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Vicious start to Uganda’s elections in just two weeks of campaigns

LILIAN NAMAGEMBE

KAMPALA: A young man lay lifeless in Mulago-Kubiri in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. A few meters from him, a teargas canister has amputated a woman’s left leg. She holds onto the shattered leg, crying out for help as she bleeds profusely. 

The urgent medical attention she needs is not possible, in the current circumstances, no matter how much she wails. People who would have rushed her to the nearby Mulago National Referral hospital are equally running for their dear lives. It is survival for the fittest.

Several other victims like this lady of a violent crackdown on protesters by both the military and police have either died or escaped with injuries of different worrying degrees.

Hospitals and clinics around the capital are all flooded with dead bodies and injured people. It is day two since protests broke out in all major Ugandan cities and towns following the arrest of pop star-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu alias Bobi Wine.

Mr Kyagulanyi is among the 11 presidential candidates duly nominated by the Electoral Commission (EC) two weeks ago to contest in the January 14 elections. 

He was on Tuesday violently arrested while on a campaign rally in Luuka District, east of the country by police on accusations of flouting COVID-19 guidelines. The EC, on the recommendation by the Ministry of Health, permitted political gatherings of not more than 200 people to ensure social distancing. All political candidates across the political divide including President Yoweri Museveni, have violated these guidelines but police and the military have only arrested and detained opposition politicians.

Mr Kyagulanyi remains detained at Nalufenya police station in eastern Uganda with his lawyers and family denied access to him. 

Since his arrest, however, security forces have battled protesters who are demanding the immediate release of the National Unity Platform leading presidential contender. In the resulting skirmishes, lives and property have been lost. So far, the government has confirmed at least 29 people to have been shot dead in the altercations. 

Over sixty-nine others are in hospitals and clinics across the country receiving treatment for injuries of varying degrees, according to State Minister for Primary Health Care Moriku Kaducu.

Government vehicles have been vandalized too by protesters and a police post set ablaze.

Violence is a precursor of a do or die election for Museveni.

Political analysts say the numbers of the dead could be far higher than what is being reported by the government. The media has been banned from covering the protests, and it is only the government giving updates on the dead and injured people.

Dr Rosemary Byanyima, the Mulago hospital deputy executive director, said in just one hour- 4 to 5 pm yesterday, they admitted 42 injured people. Some died on arrival.

“We lost three, and we have 42 admitted. You can find that some of the dead were knocked by vehicles as motorists try to escape from the chaos. Others have all kinds of injuries from broken legs to shock. We are creating a special ward for them,” the Daily Monitor newspaper quoted Dr Byanyima as saying.

Ms Cissy Kagaba, executive director of Anti- Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU), says the current violence is a clear indication that Mr Museveni is willing to retain power at any cost.

“We are under state capture. The EC is not independent. Of course, we see more posturing that they are in charge, but we know who is in charge. It is Mr Museveni” Ms Kagaba said. 

“Presidential elections over time, are a waste of time and resources. The winner is already known. Why would security officers kill people like that in an election whose winner we already know?” she said.

Mr Museveni, who will be 77 next year, has fallen out with many of his bush war comrades who have advised him to transfer power to the next generation. Two generals; Mugisha Muntu and Henry Tumukunde are contesting against him in this election. Gen Tumukunde, once a Security minister, was arrested immediately after he declared his intention to compete against his former boss. He is out on bail.

Mr Patrick Oboi Amuriat, the Forum for Democratic Change presidential candidate, the biggest opposition party, was detained on Tuesday but given a police bond on Wednesday. 

After his release, Mr Amuriat went straight to a radio talk show where he had bought airtime. Instead, he talked for over 30 minutes but unknown to him, the radio station stopped broadcasting and switched him off.

The radio station was switched off on the orders of a police officer in the district citing “orders from above”. 

More deaths expected as Museveni gives chilling warning

President Museveni, who is seeking another term in office that would see him in power for 40 years, warned yesterday that he would continue to unleash terror on protesters.

“They [protesters] will soon lose that appetite [of protesting],” Mr Museveni, a former guerrilla war commander who has openly said he is the master of violence, said.

He has in the past promised to crush any dissent as he adopted pan-African rhetoric to mint violence at opposition and attack Western countries that condemn his government’s excesses.

“The protesters are being used by outsiders [foreign countries]. They are being used by homosexual groups …. who don’t like the independence of Uganda, but they will soon discover what they are looking for” he said at a campaign rally recently.

First lady Janet Museveni and Minister for Education, used the same rally to equally warn protesters who she accused of not being thankful for the available peace and prosperity in the country.

But Ms Kagaba said Mr Museveni is playing cheap politics, a game he has used in the past when he wants to justify terror minted out on protesters.

“The governments funding Uganda have legalized homosexuality. Let Mr Museveni reject foreign funding if indeed he is sincere about being morally right and fighting homosexuals,” she said.

In conservative Uganda, same-sex relations are very controversial. Politicians who seem to be fighting the vice usually earn political capital out of it.

Mr Museveni did the same when he rallied members of his party to pass a stringent anti-homosexual law in 2016 which was later struck out by the court on technicalities after he was declared a winner in the 2016 elections.

Mr Museveni’s history of violence

Mr Museveni led a guerrilla war that is believed to have claimed half a million lives between 1980-1995.

Over the years, he has demonstrated his appetite for violence against political dissent.  

In 2009, when riots broke out in Kampala after police had blocked a delegation representing the Buganda kingdom from visiting Kayunga district, he ordered the police to quell the protests.

In the ensuing violence, over 40 people were killed. No security details were charged over the murders.

In 2011 shortly after the presidential elections, the opposition organised protests against the rising cost of living. Again, police and the military shot and killed several people. Leading opposition figure then, Dr Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s bush war personal doctor, was shot and rushed to Nairobi, Kenya for treatment.

After Mr Museveni had disagreed with Rwenzururu king Charles Wesley Mumbere, who openly backed Dr Besigye for the presidency in the 2016 general elections, Mr Museveni ordered the military to attack the king’s palace. At least 100 people, including women and children, died.

Meanwhile, the electoral Commission has largely been silent amid the ensuing confrontation between presidential candidates and security officials.

Instead, Mr Paul Bukenya, the EC spokesperson only advised presidential candidates and their supporters to obey instructions from the security.

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