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On Uganda’s election violence

How the president, the security services and the opposition are beneficiaries of this political pathology

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Election season is with us and the police are in overdrive to beat the hell out of opposition candidates. The leading and perhaps most popular opposition presidential candidate is without doubt the leader of the National Unity Platform, formerly People Power, Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine. Immediately after he was nominated, police beat him up and tore his suit. The spokesperson of his party, Joel Senyonyi, was also beaten and left almost naked.

Yet for all the drama of these scuffles, there was nothing new. Using the security services to manhandle the opposition has been a characteristic feature of presidential elections in Uganda since 1996. For then, Paul Kawanga Ssemogerre, who posed almost no threat to President Yoweri Museveni in that election had his rallies blocked and his supporters beaten. Election violence reached its apogee in 2001 when Dr. Kizza Besigye, an NRM insider, challenged Museveni in the presidential election of that year.

Nearly 156 people died of election violence. A subsequent parliamentary investigation concluded that most of the violence was orchestrated by security agencies – the army, the police and intelligence organizations. And there were also militias allied to the NRM such as the notorious Kalangala Action Plan (KAP) under Maj. Kakooza Mutale who was also a presidential advisor to Museveni. This violence was repeated in 2006, it subsided in 2011 but returned with fury in 2016. Therefore, today, we are seeing more of the same.

The issue therefore is to understand why electoral violence has been an important item on the menu of our campaigns. I think it is driven by a convergence of different but compatible interests between the key players – the president, the security agencies and the opposition politicians.

It seems to me that Museveni tends to panic in the face of electoral competition. Given that he is a specialist in violence, it seems to me that he gains psychological security from seeing his opponents, especially those strong enough to threaten his job security, being manhandled by the security agencies. Maybe that makes him feel in control.

It seems to me that Museveni tends to panic in the face of electoral competition

I also suspect that there is a bigger political calculation. Museveni understands that peasants do not go to the polls to choose a president. Rather they go to affirm who has power. Thus, if peasants see Besigye or Bobi Wine being bundled onto a police pickup truck by ordinary police constables, they are likely to conclude that such a candidate has no power and hence cannot control the state. The attitude will therefore be to vote for Museveni or resign into not voting.

We must always remember that the NRM is a child of the NRA, now UPDF. It is the NRA that captured power and invited the NRM to rule. In fact in 1986, the NRA was militarily strong (having overthrown a government). But the NRM was still weak with a shaky political base. Being a smart political operator, Museveni realised that he could not use the strength of the NRA to compensate for NRM’s political weaknesses. Rather than rule militarily, he chose to rule politically. So he allied with other political parties, especially DP, in a broad-based government to win legitimacy.

Of course Museveni used the period 1986-96 to emasculate others and build the political base of the NRM. Once he was secure in power, he transformed the broad-based NRM into a broad-based government. However, Museveni kept the military as his last line of defense. To put it bluntly, the UPDF has always been his iron fist hidden under the velvet glove of the NRM. Thus whenever there is a political challenge to his power, he resorts to the army, police and intelligence organisations to regain the strategic initiative.

It seems to me that the players in the security arena understand and appreciate these two considerations: the president’s personal psychological insecurity and the broader political calculations that are needed to retain power. This suspicion comes from the fact that individual police and army officers that do these brutal acts do little to stop journalists from filming them. On the contrary they seem to enjoy being filmed beating up opposition activists and leaders and bundling them pickup trucks. We must ask why.

Clearly the individual police or army officers do this knowing that their enthusiasm must be dramatised and televised for their superiors to see. It is from such enthusiasm that they get their career advancement – promotions and strategic deployments. There may be exceptions to this rule but by and large it holds true. Few officers from police, the army or the intelligence agencies have risen without demonstrating this partisan political bias; especially during elections.

This brings us to the opposition politicians. The argument of the police to intervene and rough-up opposition politicians is that they are violating the electoral rules, and for the most part the police are correct. Anyone who has observed these politicians closely knows their penchant for taking extreme positions and of deliberately provoking the security services to beat them. They benefit from not just breaking the rules but also from being beaten by police. If you claim to be fighting a dictatorship, your claims can only win legitimacy if you get manhandled and roughed up.

Therefore, we need to understand that it is in the interests of the opposition to actually provoke police into beating them. This not only legitimises their claim of fighting a dictatorship, but it also brings them free mass publicity, with the media projecting them as victims of tyranny. Given that most opposition activists are angry, believing Uganda is under the tight grip of an ageing tyrant, the actions of the police only reinforce this sense of grievance and fires their enthusiasm. It is possible that without police brutality the opposition in Uganda would lose the gas to fire the enthusiasm of their base.

So Museveni, the security agencies and the opposition leaders (not to mention their supporters) have an unwritten bargain. Each one of them is a beneficiary of police violence and none can do without it. If electoral violence is persistent, it is because all the three sides have a vested interest in its continuation. The best illustration is that if any opposition leader fails to provoke the police to beat them, the opposition base will accuse them of being moles inside their ranks and of being on Museveni’s payroll. Their rallies will not draw passion and enthusiasm. This is the dilemma the noble Mugisha Muntu faces in the ranks of the opposition.

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amwenda@independent.co.ug

11 comments

  1. Your first ten paragraphs, fantastic!
    Last three paragraphs, deplorable! Why?

    In the first 10 paragraphs you’ve illustrated with crystal clear words how M7 is allergic to a free, fair and square game; which actually is the only rule that the 1995 constitution permits. (From BEST/EXCELLENT, BETTER, GOOD, FAIR & POOR!), my simple illustration.

    Therefore, without much ado, I won’t waste time paraphrasing your first 10 paragraphs, or points, of you like.
    Now coming to opposition politicians.
    Let me begin with this question as an example: during the famous “walk-to- work” protests that followed the disputed 2011 presidential election, when inspector of police called Mutabazi from Jinja Road police station peacefully escorted then UPC Party president ambassador Olara Otunu from Nakawa to Uganda house along Kampala Road, who got more riled, opposition leader, or M7? The answer is there in your mouth!

    Then the opposition generally as being provocative to security agencies, you didn’t cite a single example, why? Because there’s none!

    I actually expected you to forge one example of Dr KB when he could have provoked the army and police during his more than 1000 brutal arrests in the last 20 years, with more than 800 trumped up criminal charges, needless to say with no single conviction!

    Even “late” firebrand Andrew Mwenda Mujuni of the “late” kfm’s “Andrew-Mwenda-Live” was sometimes brutally arrested countless times and arraigned before various courts of law but with no single pettiest conviction of even a mere reprimand!
    What does this say about the man in charge of these forces? Again the answer is there in your first 10 paragraphs!
    Ever since M7 made his first attempt to compete not as an incumbent president but as an ordinary candidate and lost miserably during 1980 presidential election, he just hates those memories; permanently allergic to a free and fair competition!
    He’s therefore the single sole beneficiary of political violence!

  2. M7 is a brutal n violent person with an immense inferiority complex which all bullies suffer from, with an exaggerated sense of self worth who believe is violence, and if possible killing as a solution to most problems.
    His sense of inferiority stems from the environment in which he grew up, being the son of a person who was a ” muliisa” of Kaguta, and then to wake up one day when his mother is the wife of Kaguta, almost changing hands like a cow.
    This has played on him knowing that he was despised and that those who were close to him, naturally including his wife know this simple fact.
    To answer Winnie in her posting on the previous topic, the reason he did not restore the Obugabe was and is because of the hatred he has for all traditional institutions but most of the Obugabe which he coveted , just like any commoner does and even dreams of marrying the king’s daughter. This he did by having a son with the sister of the late Barigye ( a daughter of Gasyonga).
    M7 is a vindictive person and even the battle between Sodo Kaguta and Kuteesas daughter is his proxy war and is in a way his way of getting back at Kuteesa for the defeat of the 1980 elections. He does not forget and certainly never forgives

  3. M7 is a sadist, and from this article only matched by his mouthpiece MWENDA who sadistically thinks that the opposition enjoy being beaten and killed.
    What a pathetic person you are MWENDA and I hope your mother ( may she rest in peace) turns in her grave. I will say this and it is something I wanted to say at her passing. The good Lord took her because of saving her from knowing that her son could say such things and probably to save her from the pain of seeing her son dragged through the streets on the back of a car.
    It is not my wish but I would not shed tears if it did, I would only be happy that your mother never lived to see it.

  4. MWENDA is the kind of person with their pathetic reasoning , call it sense of humour, will reason that a victim of rape or domestic violence ” invited it upon themselves!!!!!!!!!”.
    In fact if I can remember properly and will do a search to that effect, M9 said that the massacres were justified and if I am wrong, I will make a full retraction and an apology.
    May God bless you abundantly.

  5. M9 s reasoning is absurd, pathetic, stupidand sad, though I am not saying that the person of M9 is all these things and will leave it to you the reader to make this conclusion.
    In M9s own words, he says that the security forces, like we all know, have a very big incentive to carry out acts of violence and brutality on the opposition because these acts get rewarded by their master through lucrative deployment and promotions. He goes on to say that the forces even want to be filmed carrying out these acts. And yet he goes on to say that it is the opposition who act in such a way that invites the security forces to mete out violence to them, even after asserting that their boss is indeed the master of violence!!!!!!!

  6. The biggest mistake most people are making is to underestimate the extent to which M7 will go to remain and die in power. First and foremost M7 being the coward he is is not prepared to die for anything, but is prepared to kill anybody and everyone or for them to die even those we consider to be dear to him, and if in doubt ask yourselves where Muhoozi’s mother is.

  7. M9s warped reasoning again at work here where he claims that as a master of violence, M 7 gets some psychological satisfaction in seeing his opponents roughed up and the violence and brutality is directly proportional to the threat they pose, yet he goes on to conclude that Mugisha Muntu does not receive similar treatment because he is a gentleman; might it not be according to your initial analysis because he doesn’t pose a threat?

  8. It appears that to be an opposition politician in Uganda is to be a masochist. How else would one come up with reasoning propounded above?

  9. 1.Uganda is so lucky that she is holding elections when most of the weakness of the Economic,Health,Social and political sectors in the first world have been exposed.The first Wold leaders have tasted what exactly M7 goes through i.e backmail,ungreatfulness,bigheadedness of the citizens.
    2.I would in a special way like to thank Major General Abel Kandiho for nipping in time the chaos that erupted after the arrest of Bobiwine ;Actually Kampala would have been history.Abel you outdid yourself just imagine bringing order in Kampala in 30 minutes!
    3.The youth of today are being spoilt by the old like Kabaka,Besigye, Ejakaait,Adhola,Peter Mayiga, who get hurt when there are peaceful elections coz they are so used to violence in the past so they want Ugandans to go through the pain they went through.
    4.The Youth of today are caught in an era where life is good; what do i mean there are many social amenities that they need to enjoy like traveling,eating out such activities are so tempting in that if you are not patient;you may will think of short cuts like prostitution,drug abuse.
    4.Ugandans especially those from the middle class have worked so hard to earn the property they have;it hurts to see goons destroying property coz they have nothing to lose.
    5.@ Ejakaait;whose mother,buttocks,balls haven’t Ugandans abused?
    6. Bobi Wine has really confused the youth for him he went to rehab after drug overdose and abuse and reformed but he cant advise the youth to go for rehabilitation.
    7.@ Ejakaait;its you who has inferiority complex what is the big deal with being a Muhima or being a Muganda with a big nose?You seem to be a christian envy is a sin; By the way, i was so surprised that in this era;Kuteesa could tell the people of Sembabule that he is tired and that they should instead vote for his daughter and they literally die to vote for her.

  10. M7 like I said hates the Bahima and is putting them in a position where today they are the most hated tribe and people think wrongly that all those in power, in powerful positions in the army, police, intelligence organs , parastatals , businesses are Bahima. Even a Lugbara like Otafiire is thought mistakenly to be a Muhima.
    The most hated person today, courtesy of his outrageous pronouncements recently is Tumwiine. But this is a man you may find that his most prized possession is probably his pair of glasses, which he uses to hide his missing eye.
    And as to the violence and the brutality to which M7 is prepared to go, it’s there for all to see.

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