By eriasa mukiibi sserunjogi
Security plan to isolate and humiliate FDC boss backfires
The brutal arrest of opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) leader Rtd. Col. Dr Kizza Besigye has plunged President Yoweri Museveni’s government into an unfavourable spotlight locally and internationally.
Sensing this, the day after Besigye’s car was smashed Amin-style and he was pounced on, beaten and blinded by the notorious Rapid Response Unit, one of the many unconstitutional security outfits of the Museveni regime, the government attempted to block his evacuation to Nairobi for treatment.
President Museveni was due to speak at a business forum in Nairobi the next day, April 30.
The grotesque images of a half-blinded, deaf, and limping Besigye, supported by nurses, with one arm in plaster of Paris due to an earlier gun wound, had to be blocked from hitting the international airwaves.
After a one-hour stand-off at Entebbe International Airport, the American and European embassies intervened. Besigye’s evacuation was allowed and the cameras rolled, not in Uganda but in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. By the time Museveni spoke at the business forum, the mood had been fouled.
“Mr. President, how can we as Kenyans sit here and listen to you while you have been brutalizing Ugandans?” shouted a man in the audience, before he was whisked away by security.
More was to come in an interview with Kenya NTV’s Managing Editor Linus Kaikai.
After showing him video of Besigye’s brutal arrest, Kaikai asked President Museveni: “Many people have compared what we have just seen with what used to happen during Amin’s rule. How does that make you feel when your style of rule is compared to that of Gen. Idi Amin Dada?”
“It just shows that you are not serious,” Museveni answered, “Your reporting is biased, tendentious and you are not serious”
“That gentleman Besigye was taken before a court of law. Do you know what Amin used to do? He would murder them and throw them in the river for crocodiles to eat. I have not heard of Besigye’s body floating on the Nile for crocodiles to eat”. It was an ugly interview.
President Museveni said Besigye should have complied with the police order because “that is what civilised people do”.
But many listeners realised that Museveni’s view was in stark contrast with what he wrote in his famous autobiography, “Sowing the Mustard Seed”.
On page 126, paragraph 2, President Yoweri Museveni, writes about an experience that is eerily similar to what Besigye endured on April 28 at the brutal hands of Museveni’s security forces.
In Sowing the Mustard Seed, Museveni writes about how just before the 1980 elections, the UPC government in power then had gone to the extent of arresting him, his wife and son and detaining them for about five hours at a roadblock at Kireka, near Kampala. “They kicked us and made us squat on the ground and I think they meant to kill us,” Museveni writes, “This was when I was vice-chairman of the Military Commission, in effect the Vice-President of the country, which shows the primitive nature of the people who were running Uganda’s state affairs at that time. If one does not agree with someone, how does it solve the problem to hold him at a roadblock? On that occasion, some of my comrades used force and rescued us.”
He adds: “After the elections, the situation became much worse. People who had voted for other parties were harassed and intimidated by the UPC, and some were even killed. Therefore, as we were making our preparations to go underground, the justification for our cause was becoming more and more evident.”
Besigye has not said he plans to wage war against the government. He says his Walk-to-Work protests are meant to get the government to act on escalating food and fuel prices. But as Kampala Metropolitan Police boss, Grace Turyagumanawe, who commanded the attack on Besigye on April 28, showed, it suggests something different.
“Your sinister plans will not be allowed,” he shouted at Besigye.
Such brutal attacks have pushed the price protests into the international limelight.
When the European Union and Irish diplomats in Kampala first met the Third Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs, Mzee Kirunda Kivejinja on April 13, it appeared that the government was feeling the heat and was keen to avoid more international disgrace over Besigye and the protests.
As a result, Besigye’s brutal arrests, which were becoming routine, were switched from police trucks where most of the violence was seen by the public to sealed vans. Media networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter were intermittently blocked and TV stations were ordered not to broadcast live the protests. It was, therefore, surprising, when on April 28 the most brutal attack on Besigye happened. Why such brutality and in public?
Why police brutality?
Initial explanations suggest the situation had simply got out of hand. Gilbert Bwana Arinaitwe, the security operative who became villain of the day, was reportedly nursing his heavily pregnant wife in nearby Mulago Hospital when he heard of the operation.
A young man, who until his vicious attack on Besigye had hidden his heart of darkness by proclaiming to be a devout born-again Pentecostal Christian, gentle in disposition, and neat in dress, Arinaitwe appeared to have chosen a bad time to show his brutal side. He taekwondo-kicked the glass of Besigye’s SUV, pulled a pistol and with his fingers bleeding from cuts and grotesque snigger on his face, he smashed the glass. Then he sprayed chemicals into the car, dragged the blinded opposition leader out and bundled him onto a police truck like a common criminal. The nation was in shock.
But when President Museveni appeared on national TV and appeared to support the vicious attack on Besigye, it became apparent that the brutality on Besigye and the many innocent victims in riots that erupted in towns across the country was deliberate.
Next day, hoards of the army, police, and other security forces attacked civilians in the most brutal manner across the country. Riots have been sporadically erupted since April 11 but the April 29 clampdown was the most brutal. Up to 20 people, including two children and a baby, have been killed and over 150 have been injured; some badly – including a pregnant woman who was shot in the stomach. Most of the victims are clobbered with truncheons and sticks on the head and body and inhaled teargas. Over 400 suspects were arrested.
Sources within the security forces say the brutal crackdown is an indication that the Inspector General of Police, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura, was finally losing ground to a more radical group within the security forces.
What happened during Kizza Besigye’s evacuation appears to show Kayihura losing control.
Hours before Besigye left his home for Nairobi, his lawyer David Mpanga called Kayihura. Kayihura told him Besigye could fly out. But shortly after, Kayihura called back. Something had changed; Mpanga told The Independent, Kayihura said Besigye was now not free to fly out. Mpanga says he tried to contact Kayihura again but his cell phones were switched off. That is when FDC’s top honchos sought the intervention of the American and British envoys and Besigye was finally allowed to fly out. Who could have ordered Kayihura to cancel his earlier permission?
Hardliners take over
Journalists at Entebbe Airport say Arinaitwe was once again in action there as a sign that the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) was involved. RRU operates under the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) of Brig, James Mugira who answers to the Coordinator of Intelligence Services, Gen. David Tinyefuza. This group is reportedly in continuous feuds with Kayihura for favour from Museveni. They are unhappy that Museveni appears to favour Kayihura. They are angry that Kayihura has hogged all credit for the just ended largely peaceful national elections. It is alleged that during a recent security meeting, they accused Kayihura of fuelling the Walk-to-Work protests by handling it with `kid gloves’. This group had vowed to tame Besigye’s `arrogance’ and make the cost of protests very high. Battering and `humiliating’ Besigye publicly was part of the strategy.
They advised that the NRM should avoid the “mistake” former President Milton Obote made by not arresting Museveni when he threatened rebellion immediately after the 1980 election. Museveni rode on popular belief that the election was rigged in Obote’s favour to launch the five-year bush war that brought him to power. The NRM/security radicals want Besigye locked away to prevent a replay.
They are the reason Inspector of Police Alphonso Mutabazi, who peacefully escorted UPC President Olara Otunnu to work, was swiftly suspended from duty. No known disciplinary action has been taken against the officers who roughed up Besigye and vandalised his car, notably Gilbert Arinaitwe and Turyagumanawe.
Kayihura, who usually commands from the battlefield, was conspicuously absent during the last protests. Other sources say Kayihura was in charge of the operation and that, as Museveni retreated to his country home in Rwakitura to draft his new cabinet, he left orders that Kayihura was in charge of the security. President Museveni says it is Kayihura who alerted him when the first riots broke out in Kisekka Market in downtown Kampala on April 29. But other security bosses reportedly claim he did not involve them fast enough when the demonstrations first broke out.
Whatever the case, President Museveni has spoken to various top opposition leaders including DP President General Norbert Mao, Mukono North MP Betty Nambooze and the Masaka Municipality MP-elect Mathias Mpuuga, who is also the national coordinator of the walk-to-work campaign. Sources say he has dangled juicy posting for them as long as they abandon Besigye “who has nothing to lose and is on a suicide mission”.
The attempt to isolate and discredit Besigye is deliberate.
“Besigye should say, `I failed to be president but if you had voted me, on this question of food price, this is what I would do’,” says Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere.
“Besigye was the first to attack the security men with a hammer. One of the people in his car attacked the police with pepper spray,” said Minister of State for Internal Affairs, Matia Kasaija. He added: “They (protesters) should not protest on the streets. If they have a contribution to make, they should make it to us and we consider it in parliament.”
It is an ironical demand. In effect, these members of Museveni’s government are saying the opposition politicians must help them to govern. They deliberately forget that the raison d’etre of the opposition is not to help the government in power to govern; rather the opposition should use every lawful opportunity to kick the government out of power.
Museveni did more than that when he took up guns to fight Obote’s government in 1980. Unfortunately, his brutal suppression of lawful opposition has left some in the international community, comparing his regime to the brutal dictator Idi Amin.