Bad news for Bobi Wine supporters
Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | What should be the main takeaway from President Yoweri Museveni’s Dec.16 re-appointment of his son, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to head the Special Forces Command and Maj. Gen. Paul Lokech to be the deputy inspector general of police (DIGP)?
The appointments are being linked to the January 14, 2021 general elections. The move is the second major action Museveni has been forced to make in order to regain control of what is being billed as the most violent election in Uganda’s history.
The first move Museveni was forced to make was in July when he fired eight senior Electoral Commission (EC) officials, including his long-term ally Sam Rwakoojo, who was the Secretary to the Electoral Commission and its powerful accounting officer.
Both are linked to Museveni’s attempt to take the surge of presidential candidate Robert Ssentamu Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine of the National Unity Platform (NUP) who also heads the People Power political agitators.
Many analysts The Independent has spoken to say both moves have placed the January 14, 2021 general election in shaky hands. It means one of the most contested elections in Uganda’s history is now being run by an under-staffed EC, reportedly with only 40% manpower, headed by a judge, Simon Byabakama, who has never handled a major election.
Meanwhile, following the appointment of Gen. Muhoozi and Gen. Lokech, the security of the election is in the hands of two soldiers without deep knowledge of election policing.
According to some commentators, Muhoozi and Lokech, as senior security officials, could be familiar with the security demands around elections but they lack critical hands-on dealings with the field teams of regional and district police commanders, Resident District Commissioners (RDCs), and other security agents involved in civil security.
The situation is critical because Museveni was in the process of re-organising the Internal security Organisation (ISO) which handles such matters after firing its head, Col. Kaka Bagyenda in October. That means intelligence is also either weak or in disarray.
Security experts say Bobi Wine has managed to outpace Museveni partly because of the President getting little or bad intelligence. Bobi Wine registered his party in July, and Kaka was fired two months later.
Bobi Wine’s manouvre was so stealth that by the time Museveni got wind of it, the matter was irreversible. The President attempts to block it merely bought him more bad publicity. The EC bosses were fired at about the same time.
Museveni’s appointment of Muhoozi and Lokech was possibly driven by his desire for a firmer grip on opposition election activity, especially getting a grip on Bobi Wine’s main assets which are tech-savviness, ability to play the victim card, and a connection with the powerful international constituency in a manner that President Museveni’s team is not used to or able to control.
When Museveni enforced his usual tactics of blocking opponents from using mainstream media to campaign, the Bobi Wine campaign lit up social media and YouTube with 24/7 coverage of his activities. Bobi Wine has also become a regular guest on international news channels like CNN, Aljazeera, and BBC.
Eyes on Muhoozi, Lokech
The appointment of Muhoozi and Lokech therefore comes at a critical time, when Uganda’s human rights record and especially the operation of security agencies like the police are under increased scrutiny.
Powerful international actors such U.S., UK, EU, and others have already issued warning regarding abuses. The United States has already condemned the election violence.
The U.S, in a statement on Nov.19 demanded “a full and independent investigation” into the events of 18th and 19th of November, “to ensure justice for victims and to avoid impunity for the perpetrators who must be held accountable for their actions”.
“We urge all parties to renounce violence, undertake good-faith measures to reduce tensions, and respect fundamental freedoms,” said new American ambassador to Uganda, Natalie Brown. Even human rights organisations like Amnesty International are keenly watching.
If Muhoozi and Lokech plan to use a heavier hammer on the opposition than the former DIGP Stephen Sabiiti Muzeyi and former SFC head Maj. Gen. James Birungi, they must be aware of the risk of becoming international pariahs.
The SFC was in charge when Bobi Wine was pulled out of hotel in Arua in August 2018, was badly tortured, and his driver shot dead.
Previously, when Muhoozi headed SFC, his deputy was Brig. Steven Sabiiti Muzeyi, the out-going DIGP. At the time, Sabiiti was blocked by America from attending training at its National Defence College, Fort Leavenworth. The U.S Embassy in Kampala simply denied him a visa over SFC’s alleged involvement in suppression of the human rights activists and opposition leaders. In 2012 Museveni appointed Don Nabaasa, another Muhoozi recruit, to head SFC but he is now also a possible candidate for the American sanctioned list.
By appointing Muhoozi, President Muhoozi placed him in a similar precarious position. If America were to place sanctions on Muhoozi, it would have serious implications on Uganda-American relations. Uganda would not want that. But American too would not want that because of business interests and Museveni’s peace-keeping role in the Great Lakes Region and horn of Africa on its behalf. American sanctions on individuals operate by blocking American citizens and businesses from dealing with the sanctioned persons. That means American interests suffer if an individual close to the First Family is sanctioned.