On Thursday 18, many Ugandans woke up enthusiastic, ready to put months of campaigns behind them and choose a new president and a parliament. The voting was scheduled to begin at 7:00 am and end at 4:00 pm. So at dawn, many set out to line up and cast their vote in an election recent opinion polls had projected to be the closest since President Yoweri Museveni took over power in 1986.
But before the poll opening hour, most of Uganda was locked out of Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp in a move the government regulatory body and the Ugandan Army Spokesperson came to defend as a response to ‘security threat.’ Over 7 million people use Internet daily in Uganda and WhatsApp is the fastest way of sharing information, cheaply around the country. Cutting these channels off sparked alarms on the intentions of state security and the Electoral Commission. Also Mobile Money services were taken down, leaving some Ugandans stranded as this is the quickest way many Ugandans send and receive money from relatives.
“I am not going to a theater of death but if it takes my life to bring equity to Ugandans, I’d regard that as a privilege,” that’s what one young Ugandan told his friends before he set off yesterday morning to welcome home opposition leader Dr.Kizza Besigye who had been receiving treatment in Nairobi Kenya.
After being blocked by what many believe were Ugandan authorities to get into the country on May 11, Besigye decided his return would conincide with President Yoweri Museveni’s 5th swearing in ceremony at Kololo Independence grounds.
Museveni’s swearing in ceremony was not that well attended by even African leaders save for DRC, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. As President Museveni’s ceremony was ending with dances, on the otherside of the town crowds had already gathered, not to catch a glimpse of their revolutionary president but to welcome a man that has taken the brutality of this regime to international limelight.
Besigye left Uganda for treatment in Kenya after his brutal arrest that left him almost blind. His support has suddenly increased as the government has deployed thousands of police and military in different parts of the country to quell the walk to work protests, a campaign by the opposition against the rising fuel and food prices.
In April, 9 people were killed and hundreds were left with gunshot wounds. So when Brian Bwesigye set out yesterday determined to walk to meet Besigye’s convoy from Entebbe, it was an act that could only come from a young Ugandan who is unable to make sense of his president’s speeches that seem to only point to the past.
The road Besigye and his supporters occupied for 8 hrs was the same to be used by President Museveni and his guests as they make their way to the lavish State House that the president put up in Entebbe.
Military and Police forces were seen beating up Besigye supporters to get them off the road. This must have been an embarrassing moment for the president and his regime sympathizers. A day that was meant to be for the president to boast of his 68 percent win in the February election became the day when thousands sacrificed, waited in the sun, faced with canes, teargas and bullets to catch a glimpse of Besigye.
President Museveni was forced to go through these crowds that waited for his arch rival on his day. The government’s account was that one motorcyclist was shot dead as he insisted on crossing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s convoy. Reports show that Jonathan’s convoy got stoned and one government spokesperson said this on TV but the Nigerian president’s office has denied the story. Fred Opolot from Uganda government Media Center told the story of the shooting of a rowdy boda boda man, he looked unremorseful even knowing that there could have been other ways to get this man out of the way but not killing him. I guess that hows cheap life has become here.
So far that’s the only death the news media have reported. But Bwesigye who was part of the Besigye supporters posted a note on his Facebook saying:
Then as we approached Kibuye, TEAR GAS started rocking! Then bullets! Then helicopter gunships flying over us! Then poisoned water! Then dead bodies! Three of them, I saw with my naked eyes! Tension. I hid in a residential apartment nearby and from the third floor in someone’s house, I was watching Besigye atop his car in the face of the shooting.
I honestly did not know that I would later see dead bodies of civilians after being shot by the, military, I used the theater of death expression as a hyperbole, I was wrong, it was real.
It’s not yet clear how many people lost their lives just because they went out to welcome an opposition leader an like all past deaths from live ammunition we don’t expect to see any investigation or arrest of those responsible for they probably were following ‘orders from above’.
The numbers wont be clear also because of the way the government has pushed the media into a tight corner. For the State TV which covers most of the country it is almost abominable to show Besigye and his supporters, we have seen the New Vision coverage dwindle and last night it was clear the whip had well reached the private TV stations.
On the night when many Ugandans were injured and thousands gathered to see an opposition leader, NTV Uganda showed about 30 minutes of Museveni’s swearing in. One wd mistaken their coverage as a paid advert by the regime. One by one the reports followed about Museveni’s achievements and the beatings, teargas and bullets at Entebbe raod took 3 minutes with no mention of the injured.
The pressure is on but WBS TV offered Ugandans best coverage of the different events. If media is ready to give in to government threats at the earliest God knows what sort of news we will be watching by the end of the next five years.
The security forces went farther to assault journalists, steal their cameras and destroy other equipment in what seems like a well orchestrated move to curtail press freedom. And all this didn’t appear much on our TVs.
If the Swearing in day is anything to go by, one can only see that the next five years will be a tough period for Ugandans. Especially looking at the president’s speech which didn’t offer concrete ideas on how his government will deal with increasing unemployment and corruption.
Last Friday,Ugandans went through their every five year ritual. But this time it didn’t come cheap. It was the most expensive presidential election in the country’s history which saw President Yoweri Museveni earn another five year term to further climb the ladder of the longest African serving presidents.
Museveni won by 68 percent and his main challenger Dr.Kizza Besigye got 26 percent of the votes. Of the 13 million Ugandan voters, only 7 million came out to vote for their leader. Museveni had predicted an 84 percent win claiming his party had carried out a house hold poll. That is a figure he never even garnered when his popularity was its highest in the 1990.
As several election observer reports have indicated, Museveni used “the power of incumbency” to win the February 18 presidential vote. To understand well how and why Museveni won this vote, you must look at words of Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan journalist on the election. “NRM (Museveni’s party ) learnt that voter bribery is more efficient than violence,” said Mwenda.
And that’s what exactly happened. The votes were not just bought only a few hours to election but President Museveni , one can say, broke into the national treasury to ensure he wins this vote.
There was the 20 million shillings given to Members of Parliament to supervise some inefficient agricultural plan in their constituencies, which is completely out of the mandate of a law maker anywhere in the world. We saw 13 political activists working with the ‘NGO Forum’ arrested for starting a campaign against this Ush 20 million that the government gave to MPs.
But the ultimate robbery from the national coffers came in form of a UGX 600 billion supplementary budget passed by a Museveni supporter -filled parliament 14 days to the election date. Of the 600 billion, UGX 79 billion went to State House. These funds and others acquired from different budgets enabled Museveni to distribute money to very tiny villages in Uganda.
In my home village of Kibona, Bushenyi district , a vote was going for about 30,000 shillings (13 USD). A relative told me, “Rosebell, for people whose monthly income is not even a dollar, they cannot fail to reward someone who has given them 13 dollars.”
A friend who attended Museveni’s rally at Makerere University, one of the last rallies told me they were given 100,000 Shillings (45 USD) for wearing Museveni’s yellow T-shirts and climbing on the trucks promoting the rally. In some parts people were paid as low as 500 Ushs (less than a quarter a dollar) to vote for the president. No opposition figure could ever match this kind of massive voter bribery.
The vote came at time when many had seen the news of events in North Africa and President Museveni had recruited and trained enough security to deploy even the most remote areas. For many Ugandans, this was the first time they had seen this massive deployment of troops. Although there were few incidents of clashes, the mere presence of security men brought fear among voters.
In Bugisu, confrontations between the security forces and civilians left a citizen dead and several others injured, including a journalist who was shot. Julius Odeke, a freelance photographer for the “Red Pepper” daily and “Razor” publication was admitted in hospital where reports show soldiers followed him and threaten his life!
One woman from Amuria told me that they were told “if you vote Besigye we will bury you with him. We will let the Karimojong ran your villages amuck.” This is in one of the areas that have suffered different wars and people have just started resettling for the first time in over 20 years. This woman told me such threats of war made many voters to cast their vote for Museveni or stay at home. The fear of what Museveni’s government would be capable of in case they didn’t win was high among many Ugandans.
There’s an African saying that goes “whoever argues with the King, stays longer on his knees.” This would be a perfect description of why President Museveni snatched some votes, more than he has ever got from Northern Uganda. People of northern Uganda are not foolish to just agree with Museveni’s regime arguments that they have brought them peace and that development is on the way. I do a lot of work in northern Uganda and one can’t say they have forgotten two decades of human rights violations from Museveni’s army or the highly politicized post conflict development plans that haven’t delivered much to a common man. One should not confuse their voting to mean they started a new page with NRM just like Andrew Mwenda claimed that we could see a Northern –Western partnership on the political map.
Northern Ugandans realised that Museveni would stay here by any means and they are better off not arguing with him. If they are good to Museveni, they too can snatch what they can from the national cake. So in the end Museveni got some decent support from an area that had two of their sons –Nobert Mao and Olara Otunnu – in the rae.
Mwenda said, “the election was like a referendum, people came out to either vote Museveni or against him.” And this is so true because having a fragmented opposition also helped Museveni win in many parts. People were not totally sure of opposition plans but many went ahead to say no NRM. We also saw opposition making inroads in western Uganda which is seen as Museveni’s stronghold.
There were reports of ballot stuffing and Besigye presented ballot papers he claimed had been ticked before the polls opened, a claim that the police now want him to explain further. This claim was not paid attention to by many Ugandans until yesterday when we saw chaos during the Kampala mayor elections where thousands of ballot boxes with pre-ticked ballots were discovered by opposition groups. All the papers were ticked in favor of Museveni’s party candidate Peter Sematimba. Chances are high that the same method was used in presidential elections but Ugandans are no longer shocked by Museveni’s party stealing any election after all these are people who rig their own primaries. In fact in social forums Ugandans refer to the National Resistance Movement as the National Rigging Movement.
Five of the seven opposition presidential candidates, among them Inter-party Cooperation’s Kizza Besigye, Olara Otunnu of Uganda People’s Congress and Democratic Party’s Norbert Mao, have rejected the outcome of the ballot and vowed not to recognise “ Museveni’s illegitimate regime”.
The Inter Party Cooperation has called for countrywide protests in Uganda as Americans who have already congratulated their man call for calm. The UK has been more cautious given the different reports on different techniques used to buy this election.
Ugandans might not come to the streets to put up North Africa-like protest but they are deeply worried especially given Museveni’s pre-election statements. Museveni said if the East African Federation will not have been achieved by 2016 and if Uganda is not a Second World country by then, he will seek a ‘fifth term.’
We will wait to see how many will come out for the opposition protests and whether Museveni will “bang them into jails” as he promised last week. Whatever happens Museveni has managed to buy himself time, many illiterate Ugandans decided to sell him the lease and I am sure he thinks he can renew that lease the same way after the five years.
There was a point when Ugandans would be taken for a ride. The emperor would organize sham elections, his supporters (sycophants) would jump in the streets, hug and kiss each other for a victory well won (bribed). He would retire to his mansion with close family and friends. They would make merry, swing in their (our) chairs and plan to loot again.
His impoverished supporters would line the streets to catch a glimpse of their visionary (diversionary) leader snake through potholes. They would chant: “Our man, our savior.” Others would spice it: “Long live, long live to die on the throne.”
Thank Allah, Its 2021.
None of that madness will ever happen again. We forgive our comrades who followed him blindly. The emperor can no longer hold onto the throne, again. He’s a shadow of his 1986 days. Democracy has just left labor ward. Let’s give him a chance to grow. Enjoy his youth. And prosper.