By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
Francis Mwijukye has been an aide of Dr Kizza Besigye, the leader of Uganda’s biggest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic change (FDC) since 2001. He has been by Besigye’s side during numerous clashes with police. On Feb. 21 police shot Mwijukye with a rubber bullet which also hit Besigye. Even with his injured leg from a police rubber bullet, Mwijukye’s unrelenting love for Besigye rallies is surprising.
Mwijukye, who is also the youth chairman for FDC, was attracted to Dr Besigye as the retired colonel spearheaded the Reform Agenda political drive in 2001 while a student at Makerere University. “At that time I got interested in politics to liberate this country,” says Mwijukye. At that time Mwijukye and his course-mates were about to do exams but politics prevailed and he paid less attention to exams. He says he thought the political fight against President Yoweri Museveni would last about 2 years.
“The struggle has gone on up till now,” he says while carefully moving his injured leg bandaged about 5 centimetres above the knee. Mwijukye has contested twice for Buhweju parliamentary seat but failed.
His love for Besigye and opposition a genda pushed Mwijukye to seek the permission of the Bushenyi Magistrate’s Court to leave Ankole sub-region where one condition of his bail on treason charges confined him. The magistrate gave him a month to be away and he was in his third week of his permit to travel out of Ankole when the police shot him.
The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati spoke to him. Excerpts below
How did you get shot?
We have held several Activists for Change rallies in the country and this time we had one in Katwe. We had informed the police about the rally and police had acknowledged receipt of the letter. So on Feb. 21 we went ahead with the rally at Kasawe ground just behind Katwe market where people including market vendors joined us. But for no apparent reason the police appeared saying they were not aware we were supposed to be there. We pulled out the letter they had written to us and they were embarrassed. A police commander named Achai ordered us to leave. The crowd dispersed at the shooting of bullets in the air. As I was opening the car door for Dr Besigye to enter the police threw a tear gas canister at the entrance of the vehicle. It was exploding into the vehicle. In that confusion, I saw Achai pointing at the three of us (Besigye, Mwijukye and Asuman Basalirwa) and an officer aimed his gun as I pushed Dr Besigye I was hit and it exploded to hit Dr Besigye. I found myself in hospital. The doctors said it was a rubber bullet and they found fragments in my body.
What do you now think of the police?
It is shameful that the Minister of State for Internal Affairs (James Baba) would go to parliament and say no one was shot even when the press caught these images, instead of saying sorry. He has not learnt from former minister Kirunda Kivejinja who was sacked for telling lies about Gilbert Arinaitwe attack on Dr Besigye. It is a pity that we have a police force that has decided to politick as it is headed by an NRM cadre soldier. Because Lt. Gen. Kale Kayihura is a soldier heading the police, they feel they can settle disagreements with bullets.
Given the situation you find yourself in what are you going to do?
I am petitioning human rights bodies about police brutality to unarmed civilians who are exercising their constitutional right of assembly. The police have targeted me as a person as they have stated that they want me out of Kampala. When I was granted bail on the treason charges, it was a condition of my bail that I should only stay in Western Uganda (Ankole) but I managed to seek the court’s permission to allow me come to Kampala. I am going ahead to sue the police for shooting me. We took Kayihura and other generals to the ICC but they did not act and yet the security personnel killed people with impunity during the Kayunga Buganda riots, people died when Kasubi Tombs were burnt, people have been killed during the Walk to Work protests. All these extrajudicial murders have to be brought to light and someone should be held liable.
You have been shot. Are you giving up the political activism?
No way. It is just the beginning and this is an inspiration because freedom does not come easily. When such things happen you are inspired because it’s an indicator that Museveni and his police are behaving like wounded buffalos. They realise you have pushed them to the point of running away and that’s when he becomes fiercer. You don’t run away from someone who fears and becomes fierce. You need to push harder. The actions of the regime signify it is at its weakest point.
So what keeps you going and stuck to Dr Besigye in spite of these challenges?
I know I am doing the right thing. The right thing is that this government has failed to perform to people’s expectations and we must ask them to go. And that’s what we are doing for which I want to be part of individuals in this countries known to have stood up to President Museveni and say sir you are presiding over a government of thieves and this must stop. They have robbed this country clean and they must leave so that Ugandans can govern themselves without the use of the gun. I know that I am right and they are wrong. Once you know you are doing the right thing you can always go an extra mile. I would rather die doing the right thing than fear to do it because someone has threatened to kill me.
How did you feel when the government imprisoned you in Luzira over treason charges?
I was enjoying it because we know that freedom is very expensive to achieve that’s why we came out very strongly. We realised people were with us. We were not hiding the handcuffs as some officials like KCCA’s Agaba are doing these days. We have been meeting people in opposition and government telling us ‘we are behind you, don’t give up’.
Don’t you think the police are right when they stop your rallies when they think rallies will interfere with other people’s businesses or rights?
You can’t have reasons that are unconstitutional. You should have been at the market to see how people welcomed us. People are happy with us. The police have no right to stop our assemblies because their role is to guide and give protection to both those who assemble and those who don’t.
In April last year the police pepper-sprayed you together with Dr Besigye and last week you were shot together. Why are willing to die for Dr Besigye?
I am not willing to die for Dr Besigye but ready to die fighting for freedom of this country. It is not about Besigye. It about what I believe. If Besigye stands for this cause then I am ready to support him. I am convinced he the right man with a vision for Uganda and I cannot abandon him. We know we are in the right direction and we can’t leave it. It is not about individuals. Nobody is going to divert us. The minister is trying to divert public attention but the public is more than aware of what is happening. We have a regime that is scared of its own people and things are going to get worse.
How did you meet Dr Besigye?
I was at university when I met Besigye when he was preaching Reform Agenda. We met on the struggle since 2001. I joined him because of the principles he is standing for against this dictatorial regime. On the way to true democracy you stick to those people who can offer direction to achieve that. Otherwise it is not that I went looking for him or he went and picked me somewhere; we met in the struggle. Whether they bring guns to intimidate the struggle continues and no turning back.
What is your message to the Uganda police?
We are brothers and sisters, sons and daughters don’t allow to be used by the regime that is obsessed with keeping power to commit crimes against the people for which you will be held accountable individually. Museveni does not see life after power and young police officers should think of the future.