ugandan government and the manner in which the election is conducted would have an impact on aid from the U.S.
The BSN has confirmed that Otunnu was a driving force behind the Congressional directive, which explains why the language is specifically tailored to address obstacles that opposition parties in Uganda have complained about in the past.
Otunnu is said to have met several times with key U.S. lawmakers and after several presentations was able to help shift direction of a rigid foreign policy establishment.
When asked about Otunnu’s involvement in securing the Congressional directive, however, the new U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Jerry P. Lanier said he had no indication or evidence that Otunnu gave information to Congress or it originated from him at all.
‘I know that he has been in the [United] States for many years but I don’t know whether he was involved at all in this,’ he said.
While some leaders of opposition parties are celebrating the ‘landmark’ US intervention in Uganda’s politico-sphere, the government spokespersons say it will have ‘Zero impact’.
‘The NRM has always been for a level-playing ground where all political parties have the same chances to compete,’ said Okello Oryem , Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (International Relations).
Comments on impact of US congress directive on Uganda
‘The (required) reports are nothing unusual; we do reports anyway. The only difference is because the reports go to Congress this time, they will become public. We are watching the 2011 elections very closely in light of events of September last year. It was a flashpoint; a warning of what is possible because the riots happened so quickly. There is unrest below the surface; to put elections into that, we all hope though that it will be a peaceful transparent process.’
Joann Lockard, Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. embassy in Kampala
‘The resolution is historic. I am very optimistic that Uganda’s electoral process will begin to register change. Congress has given itself a big responsibility as custodian to Uganda. It must live up to its reputation as the most democratic assembly in the best democracy in the world. It has put America to the test and President Obama in particular on his speech in Accra, Ghana, which was a message to the rest of Africa. We are beginning to feel the accumulative effects of that resolution. Ugandans are beginning to have direct access to information and direct communication with the US because their plight is for the fist time going to be heard and listened to. Museveni is bewildered and embarrassed. Although I have not looked at him in the face, his body language speaks differently from his words.’
Salaam Musumba -FDC
‘These instructions are very significant to Uganda and historic to the US. They are executive demands like no other. Never before has the US Congress intervened directly in the politics of an African nation as it has come in to help Ugandans; not [even] in Kenya during Moi nor in Zimbabwe. Museveni has been in power this long because for all this time the US had turned a blind eye on Uganda, focusing on it only when it suits its interests. His (Museveni) ways will be exposed to the rest of the world. We are now waiting to see how Resident District Commissioners in the village will be treating opposition party supporters, how the police, the military will react. If they behave as they have always done, the world will be watching. This in history will mark the beginning of the end for Museveni.’
‘During the 2006 presidential and parliamentary elections in Uganda, EU deployed an Electoral Observation Mission (EOM). A decision to send an EU EOM to Uganda for the 2011 elections can be taken by EU after a formal request by the government of Uganda. Apart from that, EU missions in Kampala
continuously monitor the democratisation process, which includes preparations, the execution and follow-up of the elections.’
Anna Wrange, the Political Affairs Counsellor at the Swedish Embassy in Kampala
‘Zero impact. What Congress asked Hillary Clinton to do had already been discussed within government and the same resolutions reached. We welcome the statement. The NRM has always been for a level playing ground where all political parties have the same chances to compete.’