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NRM vs NRM election violence

By Independent Team

Situation may get worse in 2011 when opposition enters race

Dan Mugarura, the Chairman for Electoral Affairs of the main opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), is a very worried man.

‘If you can shoot your own child and wife, it means you will tear up your neighbour,’ Mugarura told The Independent. He was referring to the violence during the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party district elections and constituency primaries. Mugarura predicts that the violence will escalate in 2011 when NRM competes against opposition parties and that no part of the country will be spared.

Mugarura’s fears are not unfounded. During the NRM internal elections, elections were scuttled in Sembabule where controversial Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo battled Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa. In Kapchorwa’s Tingey county, violence erupted between supporters of former minister Stephen Chebrot and the incumbent MP Herbert Sabila. In West Budama Minister Emmanuel Otala drew a gun at supporters of his opponent; in Buyaga County, Kibale district MP Bernabas Tinkansimire’s car was stoned; in Arua rival camps of Ratib Buga and Eng. Dr Gabriel Aridru Ajedra clashed at Awindiri Old Market. In Kaliro, elections were cancelled twice over alleged malpractices. In Butaleja the elections were cancelled after a mob attacked the organisers. Up to 12 people were seriously injured.

In all cases, the government has not reacted firmly. In some cases, it has offered the wrong intervention.

When Tororo District failed to hold its NRM district elections on Aug. 2, President Yoweri Museveni wrote a letter on Aug. 16 which observers say might haunt him after the 2011 election – if not before.

The letter, addressed to the NRM Secretary General, Amama Mbabazi, authorised Tororo Municipality and West Budama, the two constituencies of Tororo District, to have separate NRM teams.

Museveni’s letter did not address the core issues as explained by the Tororo District Woman MP, Grace Obura.

She told The Independent that on Election Day Aug.2, considering the volatility between the two constituencies, Tororo Municipality and West Budama, which make up the district, the delegates decided not to elect but caucus and agreed on how to share out the district positions.

Obura said she did not contest because she wanted to give a chance to others and appease the animosity between the Iteso and Jopadhola over alleged inequality.

Despite such efforts, however, violence erupted after delegates from West Budama realised that Tororo Municipality delegates wanted to keep the position of NRM district chairperson.

The incumbent was from Tororo Municipality and the position was expected to rotate to West Budama.

At the centre of the chaos was West Budama South MP, Emanuel Otala, the junior minister for Labour, who also had a list of people he wanted to get posts. They included his wife and his sister. The problem was, therefore, about individuals and not communities as addressed by Museveni.

Not surprisingly, four days after Museveni’s letter of Aug. 16, Otala was involved in yet another brawl. This time it was in his West Budama constituency. Otala was detained by police after he beat up a journalist who recorded him allegedly bribing voters. Otala fired several bullets during the scuffle.

Why the fights?

The Jopadhola, who are mainly in West Budama and the Iteso, in Tororo Municipality, have long-standing rivalry over control of Tororo town, the only urban area in the mainly backwater district.  But President Museveni miscalculated, if he thought segregating them, as his Aug. 16 letter suggests, would solve the problem.

Similar gerrymandering has failed to quell the violence in Butaleja district.  The move appears to be a continuation of Museveni’s ‘ring-fencing’ strategy of political positions based on tribes as articulated in his July 15, 2009 letter at the height of the Banyoro versus Bakiga/Bafuruki saga.

While touring the district in June, Museveni announced that he had approved the splitting of Bunyole County into two constituencies. The idea appears driven by the need to create a constituency for each of the two powerful NRMs; Dorothy Hyuha, who is the District Woman MP and NRM Deputy Secretary General and Minister without Portfolio and Emmanuel Dombo, the Bunyole County MP.

Despite being separated, Hyuha and Dombo are supporting candidates against each other and fomenting violence. Dombo is supporting Celinah Nabandah against Hyuha for the District Woman MP slot, while Hyuha supported Imran Muluga against Dombo.

On Aug. 2, Butaleja witnessed the most violent election in the district’s history. Police fired in the air after a group of people attacked the district chairman, Richard Waya. He sustained a deep cut on the head and 12 others were injured in the scuffle.

Dombo accused his opponent, Imran Muluga, of conniving with Waya and Hyuha, to rig the elections. Muluga allegedly hid over 300 voters at his school, Tororo Progressive Academy, and prevented other NRM candidates from talking to them.

The violence and election rigging exhibited by Otala, Ssekikubo, Vice President Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya, Hyuha, Kutesa, Anifa Kawooya, Richard Waya, Dombo and others during the NRM’s internal elections and primaries has shocked the country and points at trouble over the 2011 general elections.

According NRM Electoral Commissioner, Lydia Wanyoto, the NRM district elections drew over 500 petitions amidst scenes of unprecedented rigging and violence.

In Sembabule district, the elections were scuttled in a barrage of bullets that left two injured and saw area MPs Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga county), Anifa Kawooya (District Woman) and Kutesa (Mawogola county) hurled before the party disciplinary committee.

In an interview with The Independent, the NRM Chief Whip, Daudi Migereko, conceded that there could be big problems if the violence seen during the NRM internal elections is not addressed.

‘Failure to handle violence would bring many problems in the country,’ Migereko said. According to reports, Migereko practically begged the district NRM chairman in Jinja to put him on the district executive.

When asked why senior party leaders were fighting and threatening each other over lower party structure elections, Migereko said ‘they were struggling to serve’.

Ofwono Opondo, the NRM’s Deputy Spokesman, says candidates in predominantly NRM areas look at winning the primaries as a do or die thing.

‘They know once they go through the party primary elections they will automatically go through to parliament,’ he said.

‘It is survival for the fittest, if you do not disrupt the process while it is still going on, you can be sure that the appeal process would not do anything,’ says Rubanda West MP, Henry Banyenzaki. ‘The solution for the violence lies elsewhere other than the political party structures.’

Others, like Prof. Elijah Mushemeza, an aspirant for the NRM Secretary General’s job, see the violence in the NRM elections as due to greed. ‘The players are irresponsible combined with greed and thinking that when not in power there is no life,’ he says.

Writing in his ‘Ear to the Ground’ column in the Daily Monitor of August 11, journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo made the same point more succinctly. He said part of the reason for the violence is that ideology is no longer the issue as ‘NRM has become a meal ticket’.

‘Because the government has rejected all electoral reforms, and the process of political corruption has eaten deep, the general election of February 11, 2011, is happening in NRM today. If you win a position in the party, you are assured of winning the primary and helping your allies to victory too,’ Onyango-Obbo wrote.

NRM historical member, Ikuya Magode says the violence shows ‘the party has veered from the principles of good governance’ and sunk into bribery, ethnicity, religion and clan cliques and cults ‘as individuals begin to look at their survival’.

Areas to watch

Already, a pattern is emerging about areas likely to see election violence. An analysis by The Independent shows that areas where powerful ruling party functionaries are allowed to act with impunity because of their closeness to President Museveni are prone to violence.

In other cases, the NRM functionaries are ‘too powerful to lose’. This was the case in Wakiso district where the Vice President Bukenya allegedly hid the voters from his challenger, LCV Chairman Ian Kyeyuner and in Butaleja where NRM Deputy Secretary General Hyuha is largely unpopular but is determined to win using the party machinery.

In other areas, such as Tororo, Buliisa, and Buganda, the fault lines could be a result of multi-ethnic composition.

Sembabule appears to combine all these elements.

Lwemiyaga MP Ssekikubo and his supporters routinely clash with supporters of the powerful minister Kutesa and area Woman MP Kawooya. All act with impunity because they are very close President Museveni either by ethnicity or marriage and therefore seemingly untouchable. The powerful Secretary to the Electoral Commission, Sam Rwakoojo is also from Lwemiyaga and as former area MP was at one point expected to throw in his hat on the NRM ticket. Although located in Buganda, Sembabule has a strong migrant community, mainly of Banyankole and Banyarwanda.

Just before the 2006 elections, Museveni had to rush to Sembabule to quell a rift within the party that involved the same people. At the time, Museveni wanted Joy Kabatsi to step down for Kawooya on the District Woman MP seat. As usual, Kawooya was backed by Kutesa, while Kabatsi had the powerful LCV boss, Herman Ssentongo, and Sekikubo.

Museveni failed to reconcile them. It is unclear how he will handle it this time.

Elections in Uganda have frequently been mired in violence, manipulation, murder, bribery, threats, intimidation, and vote rigging. The failure by the NRM to hold peaceful internal elections is seen as a harbinger for violence in 2011.

Although Ofwono Opondo attempted to downplay the extent of the violence ‘“ claiming it was in only four of the 117 NRM districts where the elections were held’”he said the party had noted flash points to be watched for violence in 2011. He mentions Sembabule, Bulisa, Tingey in Kapchorwa, West Budama, and Tororo.

Basing on the unprecedented levels of NRM versus NRM violence, many fear to imagine the violence that the NRM will mete out against the opposition.

In past elections, government authorities who are NRM members, have unleashed terror on the opposition.

On February 15, 2006, Lt. Ramadhan Magara shot at a crowd of then presidential candidate Kizza Besigye’s supporters gathered at the Buganda kingdom palace at Bulange, Mengo. He killed one person and injured two. He is serving a jail sentence for manslaughter.

In 2006, Lt. Col. Dick Bugingo, head of military police, slapped Maj. Rubaramira Ruranga, head of election management for the FDC. Bugingo was convicted of public assault but retained his position as commander of military police although he was later retired.

Fox Odoi, Museveni’s former senior legal aide, pointed a gun at FDC supporters in Tororo on voting day in 2006. He went to court, but eventually the police claimed lack of sufficient evidence despite having photographs of Odoi pointing a gun at three men lying on the ground.

In 2006 Ali Kirunda Kivejinja of NRM was found to have used intimidation, violence and torture against supporters of his FDC rival Abdu Katuntu. He was kicked out of parliament for election rigging but Museveni appointed him Third Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs.

Other current ministers have run election campaigns marred by serious violence in which the individuals implicated were never prosecuted nor investigated at all.

In the 2001, Security minister Amama Mbabazi’s agents shot a supporter of his challenger in Kinkizi West, James Garuga Musinguzi. No action was taken against the culprits.

Early warnings

Warnings about violence in the 2011 elections have been extensive.

Kizza Besigye, the leader of Uganda’s main opposition party, FDC, has said unless meaningful electoral reforms are implemented, the country could be plunged into another era of political instability and violence because next year’s elections will not be free and fair.

Early this year, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Moreno Ocampo, warned that his court would pursue perpetrators of any election violence.

He said the court is drawing lessons from the deadly post-election violence in Kenya at the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008 and in Zimbabwe.

Disputes over the result of the presidential election in Kenya in December 2007 triggered tribal clashes leaving at least 1,000 people dead, and a number of politicians have since been implicated in the violence.

In Zimbabwe, violence erupted after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai beat incumbent Robert Mugabe in the presidential election by a 6% margin but failed to secure an overall majority. Tsvangirai then pulled out of a second round runoff, complaining of violence against his party’s supporters, effectively handing outright victory to Mugabe. Scores of people were killed in the ensuing violence.

While most people focus on the pre-election violence, there are emerging indications that as was the case in Kenya in 2007, the violence might follow the election.

Part of the problem is that any outcome of the 2011 Presidential Election will not be unanimously accepted because the Electoral Commission is discredited by alleged partiality in favour of the appointing authority, President Museveni.

Several organisations, including Women for Peace and National Alliance for Free and Fair Elections, have been formed specifically to fight for the EC to be reconstituted. Although Museveni raised similar concerns about the partiality of the electoral commission in 1980 when he warned about ‘going to the bush’, he has not bulked. Instead he has warned that he is ready to fight whoever wants to fight.

The report of the Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence (CIPEV) in neighbouring Kenya concluded that while the post-election violence was a spontaneous violent reaction to the perceived rigging of elections in some areas, it was a result of planning and organisation in others. People were targeted basing on their ethnicity and their party leanings.

The September 2009 riots in Buganda following the government’s blocking Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi from visiting Bugerere were spontaneous. For many observers, they are indicators of what government could be dealing with in 2011 if latent grievances around elections are not addressed satisfactorily.

In such cases, the security agencies pose the single biggest threat to a free and fair electoral process in 2011, according to a 2009 Human Rights Watch International report.

Ikuya Magode, summed up the current crisis for his party and the country going into the 2011 elections. ‘It is a political crisis in the country that needs to be resolved urgently. It has soiled our democracy and we need to pick it up and clean it up.’ Hopefully, before it is too late.

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