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Gen. Elly Tumwine

Earlier on, in an interview with the government owned newspaper, The New Vision, Gen. Tumwine had admitted that the protests had taken the government by surprise. “It was a surprise, but the security forces are now better prepared.” He claimed that the protests were “premeditated, planned and ready to execute”.

“These are the wrong plans for destabilisation. When hooliganism and violence take place, all those rights and freedoms get affected, and everyone gets affected,” he said.

Tumwine’s comments on shooting protesters have drawn condemnation from many human rights defenders and lawyers. They question his capacity to interpret the laws of Uganda.

Fredrick Ssemwanga, the secretary-general of the Uganda Catholic Lawyers said it was unfortunate to hear a top government official saying that police can shoot to kill.

“That’s illegal. It is not found under any law. The duty of the police is to protect the public but not to kill the civilians as the minister stated and the role of the army is very clear under the Constitution and UPDF Act,” Ssemwanga said.

The Christian Lawyers fraternity in a statement said that the security personnel can only kill when attacked by armed people adding that what was witnessed during the protests were security personnel directly targeting unarmed people who were not involved in the protests.

“We come out to condemn the degeneration from civility to criminality that was witnessed in different parts of the country as individuals and groups of people expressed their dissatisfaction,” the chief executive officer, Uganda Christian lawyers, John Osapiri, said.

Osapiri noted that Tumwine was out of order to state that police and other security organs have a right to shoot civilians in certain circumstances. He said that it is only when there is accountability that such actions will not be repeated in the future.

Human rights lawyer and activist Nicholas Opiyo said Gen. Tumwine’s remarks are reckless and dangerous. “Gen. Tumwine sounds like an infantile teenager both in tone of his speech and the contents of it. Such reckless and dangerous remarks made by a fellow paid by tax payers are unfortunate,” Opiyo stated in a tweet.

History lecturer at Makerere University Dr. Mwambutsya Ndebesa argued that Gen. Tumwine distinguishes between criminal violence and political violence. “While it is true some aspects of the electoral violence that rocked the country were of a criminal nature but by and large this was not criminal violence but political violence. The underlying motivation of this demonstration was making a political statement. Therefore, the solution to these demonstrations is not to be sought in military and security measures but political measures i.e. political negotiations. The minister did not regret the death of so many people and scores more who are on hospital beds,” Ndebesa said.

 History of electoral violence

Electoral-related violence ahead of the Jan. 14, 2021 election has so far claimed at least 55 lives when you add on those who were shot dead during the NRM primaries. In the 2001 elections over 150 Ugandans lost their lives in electoral violence orchestrated by security operatives including the broad day shooting into a rally of Dr. Kizza Besigye at Bulange-Mengo.

Making a comparison with history of electoral violence in Uganda, Ndebesa argues that whereas there was electoral violence in the 1961 and 1980 general elections, the recent electoral violence is unprecedented in the history of electoral violence in Uganda.

“The security planners have decided to deploy men in civilian clothes but with automatic guns. This is certainly meant to evade criminal accountability and liability by the state,” Ndebesa says; adding that: “When civilians are shot dead by unidentified armed people the security will simply say we do not know those people never mind that they were holding guns in the glare of uniformed security forces and were not arrested.”

Moving forward, Ndebesa calls for political resolution of the issues that sparked protests in November. “We need a negotiated political settlement in this country. Those in government are merely hiding their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich to pretend there is no political disagreement to negotiate. “This is being pretentious of the state to say the least,” Ndebesa said.

“The Kyagulanyi idea, Kyagulanyi factor, Kyagulanyi wave is not necessarily about Kyagulanyi the personality. He is merely a representation of a political disagreement in the country that needs a political solution and not a military solution,” he said.

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