By Achola Rosario
Norbert Mao is the President of the opposition Democratic Party, one of the political organisations involved in the Walk-to-Work campaign that has been running for a month. He spoke to The Independent’s Achola Rosario.
Are we going to see a return to open disappearing of `enemies of the State’ without trial?
Already there are people who have disappeared. We have six people from Kyadondo South, in the constituency represented by the Democratic PartyTreasurer; the police are advertising in the newspapers that some people are wanted. I do not know why the police would say they want them. The proper procedure is for the police to go to court extract criminal summons, and then have those people brought before court. We think an element of Aminism is already coming back. We have had reports of young people, those who are normally seen in demonstrations, have started disappearing in Kawempe North. We have also found that this government is no longer transparent about those who lose their lives as a result of police fire and other beatings by security agencies. So we are afraid that many Ugandans are going to disappear, so to speak, in order to silence them.
What is your opinion of Museveni’s proposed constitutional amendments to deny bail to `economic saboteurs’, treason suspects and terrorists?
It is insane! If you have a government that really believes in the rule of law, then that government should understand the purpose of bail. Bail is based on a key constitutional tenet. Whoever has advised President Museveni obviously does not know the law. First of all you must remove presumption of innocence, before you remove the right to bail. So they will have to amend very many parts of the Constitution to make sure that you are presumed to be guilty until you are proven innocent. I do not know of any country where there is no presumption of innocence in criminal cases. The purpose of a trial is to prove your guilt. That is why the court always pronounces that so and so has been found not guilty; in other words the state has failed to prove the case. The court does not say you are innocent. The court says because of the presumption of innocence, those who are bringing accusations against you should prove that you are guilty. If they fail, they should let you off scot-free. If this parliament passes such an amendment, then the parliament will not be worth the name of a parliament. The parliament should stand on the side of the people. What the government should do is improve investigation machinery, and to improvethe ability to prosecute cases. What President Museveni is now attempting, is to use the courts to promote unlawful detention, thereby punishing his opponents without a fair trial. It is ridiculous. But it is again a symptom of the kind of era we are entering into; the fact that President Museveni can even contemplate that means that he no longer has any qualms about undermining democracy in total.
Before elections, you refused to join forces with opposition parties, especially FDC. After elections you seem to be working together on Walk to Work campaign. What has changed and why?
It is not even true that we have never worked together with our friends in the IPC. We stood together on the need for free and fair elections. We stood together on the need for an independent electoral commission. We stood together on the need for an accurate and verifiable register of voters. For as long as the IPC was a personality driven cooperation- mainly driven by the personality of Col. Kizza Besigye- it was bound to be deflated. The IPC flatly refused to cooperate with us in promoting joint candidates at local and parliamentary level. By refusing that proposal, we lost several seats. Now if you can’t cooperate on small things like parliament and local council, how can you then agree to cooperate on the office of the president? The obsession with the office of the president was the IPC’s major undoing.
Apart from Walk to Work, what other strategies do you have to make democratic, economic and political reforms?
The ideas in the Walk to Work were discussed in a joint forum of opposition parties after the elections. The ideas that we are now seeing including Walk to Work, Enough is Enough, Campaign for Free and Fair Elections and so on, are now a legitimate partnership that is driven by an agenda, not any personality. We have agreed that we must challenge the legitimacy of president Museveni’s government, we have agreed we must struggle to dismantle the tyranny that we see now, and we have also agreed that we should have a vision of a democratic, peaceful and just Uganda. We are united to ensure that we fight the greed that is crippling the economy, the incompetence and the corruption. What has happened now is that we have an agenda that has brought us together as political parties. And we need strong parties. The only survivor of the IPC is FDC. What the IPC achieved is to destroy Jeema, CP and SDP- in fact SDP has even done worse. You cannot have a democracy withoutstrong political parties that are built on solid institutional frameworks other than the ambitions and the perceived strengths of individuals. Otherwise America would have collapsed after George Washington. On the contrary, for President Museveni and those like him, their visionis just to be president, to rule Uganda. Now as Norbert Mao, whether I ever become president of Uganda or not, it does not matter. What matters is that we dismantle the roots of tyranny in Uganda. So in Walk to work we are not in anyone’s bandwagon- this is something that we have crafted together.
The government has not intervened to resolve the Walk to Work demonstration demands. If they do not deliver on the demands, how long will the protests last?
The Walk to Work is just one arena, where the key players are political leaders. As long as the government does not respond, we shall continue to apply this pressure. The Walk to Work has drawn attention to the problem, and what we need now is to challenge the government with some clear alternatives. That is why there is the idea of the dialogue. By accepting talks, both sides have agreed that there is a problem. Now we must find a solution. And this is now what requires true leadership. We will unveil alternative policy frameworks, which we believe that if the government embraced in good faith, it would deal with many of these economic problems. But the attitude of the government, beating up protestors, killing protestors, is a sign of arrogance and conceit and callousness. There is no way the government can say they can do nothing. The problems we are facing in Uganda were locally generated. It is not the leaders of the Middle East who came and poured millions of dollars into the villages as part of vote buying. It is not OPEC that came and raided our foreign exchange reserve. It is not the actions of foreigners that weakened the shilling. Government policy has undermined our export sector; and if you have a weak export sector, of course due to bad Balance of Trade, you will not have enough foreign currency. So imports will be very expensive. Walk to Work will continue but at the same time we shall be articulating alternative policies.
How are you going to seek justice for those killed by security operatives, either through Ugandan or international organs?
The Democratic Party has already brought on board a number of lawyers. We shall seek redress in the national courts. But even more importantly, President Museveni needs to know that these standards are international. It is a shame that we are being ruled by a president whose only claim to excellence is that he is better than Idi Amin. If your standard is Idi Amin, then obviously you will always excel. I believe that we have got to take these matters into the arena of the International Criminal Court. We have got a list of about 30 of the most brutal police officers. These days the police officers hide the names that are supposed to be on their clothes because they know that what they are doing is shameful and illegal. The army officers even when now they come, they wear masks. Some of them come in plain clothes; others come when they are hooded. What the government of Uganda is doing amounts to crimes against humanity. You cannot open fire indiscriminately, wounding hundreds of people, and killing others.
Our approach will be two pronged: to seek redress in our national courts, but also to seek redress internationally thought the international criminal courts, the East African Court and also the African court of human rights.
With regards to how your and Besigye’s cases have been handled by different courts, is there an institution you can turn to seek redress from locally?
That was the reason we the members of Uganda Law Society marched to the High Court to petition the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice is the head of the judiciary and it is the Chief Justice who can assign magistrates their duties. What I know is that the Chief Justice (Benjamin Odoki) has failed the judiciary by allowing politics to interfere with the running of the judiciary. In our case there was even interference with the prisons service. The City Hall Court ordered our remand in Luzira and also ordered that we should be produced in City Hall court on the 2nd of May. Instead, without any directive from the court we were produced in Nakawa. That shows that there is a power capable of interfering with the normal functioning, not only of the judiciary but also of the Prisons system. Many officials in Uganda today don’t have the spine to do the right thing.
Are you receiving any help/ from donors and foreign aid agencies?
The government has been saying that foreigners or foreign governments have been funding these protests. I don’t need funding to walk from my home to City House! We are not receiving any funding from any foreign power, to enable us to pressure our own government. The only people who are supporting us are our own people.
Do you think Besigye should be held responsible for the death of his supporters when he returned from Nairobi?
I would not say he should be held responsible for the deaths. As leaders of these protests we have a responsibility to sanction our supporters who are being violent, who are being unruly, because it is not the government who is demanding that we be peaceful: We are the ones who have announced that these protests are going to be peaceful. Therefore if you are going to assign blame, you should apportion the blame in proportion to everyone’s responsibility. I have also been blamed for the deaths in Gulu. Obviously when a death occurs, people become emotional, and there is a lot of finger-pointing, but Ugandans need to know that there would be no death if the police were not using high-handed methods and lethal force. But in this case of course the police has taken sides; this is no longer being seen as a political dispute. This is seen as a contest in which the opposition is on one side and the NRM and the State are the same. The police have now become an NRM police, the army has become an NRM army. The blame for deaths and injuries should lie squarely with the government headed by President Museveni.
How difficult is it for a leader to control his supporters during a procession/protest?
You must have preparation when you go to do processions. There is no way you can undermine communication. Whenever I am on the streets whether walking to work or whatever, first of all I discourage my supporters from leading the arguments with the police officers- that is my job as the leader. But in many instances, you have got situations where even NRM supporters masquerade as opposition and they start throwing stones to discredit us. What I know is that it is possible, if before you start any march, you communicate to the people what is required. Then you need to train marshals who move around the sides of the road; who are trained to deal with the police- not these who grab the police by the collar. We need to have trained people who can ensure that the protest or the march does not degenerate into some lawless riot and something that gives room for looters, criminal elements, and malicious people from our opponents side.