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Election war fears

By Ronald Musoke

Kayihura, Lumumba reveal NRM’s 2016 plan

Just days to the Feb.18 general election, tension and fear of election-related violence is rising across the country. Pressure has gone up over recent statements by the top leaders of the army, police, and the ruling NRM party warning opponents of President Yoweri Museveni that they will be killed and crushed.  Some commentators are calling the statements a form of “psychological rigging”. Others are saying the statements are an indication that the NRM party is in panic mode, according to some observers.

Political temperatures went a notch higher on Jan.31 when an outspoken general, David Sejusa, who has sought to be a self-appointed coordinator of election-related protests, was arrested. A January 20 opinion poll by a local firm, Research World International (RWI), put Museveni at 51%, his nearest challenger Kizza Besigye at 32% and former Museveni ally and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi at 12%.


This is the first time the election is not a two-man run between Museveni and Besigye. Mbabazi’s strong showing – although much lower that initially anticipated- has raised the spectre of an unprecedented re-run.

“The regime is challenged and we are going to see the true colours of NRM,” said Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a senior lecturer of history and development studies at Makerere University, “This is also an indication that NRM politics is politics of militarism. For them, unless they have won, there cannot be any other winner.”

The European Union, civil society activists, and members of the opposition have joined those calling for the army and police to be restrained and ensure a peaceful election. It is not clear how the government plans to deal with the growing fear. President Museveni has previously said he would not hand over power to `confused groups’. But he has not spoken out this time. The Electoral Commission has also remained silent.    On Jan. 24, the Secretary General of the NRM, Justine Lumumba, warned parents in Kampala and the neighbouring district of Wakiso not to let their children join any post-election violence.

“Let me tell you the truth,” Lumumba said at a public gathering, “this NRM government is not going anywhere. What they (opposition) are planning that you should send your children to Kampala to create chaos…They will kill your children if they come to destabilize and disorganize peace and security in Kampala and Wakiso.”

A few days later, Gen. Kale Kayihura, the Inspector General of Police told members of a police-allied vigilante group, the so-called Crime Preventers that the government would not hand over power to the opposition. “We shall not hand over power to the opposition to destabilize the peace which we fought for,” Kayihura told the 65,000 crime preventers in the eastern district of Kapchorwa.

A report of Kayihura utterances in The Observer newspaper of Jan. 27 prompted the head of the European Union Mission in Uganda, Kristian Schmidt, to tweet Kayihura a query.

“Gen, I respectfully ask: Were you quoted correctly in today’s Observer,” Schmidt tweeted.

Kayihura reportedly also told the crime preventers that they would soon be changed from stick-wielding officers to those who carry rifles so they may get ready to defend this country in case of any attack.

Kayihura and Lumumba’s utterances have been criticized on almost all media platforms.

Psychological rigging

Patrick Wakida, the executive director of RWI and Besigye ally says the statements from senior government officials are a “deliberate ploy to intimidate the voters”.

“In my view, they have learnt that Ugandans fear insecurity and they are therefore trying to hoodwink them telling them that if you don’t vote this candidate, this will happen and that earns them votes,” Wakida told The Independent in an interview.

“If you look at rural Uganda, people who vote NRM don’t vote them for delivering public services, but vote them on grounds that they have ensured that they sleep peacefully.”

Wakida says comments such as those recently made by the NRM Secretary General can be used in the courts of law in future to allege that elections were rigged.

“This is because elections can be rigged psychologically,” Wakida said.

Wakida says Museveni does not take anything for granted.

“If one has watched the rallies of both President Museveni and Kizza Besigye, you can understand where they are coming from. What is clear is that there is a contest that has never happened in this country.”

“If you look at Besigye’s support today, it is higher than ever before in terms of broadness.”  Wakida says people with a lot of influence such as Lumumba and Kayihura should refrain from uttering such statements because they can be disastrous especially as we head towards the election where every candidate think they are in the lead and they expect to win.

The police has since released a transcript of what it says is what Gen. Kayihura said. It does not contain the offending utterances.

On Jan. 31, while appearing on a current affairs programme on NTV, Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda; the UPDF spokesperson, also said he is not sure if statements made by the generals were not quoted out of context.

He said although talk of election-related violence has “been completely put out of context by the Ugandan public, the government has intelligence showing that there are groups within Kampala and around the country who are planning violence particularly after the election”.

“I have said on television and radio that it does not matter who the people’s choice is going to be, come Feb.18 or 19, the UPDF will salute whoever will be elected by the people of Uganda through a free and fair election.”

He said the army is “interested in taking the country to a post-election situation where there is no violence”.

He said it is not for the army to interpret if the intelligence is being blown out of proportion or being manipulated for political gains on the side of the incumbent.

“The army would rather act on wrong intelligence than not acting at all on correct intelligence,” he said.

A common thread in all the statements and denials is a refrain of likely election-related violence and the determination and ability of the security forces to crush and kill demonstrators.

Livingstone Sewanyana, the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) has called such statements unfortunate.

He noted that the right to protest is entrenched in Article 29 of the Uganda Constitution which gives the right to Ugandans to demonstrate peacefully as long as they are unarmed.

“So for Lumumba to say that those who will protest will be shot, we consider that irresponsible and unacceptable.”

“This is a war drum which is completely uncalled for because when you go into an election, there are two options; one is to win and the other is to lose.”

Sewanyana also noted that President Museveni has always boasted that his government ended the reign of terror and stopped state-inspired violence and extra-judicial killings.

“So for Kasule Lumumba to come out and say that anyone who attempts to protest will be killed is against the NRM philosophy and method of work.

“In any case, when the NRM government came to power in 1986, its major slogan was promotion of democracy, respect for human rights and rule of law.”

Sewanyana said police should not to be partisan in the election process.

“As key law enforcers, they must be able restrain anyone engaged in acts of violence or abuse of the law without fear or favour irrespective of whatever political party that group may be from.”

“If you say that you are not going to hand over power that means that elections are useless because when you agree to go into an election you expect to win or lose.”

Sewanyana said the youth Kayihura is trying to employ as crime preventers are largely unemployed and they are likely to abuse that power they are being given and so there needs to be a clear legal framework to regulate them.

Sewanyana said the Citizens Election Observers Network- Uganda (CEON-U)—a consortium of 18 local civil society organisations currently observing the electoral process across the country has already documented cases of abuse by crime preventers and the report has already been passed onto the Police.

Lack of trust

Other commentators, including Mwambutsya, say the government is creating a violence atmosphere and they are whipping up the violence sentiment among the population.  “If you have trained 11 million crime preventers and you have a budget for post-election violence, then you are creating a violence atmosphere.

“Remember this is a regime that has stayed in power for 30 years without a big challenge, and for individuals like Lumumba who are quite young and have never met real political challenge think politics is about intimidation.”

Lumumba, 43, the Bugiri Woman MP joined politics in 2001. In an interview, she once revealed that fear of violence had kept her away from politics. According to her, when the Democratic Party (DP) lost the election in 1980, her father – a DP Chairperson in the Busoga region suffered a lot.

“When UPC won, we suffered; they robbed us; all our property was taken by the UPC Chairperson of our region and that made me fear politics,” she said.

Ndebesa said Lumumba and Kayihura need to be exposed because they can take this country back to that history.

“It is ironical that the NRM party went to the bush fighting for freedom but now they are fighting against freedom.”

Olara Otunnu, the Uganda People’s Congress president told The Independent that statements coming from these government officials should not surprise anybody.

“It is in their DNA,” he told The Independent, “That is what brought them into power. It is the war machine and the violence and repression that have sustained them in power.

“It is now up to Ugandans to decide that they have had enough of the war-mongering, the repression and the war machine and that they want to take the country back into their hands from those who have hijacked it using war and bloodshed.”

The Feb. 18 election is the fifth since the NRM and Museveni came to power in 1986. But tension has always been high. The last election in 2011 was followed by massive protests led by Kizza Besigye until they were quashed by the military forces. But for the first time, there have been incidents of clashes between civilian supporters of the three main candidates; Besigye, Mbabazi, and Museveni and the police. Violent attacks have happened in the districts of Jinja, Ntungamo, Gulu and Kapchorwa.

Political pundits are likening the situation in Uganda to events leading to the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya. Everyone is urging politicians from all the camps to tone down on their violence rhetoric. Evidence from the 2007 Kenyan political fiasco suggested that much of the violence had been pre-meditated and planned by politicians and community leaders at both the local and national level. This, local political observers, say could easily happen in Uganda.  Irene Ikomu, a young lawyer and coordinator of Parliament Watch Uganda, a civil society organization that monitors the activities of Parliament told The Independent that the fear is partly a result of lack of trust in the electoral process.

“When people don’t believe in elections, then it is easy for something to spark off electoral violence,” she said.

The warnings of approaching violence are, therefore, being taken seriously. On Jan. 25, the US State Department issued a travel warning to American citizens intending to travel and those residing in Uganda asking them to be vigilant, exercise caution and “remain abreast of the security situation throughout the electoral period”.  “Gatherings intended to be peaceful can become confrontational and turn violent,” the U.S. warned. It is a sentiment many Ugandans share.

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