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"You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore."-Cesar Chavez

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Worrying war rhetoric ahead of Feb 18 Uganda vote

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Kale Kayihura addressing police officers via RedPepper Twitter

Uganda is set hold presidential and general elections on February 18. Eight candidates are vying for the seat but the campaign is more of a three-horse race between incumbent President Museveni, leading opposition figure and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate Kizza Besigye and former Prime minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi. The last four elections conducted during President Yoweri Museveni’s 30 years in power have all been marred with irregularities and violent incidents.

Less than a month to the vote, an increasing climate of fear  hovers over the country. The Uganda Police has recruited about 11 million crime preventers whom critics say are more or less a standby government militia to be used in case things don’t go well for the regime. Besigye’s party FDC says it has 10 persons per village ready to guard their vote and he continues a message of defiance that is not fully explained. Amama Mbabazi at rallies has emphasized that his go-forward team is ready to defend the vote.

Human rights organisations have called for suspension of crime preventers to prevent election violence. And in response Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura is quoted in the media to have told critics to ‘go hang’ and warned that he will not ‘allow’ opposition to destabilize the country.

“We shall not hand over power to the opposition to destabilize the peace which we fought for.” Kayihura told crime preventers to get ready for war. “We are going to change you from having sticks to rifles. Get ready to defend this country in case of any attack.”

These words have since been denied by the police after a backlash. It is not the first time the police move to manipulate the situation instead of apologizing for such unfortunate events. By telling the world that all media present “misquoted” the IGP on this story, they are kind of telling Ugandans to look away as the partisan police chief continues to sound war drums. Newspapers have since then carried a police press release that denies these words.

Nonetheless, Ugandans have continued to voice their worries about what role an openly partisan police will play in the upcoming election.

“Elections are not war. They are supposed to be the free and fair expression of the will of the people in whom all power is vested by law, said Ugandan lawyer David Mpanga tweeted. “All talk of war, violence and refusing to honour the outcome of a free and fair election is not only unlawful it is primitive and backward.”

Others like Emmanuel Kitamirike via Twitter were quick to point out that crime preventers could be a ploy, a form of election rigging mechanism. There about 15 million Ugandan registered voters in the upcoming election.

Crime preventers translates into 73 % of eligible voters on the nominal roll. They will be no need for NRM to solicit votes”

 

Some wanted details from the police chief.

Sarah Bireete, a rights activist urged  Ugandans not to  give in to intimidation.

As the IGP changes crime preventers from sticks to riffles and sounds war drums, the people should not be intimidated.

Just as the police were peddling the well known excuses of being misquoted, , an audio -yet to draw ‘i have been misquoted’ response, by the Secretary General of the ruling party Justine Lumumba emerged warning people at a really that “State will kill your children.”

These words are adding fuel to an already tense atmosphere as we head into that last three weeks of the campaigns.

These threats come after a January 20 opinion poll by A new opinion poll by Research World International (RWI) put Museveni at 51 percent, Besigye at 32 percent and Mbabazi at 12 percent showing steady improvement for the opposition. In the same poll 56% of the 2685 did not think President Museveni can peacefully hand over power if defeated in an election.

The US has issued warning about the campaign violence and highlighted the disappearance of Amama Mbabazi’s head of security Christopher Aine. A few days ago the State Department issued a security alert for Uganda.

The US Department of State statement described Uganda’s electoral environment as “deteriorating” pointing to Uganda Police “using excessive force” and the continued disruption of opposition campaign rallies.

There have been violent incidents in areas like Ntungamo, Gulu, and Bukwo between police, opposition political parties and their supporters.

Earlier this month, a Human Rights Watch report highlighted the intimidation of the press to keep people uninformed. Journalists have been beaten, equipment broken by Police as they covered opposition politicians. President Museveni’s campaign team temporarily banned Nation TV (NTV) over the latter’s refusal to air drone images by NRM party.

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) revoked the license of Endigito FM and confiscated its broadcasting equipment on January 20, one day after the station aired an interview with opposition presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi.

UCC director Godfrey Mutabaazi initially told reporters that the station’s license was suspended because it owed 38 million Ugandan shillings ($11,000) in licensing fees. The station’s owner, Nulu Byamukama, said he had paid the outstanding fees in full following the suspension of the station’s license, according to reports and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Endigito FM, just like many privately owned radio stations broadcasting to rule communities face a lot of pressure from the regime not to host opposition candidates.

Meanwhile the first batch of the ballots are reported to have been delivered but the Electoral commission Chair Dr Badru Kiggundu couldn’t ascertain how many ballots had been delivered. The biometric voting system is here but we dont have trained personnel in place yet. Since this will be the first time the system is used in Uganda you would expect such training to have been conducted months ahead.

But amidst the rising election pressure, there are some initiatives by ugandans looking to maintain peace.

One of them is the Women’s Situation Room (WRS) aimed at “mitigating conflict, provide system for rapid and immediate response to reports of electoral violence and guard against violations of citizens particularly women’s human rights before, during and after elections.”

Initiated in Liberia in 2011 by a coalition of Liberian women and youths, the Women Situation Room (WRS) was in 2012 adopted by the African Union as a best practice for promoting peaceful elections in Africa.  Since its establishment the WSR has been duplicated in Senegal, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Malawi and most recently Nigeria.

Launched in Uganda last week, the WRS will have a Call Center to receive and record incidents reported from the field for intervention by the “team of African and Ugandan eminent women with experience in election monitoring and mediation.”

Yvette Chesson-Wureh, the coordinator from Angie Brooks International Centre in Liberia is already in Uganda working with Ugandan women to ensure any incidents are reported and brought to the attention of authorities.

“We have the ability to create and the ability to destroy. We can either cause violence or uphold peace,” said Wureh. “We are here to ensure any incidents are reported and authorities handle them properly to avoid a likelihood of violence.”

Also Ugandan women activists under Uganda Women’s Network are calling for peace and tolerance in the face rhetoric that has increased tensions.

“We call upon government to urge its institutions such as the police to ensure utmost impartiality by working strictly within the law,” said a statement from UWONET . The activists urged youth to Ugandans to desist from being lured into militias/vigilante groups by politicians but to concentrate in exercising their rights to participate in electoral process.”

 

As Uganda enters the last campaign stretch, the stakes are higher each day and if the rhetoric by those in charge of security don’t cease, this is a country walking on eggshells.

Ugandan women in politics fight on amidst militarism

In Uganda and many postcolonial African countries, women’s political leadership has come a long way. At Independence while the continent celebrated the great milestones from Ghana to Kenya, Uganda to Malawi, women were quietly bracing themselves for the second independence- the struggle for a woman’s space in political life of postcolonial Africa.

Most independence struggles always highlighted men at the forefront for long at the expense of women’s contributions. Women’s achievements were not as revered as those of the men who led militaristic struggles.
Many decades later, Africa now has two female heads of state and many other women occupy key decision-making positions. Even with these achievements, many analysts believe the women’s involvement in post-colonial state governance has been painfully slow.

This week, Isis-WICCE organized a high level meeting of women from African countries discussing women’s political leadership on the continent.
The women leaders included ministers, Members of Parliament and academicians from South Sudan, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Uganda.

Speaker after speaker these women leaders raised the glaring challenges faced by women in political leadership and high on the list was militarism and the sexualized nature of political spaces in their countries.

In past Uganda has had a female vice president and currently has the first ever-female speaker Ms Rebecca Kadaga presiding over parliament. Many may be quick to highlight this as a great success but the fact that it came 50 years after independence speaks volumes of the struggle of women to make it in the political arena.

Speaker of Parliament Uganda Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga. Photo by Edward Echwalu. Check out his Photo blog http://echwaluphotography.wordpress.com/
Speaker of Parliament Uganda Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga. Photo by Edward Echwalu. Check out his Photo blog http://echwaluphotography.wordpress.com/

Continue reading “Ugandan women in politics fight on amidst militarism”

Mr.President, we have a letter situation…and then Obama

Three months ago a letter supposedly authored by a little known member of opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Catherine Ddembe caused a buzz among Ugandans on social networks. “

The letter detailed a plot to frame senior government officials in subversive activities. The letter also spoke of plans to kill key figures allegedly opposed to what has come to be known as the ‘Muhoozi project’. The project of trying to groom Museveni’s son Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba for the presidency (We don’t know when- the father hasn’t shown signs of retiring in 2016).

Continue reading “Mr.President, we have a letter situation…and then Obama”

President Museveni’s sack of shame

If you have been following Ugandan news in the last few days you couldn’t have missed that photo of President Yoweri Museveni handing over $100,000 to a loose group of youth from Busoga. Twitter and Facebook are still having discussions on this #sackofmoney.

The president was apparently fulfilling a promise he made during the 2011 elections. The president proudly announced his donation sending the crowd of ordinary Ugandans in a village into celebration. Museveni in the past has handed over brown envelopes to sustain his patronage and stay in power.

Museven's sack-of-money photo from New Vision
Museven’s sack-of-money photo from New Vision

Many ask, what’s wrong with a sack of money?

Continue reading “President Museveni’s sack of shame”

Ugandans fighting corruption with tears and laughter

This week Ugandans saw and participated in different dramas that can only give you a glimpse into a nation in a moral dilemma.

Businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba was arrested at Entebbe International Airport as he attempted to leave the country after a four nights of a cat-and-mouse chase and several police summonses. For a week our intelligence couldn’t ascertain whether Basajjabalaba was in the country as his lawyer and also my shameless Member of Parliament Michael Mawanda lied to courts!

Basajjabalaba is wanted over fraud in connection with alleged forgery of a consent document, which led to payment of Shs142 billion by the government. This arose from the reversing of the then Kampala City Council decision to sell Nakasero, Shauriyako, and St. Balikuddembe (Owino) markets, and the Constitution Square to Mr Basajjabalaba.

Continue reading “Ugandans fighting corruption with tears and laughter”

From Gambia to the dictator!

This song by Gambian artists made it online mid December 2012 . It’s worth listening to and admiring the work on African artists who produce for us music to face the current realities!

Happy first friday of 2013!

One country tries to defy death, another flirts with death

Shortly before Christmas, a young woman was killed in our republic. At only 24, she had already made a small mark on our democracy that many have struggled to make over 3 decades rule. Cerinah Nebanda was a parliamentarian. Her death was sudden, multi-organ failure. Rumours spread about who could have done this cruelty in a land where a fundamental change was delivered 27 years ago ensuring all Ugandans could finally sleep peacefully in their homes- something that was unheard of since our independence.

This death came as a shock in a year when we commemorated our 50 years of independence in a way that looked more like 27 years of independence. Many people scrambled for the microphone, some to with outrage, sorrow, fear and others to defend themselves. To wash themselves clean- even if it meant using words mixed with anger and threats. Some Ugandans left their thoughts online.

You couldn’t escape from the name Nebanda. In my small village in Kibona, Bushenyi, an older man came to my home to ask me about what could have killed this young woman – with a kind of worrisome voice I rarely get from him. In a country where every night a district is born, many local people are mostly pre-occupied with local politics. But name of Nebanda who hails from a village, more than 500kms from my own, found its way to my Christmas day. A government autopsy report told the citizens that the young woman’s death had to with narcotic drugs and everybody else trying to get a second expert opinion was apprehended.

Continue reading “One country tries to defy death, another flirts with death”

Ethiopia without Zenawi; Will it be freer?

In December 2010 I traveled to Cancun, Mexico to cover the UN climate change talks – the COP16.  It was there that I met and had a brief chat with the late Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi. Zenawi had been selected by African heads of state to represent collective views of African states at the talks.

It wasn’t easy to access him, just like any other leader at such a big world summit but I got a moment after he appeared on a panel talking about economy and climate change. He was as sharp as a tack cutting through all figures of what price the continent’s people were paying as a result of global warming and other climatic effects and what it would take for us to adapt to the changing patterns.

After the session I had a brief interview with him before he was led to some stall he had to visit. On the way back I had one more question for him and I did make a successful attempt.

I was amazed by his interest in details. I had told him am Ugandan but he wanted to know where exactly in Uganda I was from. When I mentioned west,  he still wanted to know which town I was from. Then I went on to say near Mbarara and on his insistance I finally said Bushenyi. I had yet to visit Ethiopia where I have great friends who are like family to me in many ways.

When I finally visited the country later that month, I was told about the suppression of the people. I was shocked to know that even a Facebook status complaining about food prices and what government was or wasn’t doing could put one in trouble. I found it a great country with great history whose peoples were yet to see freedom.

Image

Ethiopia appears in the last deck of countries when it comes to civil liberties, press freedom and Meles presided over a government that did little listening to dissenting voices.

Continue reading “Ethiopia without Zenawi; Will it be freer?”

“Is it outrageous to want to live in peace?”

On Sunday 22nd, Uganda watched in horror as a city enforcement officer , who later turned out to be a police officer,  brandished his AK47 shooting indiscriminately at a group of unarmed civilians who had gathered at a demolition site carried out by  Kampala city authorities. NTV Uganda brought the news in and people I was with said you could have mistken the scene to be Mogadishu. In this video, at 5:30 you see the animal that Uganda’s security forces have become. A man using a stick, a gun and a pistol to violate citizens.

Continue reading ““Is it outrageous to want to live in peace?””

Meeting one of the ‘most influential Arabs’.

On Friday 16, I was honored to attend a public lecture in a small library in Amsterdam where Abdel Bari Atwan, named by  Middle East Magazine as one of the 50 most ‘most influential Arabs’, was speaking on the eve of the one year commemoration of the Arab Spring.

Atwan in Amsterdam on Dec 16. Rosebell's photo

Atwan is editor-in chief of the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi. He discussed the Arab spring and the future of the Middle East and North Africa beyond the ‘revolution’.

Some of my favorite quotes from the meeting:

“We Arab people were suffered double humiliation. That brought about by imperialism and another by own very own corrupt government.”

I found this quote very meaningful for not only the Arab world but also of Africa. All year long many people have been watching closely to see if there will be a sort of African spring. And every time some friends asked me when is the African Spring, I replied, we won’t have a spring, ours will be the African Harmattan! None the less there has been inspiration from the north of the continent spreading south. In many ways our realities are close to those of the MENA countries and we can only wait and see what changes and how long will they take on the African continent. Just like Atwan said “whoever knew or predicted that the Arab people would depose four dictators in just one year?”

I have very passionate Yemeni friends and Atwan said he respected the struggle of Yemen, knowing how many guns are in the hands of so many people that the country has not moved to a civil war. He applauded the choice of non-violence of the people of Yemen even when they had access to arms. And he told us a famous saying about the difficulty of ruling Yemen with its tribes system that i loved.

“Riding a lion is smoother than ruling Yemen”

Then came Atwan’s passionate talk on the events in Libya and how he disagreed with the NATO military intervention. Even though he was glad that the killing of Muammar Gaddafi has been called a crime against humanity, he decried the west for allowing impunity of rebels turned government of NTC.

I was interested in the fact the the ICC had backed off the Libya case and of recent the prosecutor had indicated that Libya’s new rulers were capable of prosecuting Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. Personally i found this ridiculous, how could the killers of his father offer him a fair trial in a country has no justice system. Having spent the earlier week hearing people decry the ICC being an African court, here i was with a situation which clearly an outside court could have done better.

When I asked Atwan about this he went beyond the case of Saif to talk about his recent trip to Tripoli and how many African countries and the were silent about crimes being committed about African people, both Libyans and immigrants.

There are at least 7000 black people in Libya being tortured and living in the most inhumane conditions all these atrocities being presided over by the new regime.Yet we see no human rights papers about them. Nothing from western governments who supposed intervened on human rights grounds. I will not be surprised if we soon hear that Saif has been executed. The West is keeping a blind eye to crimes committed by rebels because of they always put their interests above anything else.

And that was from a Palestinian man who lived in as a refugee in Jordan, managed to study in Egypt and later run one of the most respected Arab media outlets from London since 1989.

Atwan said for the future of the entire region, one must not put their eyes off Egypt. He said is Egypt becomes more islamist, chances are that most of the other countries will follow suit.

 

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