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Police brutality

Besigye, Muntu, Mao teams react

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Uganda’s newest party, the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) likes to be known as the quiet, peace-loving party. It is an image the mirrors the personality of its two most prominent leaders; its founder, Maj. Gen.(Rtd) Mugisha Muntu and one of the main coordinators, former Serere District woman MP, Alice Alaso.

But on July 05 they got a rude shock. Police blocked their party leaders in western Uganda from holding a consultative party in Mbarara. Unlike opposition political activity that police routinely blocks, the Alliance meeting was to be in a closed space; the Uncle Speed Gardens in in Kakoba Division of Mbarara Municipality.

Police crackdowns on opposition party meetings are not unusual but this caught the Alliance leaders by surprise because just days earlier, on June 19, members of the party had met at the same venue and elected their leaders without police interference.

The Alliance leaders might have felt special because that same day, June 19, Police in Mbarara fired teargas and bullets to disperse jubilating crowds that had gathered to welcome Kyadondo East MP, Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine.

Accompanied by Mityana Municipality  MP, Francis Zaake and Bugiri Municipality’s Asuman Basalirwa, Bobi Wine had stopped over in Mbarara town on his way back from the burial of Buhweju County MP Francis Mwijukye’s father in Buhweju.

Also, when Muntu launched the party at a grand gala on May 22 in Kampala, the police hailed his commitment to avoiding politics of confrontation in utterances interpreted to mean there would be no clampdown on the Alliance activities.

Now, the police clampdown on Muntu supporters has been interpreted as a sign that no opposition group will be allowed to carry out any political organisation – however peaceful it might be.

Meanwhile, President Yoweri Museveni continues to address massive rallies and other events where he is endorsed as the preferred candidate in the 2021 presidential election.  The question is why the opposition cannot be allowed to organise at all.

Zachary Olum, a political analyst, says the repression of opposition “has been our disease in Uganda for a longtime.”

He told The Independent that the government does not want opposition leaders to hold political rallies because it is “a struggle for the soul of the population”.

“Rallies are important because members are able to reach new people and compare what the government is saying to what they are saying,” Zachary Olum said, “It’s a chance to express alternative views.”

“This is a chance to put everyone in one place and tell then what is right and what has gone wrong or what you would do right,” says Sabiiti Makara, a lecturer of political science at Makerere University. He sees the government’s blocking of opposition political rallies as intended to deny them an important tool for mobilising support.

Despite all the gains from open-air rallies, Alice Alaso, the Deputy Coordinator for Finance and Administration of The Alliance told The Independent that they have avoided rallies to avoid run-ins with the police.

“We want to avoid big meetings because we don’t want showdowns with the Police,” Alaso said.

As a result, the party has chosen to quietly build structures. It has done that in Ankole and Busoga regions by working below the radar and meeting in quiet places like hotels. But the Mbarara crackdown shows that might also not be possible now.

Following the crackdown, the coordinator for the Alliance’s Kigezi sub-region which covers Mbarara, Daniel Kafureka, said they were surprised because the same police had given the party the required clearance.

Daniel Bukare, the Alliance Youth League national spokesperson told Uganda Radio Network (URN) the same thing. But the Rwizi Region Police Spokesperson, Samson Kasasira insisted the party was blocked because the organisers had not fulfilled all the requirements.

Until now it is the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party which has borne the brunt of police brutality. The FDC leaders have since March seen their rallies and meetings blocked by police in Kasese, Lira, Kalangala, Amolatar, Hoima, Rukungiri, Adjumani, Moyo and more. Bullets and teargas have been fired and FDC leaders and their supporters arrested.

The FDC president, Patrick Oboi Amuria, and former president, Kizza Besigye were leading a nationwide mobilisation tour under the theme, “Strengthening FDC to consolidate our achievements and enhance party cohesion.”

Although FDC has vowed to defy police interference in its activities and prefers big rally-style events that are preceded by processions through town and marked by flowery speeches and shows of strength, these have been blocked almost everywhere. A few have succeeded when police was overpowered.

At all times, when the police block opposition party mobilisation activities, they cite the Public Order Management Act (POMA). The police insist they must give permission for any political activity although the courts have ruled that interpretation of POMA is incorrect. The courts have ruled that police interference is unlawful because opposition party leaders holding rallies do not break any laws with or without police permission.

“According to the Political Party Act, political parties’ main activity is mobilisation, recruitment and engagement of their activities with their members and the general public. But how is this going to be done with the police curtailing assemblies?” says Tadeo Kawuki, the head of publicity at Uganda Young Democrats (UYD), the youth wing of the Democratic Party (DP).

“The police are curtailing freedom of association and assemblies of political parties which has greatly affected their work. It is worrying ahead of the 2021 elections yet the president is doing campaigns in the name of Operation Wealth Creation,” he says.

“The problem is President Museveni,” says Lubega Medard Ssegona, the MP for Busiiro County East and Shadow Minister for Justice. Lubega says Museveni is mobilising but he does not want others to mobilise.

“You attempt to hold an internal rally, the police disperse you, you hold an open-air rally, police disperses you,” he says.

Ssegona told The Independent on July 15 that being blocked from moblising is likely to continue the lackluster performance of Uganda’s political parties.

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