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.