TUMWINE: The face of UPDF violence
Kampala, Uganda | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | Uganda’s Minister of Security, General Elly Tumwine, is famed for having fired the first bullet that set the war that brought President Yoweri Museveni to power. For 30 years he has been perpetually representing the country’s military, the UPDF in parliament. And he has built a reputation for speaking tough each time his actions are criticised.
Gen. Tumwine’s favourite tactic is unleash rhetoric of the 1981-1986 bush war heroism and his personal contribution (he was injured and lost an eye) which, he implies, somehow gives him an air of entitlement.
For most of this period, Tumwine has been on a collision path with some fellow legislators over how he irregularly acquired Nomo Gallery, a previously public facility, and turned it into his private venture.
But he has always pulled the “we fought to bring peace in this country” card to silence critics. He was recently in the news over threatening fellow MPs in parliament but was narrowly let off the hook after a parliamentary investigation.
Tumwine likes to cut the figure of a man who understands and speaks the language of violence. So when he recently glorified the security forces for having violently quelled the protests that were sparked by the arrest of Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, a presidential candidate for the National Unity Platform, many people were not surprised.
Tumwine who is one of the three decorated UPDF four-star generals serving as ministers in Museveni’s government insists that security officers have a right to shoot protesters “if they reach a certain level of violence.”
“If you threaten the lives of the security forces and the lives of the public, they have a right to shoot you. That is why they are armed with coercive weapons to make you fear committing crimes. So, if people don’t take that genuine and peaceful advice and want to gloss over it in chaos, they should go ahead,” he said.
Gen. Tumwine who doubles as a senior military officer of the UPDF and Minister of Security made the remarks at the Uganda Media Centre in the wake of protests that left over 90 Ugandans shot dead by security forces including gun toting men in civilian clothes.
The arrest of Kyagulanyi, the National Unity Platform (NUP) presidential candidate, at his campaign venue in Luuka District and his subsequent detention at Nalufenya Police Station in Jinja, sparked spontaneous protests on Nov. 18 and 19 in Kampala and other towns leaving many dead, scores injured and over 600 arrested.
The Police said Kyagulanyi was arrested over alleged violation of COVID-19 safety measures on public gatherings as issued by the Electoral Commission (EC) and the Ministry of Health.
Some video clips widely shared on social media platforms showed the security operatives indiscriminately shooting live bullets at both protesters and bystanders.
In some cases, the videos depict security agents both in civilian clothes and uniform shooting live rounds of ammunition at crowds of people in high-rise buildings like shopping arcades some of whom were chanting slogans of change.
On the other hand, videos also show protesters attacking some security officers with stones and one is seen wielding a hammer advancing to attack a lady police officer. In some cases, the protesters had mounted illegal roadblocks forcing people to pay money to be allowed to proceed with their journeys.
It is in light of the above circumstances that Tumwine made his statement that the police and other security personnel have a right to kill protesters if they are attacked.
Tumwine said those who started the protests should be blamed, not those who worked to protect the lives and property of other Ugandans. He said focus should be on the cause not the consequences. He defended security forces ‘indiscriminate shooting the riots/protests.’
“Was the violence discriminate? Would you have liked the violence to continue or how would you have handled it? If people are not listening and are threatening to kill others and the Police shoot in the air and somebody gets a stray bullet, do you blame them,” Tumwine said.
He added: “All efforts by the negative media and negative sectarian and divisive groups will be defeated like before. Everyone has a choice on who to support but base that support on whether he or she is defending our common interests as opposed to who is threatening your future to put it in chaos.”
While speaking at a national television, UBC’s ‘Behind The Headlines’ show on Nov.25 with Kira Municipality MP, Ibrahim Ssemujju, the unapologetic Tumwine shrugged off accusations by Ssemujju that the security forces were high handed, and should be prosecuted for extra-judicial killings.
“The General blames everybody except himself. Majority of the people you killed were bystanders, and you don’t feel sorry? You should change the way you speak. You’re an elder now, you shouldn’t be speaking like an iron fisted young man who went to Luwero,” charged Ssemujju.
”In my culture, when one starts a fire here, you go and start a fire the other end, so that when the two fires meet, they can’t continue burning,” Tumwine shot back. “All security forces have one responsibility, protect the sovereignty of the country, protect the life and property of the people. I really congratulate our security forces for what they have done, restoring peace and order within two days was not an easy thing for a premeditated plan to burn Kampala and destroy property.”
During the show, Tumwine was prompted to apologise for the deaths of innocent Ugandans who were not participating in the protests. He grudgingly said: Any death and injuries are regrettable, but that is what goes on with violence. We should all condemn those who started it in the ﬁrst place,” Tumwine said.