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Election violence: Is it bursting its banks?

By Isaac Mufumba

On the night of February 28, 2010 Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kuteesa appeared on NTV to defend his credentials as ‘a good and highly disciplined cadre’ of the NRM.

The following evening, NRM Secretary General and Minister of Security Amama Mbabazi to was in the media dismissing reports of an escalation of infighting among party members as ‘exaggerations by the opposition.’

At the time, details about the Sunday lunch time clash between supporters of Minister Kuteesa and those of Rwemiyaga MP Theodore Sekikubo at Kinoni Church of Uganda had started trickling in scantily.

On Tuesday March 02, fellow NRM members Sekikubo, Sembabule Chairman Herman Sentogo and State House’s legal adviser Joy Kabatsi, addressed a press conference at parliament and rebuffed the two ministers.

They not only questioned Minister Kuteesa’s NRM credentials, but reaffirmed that divisions in the NRM are not an exaggeration.

‘Kuteesa is a journeyman. He represented DP in parliament in 1980 and jumped into bed with the Okellos in 1985. After 1986, he tried to contest against Bidandi Ssali in Nakawa Division. Are those credentials of a dedicated cadre?’ asked Sekikubo.

They accused Kuteesa of flaming violence by inciting communities in Sembabule against one another and hiring gangsters to attack them.

‘Hon. Kuteesa is planning genocide. What else would you be doing if you arm one section of the community and incite it against another? ‘ Sekikubo charged. He promised to carry out ‘balance of terror’. ‘Kuteesa will not get away with this (violence). He originated it, it must end with him. If we are not protected, we’ll use all available means’ he warned.

Sentongo chipped in: ‘This terrorism that he has procured will not stop us in any way from participating in the politics of this country.’

On the same day, Kuteesa dismissed the allegations and counter-accused his opponents of orchestrating chaos in the district. ‘Whoever brought that fracas and violence should be caught and prosecuted. In the event that I am also found guilty of the fracas, they should also arrest me,’ Kuteesa told the press.

The developments in Sembabule were received with glee by sections of the opposition. One of them quoted a line from Darkness At Noon: ‘wolves devour one another,’ derived from the Russian revolution where the leaders turned against each other in the quest for power.

However, he seemed unmindful that such violence can be replicated elsewhere and on sections of the populace with even greater ferocity. Sembabule is just a rude reminder of how violence has come to rule Uganda’s politics. But where did this recourse to violence begin?

Prevalent is the view that Uganda is simply a violent country, the milestones being the 1966 crisis that led to the attack on Kabaka Muteesa’s palace and his subsequent flight to exile, the declaration of Uganda as a republic, the 1971 coup that marked the beginning of Amin’s eight year fascism and the February 6, 1981 that launched the NRA/M bush war.

A July 19, 2002 report by the Parliamentary Committee on Election Violence, describes those milestones as part of Uganda’s struggle to ‘establish a viable and sustainable democratic system of governance’ which culminated into the birth of individual merit elections and later the 1995 constitution. Individual merit had been expected to deliver clean and violence free elections. However, contradictions soon emerged in the system as some leaders were branded ‘Movement pure’ and others ‘Movement dilute’ This, combined with struggle for power, bred violence within and outside the Movement.

Prominent incidents of election violence

  • On February 26, 2004, a civic seminar organised by the Foundation for African Development was disrupted after UYD Chairman Mohammad Baswari Kezaala accused the government of nepotism. On March 5, 2004, rowdy youths under the command of local Movement leaders, Richard Gulume and Michael Kasedde, stormed Crested Crane Hotel in Jinja town and disrupted a workshop of the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum, a liberal political pressure group. Police and parliament investigated the matter, but nobody was ever prosecuted.
  • On March 7, 2004, police dispersed a rally at Clock Tower. The rally had been organised by a pressure group, Popular Resistance Against Life Presidency, which opposed the removal of presidential term limits to allow Museveni stand for election as many times as he may wish. However, the police ignored events at the nearby Nakivubo Stadium where Maj. Roland Kakooza Mutale of Kalangala Action Plan, a pro-NRM paramilitary outfit, was launching ‘Operation return Museveni.’
  • The return to multiparty democracy after the July 28, 2005 has not helped reduce election violence.
  • On February 9, 2006 men clad in yellow T-shirts and brandishing AK-47 rifles arrived in Idudi town in Busoga for a futile attempt to capture an effigy of FDC leader Dr Kizza Besigye. No death occurred, but several people were injured in the fracas.
  • On February 15, 2006, Lt. Ramathan Magara shot into a crowd of FDC supporters at Bulange in Mengo killing three people and injuring several others.
  • Just like it had been in 2001, violence was repeated in Kinkizi West and Ibanda North in 2006. In Kinkizi, soldiers were again deployed to beat up Garuga’s supporters.
  • On March 07, 2006, one person was left dead and another injured when the police opened fire in Jinja to disperse supporters who were protesting the impounding of a jalopy tagged ‘FDC Mamba’, which had earlier been driven around the town by FDC’s Vice Chairperson, Salaamu Musumba.

One such case was the 2001 Kinkizi West campaign between Minister Amama Mbabazi and Mr James Musinguzi Garuga. The two had been Movement stalwarts until Garuga withdrew his loyalty. The military with knowledge of President Yoweri Museveni were deployed in Kinkizi to ensure victory for Mbabazi on account that Musinguzi was no longer a Movementist.

Musinguzi and his supporters paid the ultimate price and the penultimate punishment. John Bosco Twinomuhwezi was shot in the eye and seriously injured allegedly by Mbabazi’s campaign manager, James Kamwesiga. Twinomuhwezi sued Mbabazi and the government, but the case has never been concluded in Mbarara High Court since 2001. Ruling on the election petition against Mbabazi, the trial judge said that for the years he had served on the bench, he had never seen an election as violent as the one between Garuga and Mbabazi.

In Ibanda North during the 2001 presidential elections, the then Commanding Officer of Bihanga army barracks Capt. Patrick Kankiriho, now Brigadier 3rd Division Commander, moved around the constituency with military guards beating Kizza Besigye supporters and agents at polling stations. On the election eve in 2006, again soldiers from Bihanga barracks in support of Capt. Guma Gumisiriza, incumbent MP, rounded and beat up another Movement candidate Gaston Baguma’˜s campaign officials and detained them in the barracks until the following day after voting had closed at 5pm.

Quoting several reports, the parliamentary committee notes that violence has been on the increase since 1996. It has moved from ‘primarily spontaneous eruptions of fighting, which resulted in only injuries and destruction of opponents’ property’ to ‘highly planned and organized’¦resulting in loss of lives, serious and fatal injuries and massive loss of property.’

Police reports show that 17 people, including Johnson Baronda of Rukungiri, Paul Muzira of Ndejje and another who was reportedly shot by Minister Vincent Nyanzi, died as a result of violence in the 2001 presidential and parliamentary elections.

Violence did not end with the 2001 elections. On December 07, 2003, Makindye East MP, Michael Mabikke and other Uganda Young Democrats at a workshop in Kabale were attacked by rowdy pro-NRM youths and two people were injured. The then Internal Affairs Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, promised a full investigation into the incident, but nothing came of it.

The violence has now gone beyond Movement-versus opposition to Movement official versus Movement unofficial, which comprises independent candidates.

Internal disagreements have led to the birth of independent candidates in the Movement. In fact nearly all the independent candidates in Parliament today, are offshoots of the Movement, having fallen out with the establishment on allegations of rigging during the party’s primary elections. These internal disagreements in the Movement have widened the scope and scale of election violence. For instance, on May 20, 2009 Tororo Deputy RDC Richard Gulume and independent candidate for Bugembe Town Council seat Sula Sentongo were arrested on orders of Jinja RDC, Christopher Bagonza. Gulume had been canvassing votes for Sentongo, and not the NRM official flag bearer Frank Kayemba. The ugly face of the NRM’s perpetuated violence was again vivid during the Feb.16 by-elections in Mbale where opposition FDC’s Jack Wamai Wamanga defeated the NRM official candidate, John Wambogo, and another NRM splinter, Dr James Mutende, who stood as an independent. An escort to Minister Werikhe, who supported the NRM official candidate, shot and injured Mutenda’s supporter.

Where is Museveni in all this?

In the presidential election petition by Dr Kizza Besigye in 2001, Justice Arthur Oder ruled that the violence in Rukungiri and Kanungu would have been halted had it not been that it had the subtle approval of the President.

‘If he did not approve what the UPDF and the PPU were doing he would have made an order to stop it’¦His approval was not express, it was tacit’ the judge ruled.

FDC Vice President Salaamu Musumba too believes that it is in Museveni’s interest to continue fanning the violence at all levels.

‘Museveni conjures up this [infighting] so that everyone is busy in conflict, so bobody organises at inter and intraparty level. It is entropy. He is the beneficiary. He doesn’t want to stop it,’ she says.

However, Sembabule District Chairman, Herman Sentongo, says that Museveni has tried to reconcile the warring parties in Sembabule. He reportedly held separate meetings with the rivalling parties on December 17, 2009 at his Kisozi ranch. But the meeting aborted after Minister Kuteesa and Dr Elly Muhumuza, made preconditions which the Sekikubo, Sentongo and Kabatsi faction found objectionable.

Museveni has also made attempts to reconcile rival factions in Busoga and Bugisu, but that is at intra- party level. How about at national level?

State House Press Secretary, Tamale Mirundi, says that though Museveni appears uninvolved in ending election violence, he is doing something about it.

‘Museveni is not a dictator. He works through institutions like the police and the army. That is why people don’t see him to be doing something about it,’ he says, but what does the tale of escalating violence portend for Uganda in 2011?

Sekikubo insists the current violence at constituency level between NRM members and between NRM and other opposition parties, is a precursor to large scale violence in the coming days. ‘There is going to be a lot of violence at inter-party and intra-party level. Make no mistake about that.’ It’s a view shared by FDC’s Salaamu Musumba.

‘This (infighting) is an early warning sign. Death will occur in the NRM party primaries and more deaths will occur in the national elections,’ she says.

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