By Haggai Matsiko
What Museveni camp feared
The Jan. 31 arrest of Gen. David Sejusa, the former coordinator of intelligence services, is connected to President Yoweri Museveni’s fear of the Feb. 18 ballot. At least that is the line being pushed to the press by his lawyers. His lawyer Laudislus Rwakafuzi, who describes Sejusa as “a pillar in the opposition” says his arrest was intended to intimidate Ugandans ahead of the polls.
Sejusa told me that even though Museveni has a way of showing that he doesn’t need votes to keep in power, that is a red herring,” Rwakafuzi told The Independent, “he needs the votes, if he is not voted, he will be kicked out, that is why it is important that people exercise their constitutional right and protect their votes.”
Rwakafuzi’s statement ties in with early comments made by Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo that Sejusa’s arrest has to do with his involvement with Power10 (P10 in short), an opposition vote protection countrywide network with structures up to the village level.
Gen. Sejusa aka Tinyefuza was picked from his Naguru home on Jan.31 sparking what commentators say are signs of high tension as the country approaches the Feb.18 presidential and parliamentary polls.
Sejusa’s arrest follows statements he made in the media that Museveni’s government was a dictatorship that must be dismantled and that the upcoming election is just a waste of time. He reportedly added that he was working and coordinating a plan to stop vote theft.
Protecting the vote has become a major issue in the 2016 elections. Sejusa’s lawyer told that there was nothing illegal about being part of P10 because it is within the right of all Ugandans to defy any vote rigging attempts.
Power 10 (P10 in short), a structure at the heart of Besigye’s vote protection efforts is also central to his defiance campaign, which has attracted criticism from the Electoral Commission chairman, Badru Kiggundu to the Commander of Defence Forces and even the usually quiet Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Katumba Wamala.
Wamala has said that Besigye’s Power 10 electoral strategy was a plot to raise a militia ahead of the February 2016 elections.
Whatever Sejusa’s role is in Power 10 or the general defiance campaign, what is emerging is that the military leadership felt it important to put him out of action especially given his past record.
Sejusa has for some time flirted with ousting President Museveni by all means. Before he ran into exile in 2013, intelligence reports accused him of gathering intelligence on military installations.
At the time, Museveni summoned four top trusted aides including Kayihura, the late Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, who at the time was the Commander of Defence Forces, the Commander of the Special Forces Command (SFC), Brig. Muhoozi Keinerugaba and the Chief of Military Intelligence (CMI), Brig. Charles Bakahumura and informed them that intelligence reports he had already received indicated that Sejusa was involved in military and quasi-military activities, which were criminal and treasonable.
Museveni asked them to form a committee, study the situation and put in place measures “to stop Tinyefuza in his tracks.”
Sejusa is on the record as saying that he has been coordinating something, which appears to be linked to Besigye’s defiance campaign.
In such circumstances, a post-election battle would have pitted opposition Besigye-allied generals against those for Museveni. Besigye, who is retired colonel, boasts Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu – a former army commander on his side. Gen. Sejusa has also spoken in favour of Besigye although he can be quite unpredictable. But Museveni retains the big guns including Gen. Kale Kayihura, Gen. Katumba Wamala, Lt. Gen. Tumukunde (retired), Maj.Gen David Muhoozi, the commander land forces, and Brig. Muhoozi Keinarugaba, the commander of the Special Forces Guard, among others.
With Sejusa put out of action, however, there are questions whether the opposition’s efforts are affected much. Part of the reason is that since he returned from exile, Sejusa has not been openly involved in FDC and opposition leaders have distanced themselves from him.
When he was returning from self-imposed exile in London, he invited the opposition leaders to receive him at the airport but they all stayed away and Sejusa made sure he called them out on it. Even on the day he endorsed Besigye on his nomination day at Nakivubo, he struggled to capture the attention of the public. Sejusa’s biggest undoing is that in the past he has shown himself to be erratic and unreliable.
His arrest, some commentators told The Independent, show the government as panicky ahead of the polls.
Talk of chaos and even war has grown just days to the election. The National Resistance Movement (NRM) Secretary General, Justine Kasule Lumumba and Police Chief, Kale Kayihura have recently made comments that have put the ruling party on the spot. Lumumba said that if youths came to Kampala to protest, they would be shot dead. Kayihura on the other hand, was quoted as saying crime preventers would be armed with guns instead of sticks.
These utterances have been criticised and the two officials claim they were misquoted. But critics see deliberate attempts by government officials to intimidate voters. It is in this context that Sejusa’s arrest is being interpreted, especially given that he has in the past made more forceful comments and not been arrested. That the military has chosen to detain him now—just weeks ahead of the polls, speaks volumes.
Stakes are high. For the first time, many say there is uncertainty as to what the outcome of the election will be. Even though President Yoweri Museveni’s state machinery has been able to snuff the thunder out of the candidature of his former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, previously seen as his biggest threat, he is seen to be significantly losing ground to his three-time challenger, Kizza Besigye.
Besigye, who is contesting on the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), has attracted big crowds at most of his rallies including those in regions where he has in previous elections performed poorly like President Museveni’s ground zero, Kiruhura. A poll by Research World International (RWI) showed that his support base had grown to 36 percent and that of Museveni had dropped to 51 percent. In the 2011 elections, Besigye got 26 percent.
Because of all this, now political observers say a re-run is more likely. It is against this background, observers say, that Museveni’s machinery, which is working harder to make sure that does not happen, is keen to silence independent voices like Sejusa’s.
Sejusa has said that the 2016 election has already been rigged and is a waste of time. It is not the first time he is castigating Museveni’s government over vote rigging. In 2014, he said that Besigye had worn the 2006 elections but was only rigged out by Museveni’s team. Given that at the time, Sejusa was at the heart of Museveni’s campaign team, his revelations were not treated lightly.
At the time, Sejusa was in exile in London after a letter leaked in which he was directing the head of Internal Security Organisation (ISO) to investigate reports that there was a plan to assassinate senior officials opposed a ploy to have Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba succeed his father as the President of Uganda.
Before the issue could explode Sejusa had already escaped to exile in London where he spent a year, formed a political organisation and was expected contest in these elections.
Instead, Sejusa later entered a deal with President Museveni following negotiations with the latters’ agents. Always keen to squeeze political capital out of reconciliations, President Museveni shielded Sejusa from the raging arm of military law even when he kept publicly criticising his government and flirting with the opposition.
But he made sure Sejusa is not released from the army. Critics say knowing Museveni, Sejusa asked for so much by entering a deal with him yet at the same time working to oust him.
Sejusa told a Besigye rally the day the latter got nominated that he was the one who went to his house, spent a night there and asked him to run again against President Museveni. Despite endorsing the FDC candidate that day, Sejusa had remained quiet throughout this campaign.
It is emerging that behind that silence, was frustration that President Museveni reneged on his promise and failed his attempts to contest in this election. Sejusa’s hope seemed to have been further dashed on Dec.15 when the High Court dismissed an application in which he had sought a temporary order stopping the army from arresting him claiming he was no longer a serving army officer.
Sejusa had pegged his suit on the military’s refusal to pay him his salary, housing and transport allowances and withdrawal of his uniforms and guns, which he said tantamount to ‘constructive discharge’ from the army.
It is clear now that the army has other plans for him—making him face the court-martial. By press time, both the army establishment and his lawyers had not communicated the charges he would face. One of his lawyers, David Mushabe told the press he didn’t know the charges the former intelligence chief was facing.
For now, though, some see Sejusa’s troubles not ending at least until the election is concluded especially if the statement by Dr. Vincent Magombe, the Secretary Free Uganda, is anything to go by.
“It is thought that the Museveni regime,” Magombe said, “which has ruled Uganda for nearly 30 years, and may be facing defeat at the coming elections on 18th February 2016, has a plan to arrest top Uganda pro-democracy activists, like General Sejusa, so as to forestall possible mass uprising that is seen as inevitable should Museveni refuse to hand over power to the victorious political opposition.”
Some observers also see problem in a technicality that might delay Sejusa’s trial. For Sejusa to be tried, military law requires that the court martial is chaired by an officer of the same or higher rank than his. Levi Karuhanga, who currently chairs the court is a Maj. General, two ranks below Sejusa.
There are only three active Generals—Katumba Wamala, the Chief of Defence Forces and Kale Kayihura, the Inspector General of Police and Elly Tumwiine. The other Generals are retired. But Rwakafuzi said that this was not a big issue.
“The president can appoint a suitable person anytime,” Rwakafuzi said.
If that doesn’t happen, some observers say, Sejusa might also face the same fate as his counterpart, Lt. Gen. Henry Tumukunde, who faced charges before the court martial for more than seven years.
Tumukunde, in 2005, then a Brigadier while appearing on a radio talk show criticised President Museveni’s leadership and the lifting of term limits and was arrested, put under house arrest and court martialed two years later. Tumukunde only became a free man in 2013 after reconciling with Museveni. Last year, Tumukunde was promoted to the rank of Lt. General and retired, and he is currently a key player in Museveni’s campaign team.
It is not the first time Gen. Sejusa is getting into trouble with the army. He fell out with government in 1996 after openly criticising the army leadership over the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) war but later reconciled with President Museveni in 1999. In 2005, the year Tumukunde got into trouble, Sejusa bounced back as the Coordinator of Intelligence services, a position he held until 2013.