Uganda, Uncategorized

Social Media Shutdowns and the rise of a securocratic Uganda

The Media Institute of Southern Africa’s (MISA) flagship publication, So This Is Democracy?: State of Media Freedom in southern Africa was an insightful read this week. The report notes that African governments are increasingly exploiting the “national security” discourse to introduce regressive interventions and that somehow we are in a new area of “contestation between the state and advocates for freedom of expression and access to information and media freedom.”

More and more governments are moving to regulate the internet, but worse are those governments like Uganda who are seeing blanket internet interruption and social media shutdowns a card to be used every few months.

Half way into 2016, Ugandans have so far dealt two social media shutdowns in the country where the President Yoweri Museveni won a controversial re-election to extend his rule beyond 30 years. Today the ability to bypass a cyber wall has become an essential skill to have as a Ugandan.

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Elections, Uganda, Uncategorized

Tensions high, heavy police and military deployement ahead Uganda vote declaration

Photo by NTVUganda

Which way Uganda?

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.

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Uncategorized

One man protest over walk to work killings in Uganda

It’s one of my last days in Washington DC before i head home. I took a walk with friends by the White House today. From a distance I could see the flag waving. It had black, yellow red. Few flags can be confused with the Ugandan flag, i took a few steps and i saw one man holding out a placard. As i walked closer to him, one image caught my eye. The image of Brenda Nalwendo, the photo that send chills down the spines of even those i knew to love President Museveni’s regime.  It was in April she was shot right in her belly as she tried to cross the streets as the police and military fired on protesters. She was pregnant and by the hand of God she survived and her baby was unharmed. I later visited her in hospital and haven’t heard from her much. But right here in DC i saw her picture and also the picture of parents of a 2 year old Juliana Nalwanga who was killed in Masaka. About 10 people died in the protests.

Bukenya at the White House holds out a placard with images of those who died in the protests in Uganda in April.

This week civil society organisations called for an independent inquiry into the April killings. I am not optimistic this will happen as we have seen many inquiries in Uganda tend to be a waste. Charles Bukenya was the man holding the placard with these images. He’ on hunger strike a colleague tells me. Its part of the vigil that former presidential candidate and opposition figure  Nortbert Mao has called for,according to Bukenya. Bukenya is a Uganda Young Democrats (USA) head. He says he will not end the strike until President Obama talks to him or about the human rights violations by the current regime. He says its time U.S stopped being blind to the ‘impunity’ that rules in Uganda.

Charles Bukenya head of Uganda Young Democrats in USA on a one man demonstration + hunger strike over April walk to work killings. Rosebell's photo

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Uncategorized

Uganda gets its first female speaker of parliament; is it worth a celebration?

Ms Rebbeca Alitwala Kadaga was today sworn in as the Speaker for the 9th parliament in Uganda. Most of the parliamentarians are familiar faces and the National Resistance Movement (NRM), President Museveni’s party, has enough members to pass any laws they want.

In a world that cherishes women’s rights and empowerment (or pretends to), this should be seen as a historic moment and many will see it as that. However I don’t see much to celebrate about Kadaga’s election. Kadaga is not a fresh face in this parliament, she has been there, served as Deputy Speaker. She has seen it all.

She holds a Masters in Women’s Law from the University of Zimbabwe but this specialization in women’s rights law has not seen the NRM filled parliament show concern to issues affecting women.

Uganda’s health system is ailing, maternal mortality is high yet we have seen the NRM government which Kagada has served exonerate ministers who swindle health care monies.  I was discussing Kadaga’s election with some people in the women movement and one lady told me, “I am not interested in pushing to have a female speaker just because she wears a dress.” Then she told me it’s almost impossible for her to see Kadaga above the NRM male dominated politics of intrigue. Many questioned what exactly Kadaga had done to advance the women’s rights in the country.

And these questions could be answered once the Marriage and Divorce Bill comes to her parliament in a few days. The bill among others recognizes marital rape and also provides that women are entitled to a share of property upon divorce.

Kadaga participated in the infamous amendment of Uganda’s constitution to allow the lifting of presidential term limits and thanks to that move we have a possible life presidency. She comes at a time when the chair of her party President Museveni is calling the media ‘enemies of the state’.  The very day she became speaker, somewhere on the outskirts of Kampala, the leader of opposition Dr. Kizza Besigye was under house arrest. Kadaga will most likely preside over the NRM parliament that will pass laws to deny Ugandans bail for 6 months for being suspected protesters.

Kadaga  is one of the MPs that took the Shs. 20 million shillings bribe from the government shortly before the February 2011 elections. When asked by some women she said she had used the money to construct some boreholes in her constituency but has refused to go on record and in the media to declare that. The campaign by civil society organizations is still on to try and get back that money.

The region she comes from -Busoga is one of the poorest regions in Uganda. It has suffered most because of the death of industries that once flourished in Jinja before the current government took over. Of course wealth distribution is not her role but she has held different ministerial positions in this government before and therefore she could answer some of the questions.

To me Kadaga will be just another speaker doing anything at the whims of President Museveni. I wait for her to shock me, to stand up to that small group of corrupt men that are draining this country’s resources.  I see her becoming another statistic of how African countries are doing well with women political empowerment. She will be the talk in those various governance and women’s conferences. Am sure she will have millions of invites at her table to tell the story of how she made it.

But I will wait for you Madam Speaker to prove me wrong! That you will not only be known as the first female Speaker but as a woman who put her country above her party. I say this knowing that the party you serve has become too intolerant to anyone that questions their mismanagement of this country.

Time is on your side. You have got five years to do that.

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Conflict, Uganda, Uncategorized

Museveni gets instruments of power; rival’s supporters get the cane, teargas and bullets

“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.

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Uganda

With fresh memory of Tahrir Square , government keeps Walk to Work away from Constitution Square

On Thursday April 21, the fourth time that Uganda’s opposition leader Kiiza Besigye-Kifefe was blocked from walking,  Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, the director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research gave an important analysis of the events at a Rotary International District Conference at Munyonyo.

Besigye has today spent his 55th birthday in jail. Together with Democratic Party leader Norbert Mao are being held at a prison outside Kampala for participating in the walk to work campaign that protests current high fuel prices. Five people including two year old Juliana Nulwanga have been shot dead in the protests in different parts of the country in the last two weeks while dozens are nursing bullet wounds.

In reaction to these events Mamdani said

“Both the opposition that has taken to walking and government that is determined to get them to stop walking are driven by the memory of a single event.  The memory of Tahrir Square feeds opposition hopes and fuels government fears. For many in the opposition, Egypt has come to signify the promised land around the proverbial corner.  For many in government, Egypt spells a fundamental challenge to power, one that must be resisted, whatever the cost.

It’s the memory of the Tahrir that has driven President Museveni’s regime to allege that that the protests are aimed at removing a legitimate government. President Museveni told journalists that those using protests were committing treason but we have not yet seen this charge slapped on the opposition.

I have wondered why the government wouldn’t let people walk peacefully and then try to work against the campaign by addressing the issues that these people were raising. From what I gathered, the paranoia has been high that Besigye and the walkers might camp at the Constitution Square right in the middle of central business district thereby attracting more participants and international attention.

That’s why the government moved to put a walking ban on politicians who were taking part in the campaign . Kampala had seen unprecedented heavy deployments of forces even before the planned protest. Government has deployed security forces  at almost every corner in every neighbourhood in the city like never before and the reason we had earlier  been given was that of the frequent terrorism threats the country receives from the Somali militants.

However Prof. Mamdani says :

Matters have reached a point where even the hint of protest evokes maximum reaction from government.  So much so that a government which only a few weeks ago came to power with an overwhelming majority today appears to lack not only flexibility but also an exit strategy.  For civilians, supporters and skeptics alike, the sight of military resources deployed to maintain civil order in the streets, has come to blur the line between civil police and military forces as those in power insist on treating even the simplest of civil protest as if it were an armed rebellion.

President Museveni has gone to the extent swearing to eat his opponents like samosas. This paranoia about Tahrir possibilities in the country has made the regime put restrictions on media like never before. The Uganda Communications Commission and Uganda broadcasting council have come out to warn the media against messages that might be seen to promote “ethnic prejudice, civil violence and public insecurity”. The terms are broad enough to catch anyone that the regime wants.

Journalists have been threatened with phone calls, SMS while others have been trailed by security agents in the last two weeks. The steps that Uganda had made in the last ten years in press freedom and freedom of expression are slowly being washed away as we live the fear of Tahrir.

Today I went to Mulago to pay a visit to Brenda Nalwendo, a 19 year old pregnant woman who was shot in this week’s protests. I was ther upon a request by a Ugandan living abroad who wanted to help after seeing the horrifying photos of her shooting. At ward I identified myself as a journalist and the ladies on duty looked at me suspicious, exchanged glances before telling me they had to first inquire from some people.  They had even suggested I leave the money with them but I insisted on seeing Brenda’s mother who had no problem taking me to her daughter. By God’s grace Brenda has survived and now she can sit and her unborn baby is ok.  It is gruesome images of her intestines that hang out of her belly on April 18 that clearly showed what kind of brutality Ugandans have faced.

And it is such pictures and such peoples stories that the government is eager not to see them be told. But with some young Ugandans now using internet to give first-hand accounts of events as they happen, the coverage of these demonstrations has been very effective on facebook and twitter. That’s why the government was keen on shutting these channels down. These channels are the most uncontrollable unlike TVs and Radios which may worry about closure and hence give in to government directives. It’s because of the great role being played by youth in Uganda on these networks that internet freedom is slowly being threatened even before we have achieved much access. As of July 2010, only ten percent of the population in Uganda used internet. The numbers have changed I believe with more telecoms offering free facebook access and more affordable phones on the market with internet access option. As long as the social media is not blocked, the story of those protesting in a country where protests have become almost illegal, will continue to be told.

With opposition leaders jailed, we don’t know yet what the brains behind this walk to work campaign have in plan. It’s important for any non-violent campaign to deny those in power a target. In walk to work campaign, the regime was given targets in form of top opposition leaders and it will remain to be seen whether the campaign can continue without them. Museveni remains firm in refusing to put fuel tax cuts like Kenya did because this would show that the protests worked.

Like Prof.Mamdai said:

Whatever its outcome, ‘Walk to work’ must make us rethink the practice of democracy in Uganda…No matter how small the numbers involved in the developments we know as ‘Walk to Work’, there is no denying its sheer intellectual brilliance. That brilliance lies in its simplicity, in its ability to confer on the simplest of human activities, walking, a major political significance: the capacity to say no.

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Uncategorized

The African solution that hasn’t worked for Ivory Coast will not work for Libya

President Museveni’s 3000+worded article on the situation in Libya, analyzing Gaddafi’s regime his successes and failures has been hitting headlines around the world. He joined the critics of the current bombardments against Gaddafi that were sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

To a Ugandan, the article was catchy right from the start.  My president who just bought an election at such an exorbitant price to stretch his time in power into a 3rd decade was at university when Col. Muammar Gaddafi took over Libya. I posed a bit and figured out that my mother was just a teenager when Gaddafi took over power.

The article started like a reading from the Old Testament about kings. The longevity of the regimes of both Museveni and Gaddafi hits you right at the start. Thereafter I found the President Museveni’s arguments most contradictory on the whole. But I guess it is not surprising when one spends more than two decades in power.

While he criticizes Gaddafi and others for meddling in internal conflicts of African countries pointing to Gaddafi’s backing of Idi Amin in particular, he praises Gaddafi for supplying his rebel movement with arms against what he calls “criminal regimes” in Uganda.  So he draws a line between Gaddafi’s support for Idi Amin and Gaddafi’s support for Museveni.

“At the time we were fighting the criminal dictatorships here in Uganda, we had a problem arising of a complication caused by our failure to capture enough guns at Kabamba on the 6th of February, 1981.  Gaddafi gave us a small consignment of 96 rifles, 100 anti-tank mines, etc., that was very useful.  He did not consult Washington or Moscow before he did this.”

To Museveni, Gaddafi going sole and supporting his rebellion is great achievement we should recognize. But I am seeing the same feelings in Benghazi towards the current intervention that Museveni sets out to criticize.

President Museveni might sound close to right to many when he says “External meddling and the acquiescence by Africans into that meddling have been responsible for the stagnation in Africa.  The wrong definition of priorities in many of the African countries is, in many cases, imposed by external groups.” But this is the same man who has played the meddling in Rwanda, DR Congo and Somalia.  In Uganda we say a kettle cannot accuse a pot of being black.

In this article he puts out areas where he strategically has an advantage. He mentions south Sudan where America sees him as critical to the stability having engaged with SPLM for decades. Then UN refusal to put a no-fly zone over Somalia which Uganda pushed hard for last year when it was at the UN Security Council. He goes ahead to ask , are no human beings in Somalia similar to the ones in Benghazi?

But he has been part and parcel of the failed interventions in Somalia for the last eight years. Anyone who has followed the war in Somalia knows the route of the weapons is not by air and therefore a no-fly zone would never upset the power of opposition groups like Al Shabaab.

President Museveni who criticizes foreign intervention stood by as Ethiopia went into Somalia with the support of George Bush. He later jumped into the boat to make Uganda the first country to deploy troops in Somalia even before the Ethiopians left. Four years down the road the AMISOM is there backing a weak, non- representative government in Somalia.

While many in Uganda and Africa will jump to agree with the president, I see him as part of the meddling he talking about. He’s therefore in no good position to judge. The article brings in the question of oil in Somalia not being in the hands of the western companies as being the reason behind the inaction on the Somali conflict.  The worry about western interests in the wars around the globe in genuine given the history but for Museveni to say “if the Libyan opposition groups are patriots, they should fight their war by themselves and conduct their affairs by themselves” can only show that there’s little his involvement and that of AU would have done to stop Gaddafi butchering his own people.

In Museveni’s article I read feelings of a man, a big man, who together with the toothless AU have been blocked from entering Libya. The west may be wrong in the way they conduct the intervention in Libya but President Museveni together with his group of mostly African dictators cannot be trusted to bring a solution fast enough.

When Gaddafi was declaring genocide on his own people saying he would “cleanse Libya house by house”, no one stood up to him. When we heard stories about Gaddafi ferrying young Africans into Libya to work as mercenaries which escalated racist attacks on African immigrants, no African president came out to call for investigations. So many Africans stuck in Libya including Ugandans have been at the mercy of aid groups and some few government rescue missions.

Let’s not forget for the last four months this group of men who rule the continent have failed to resolve the situation in Ivory Coast which we may as well say has slipped back into a civil war. So far more than 400 people have died in Ivory Coast and all they do is hop onto planes meet in Addis Ababa.

No wonder we have heard no calls on the AU from Libya’s opposition. But these African leaders were so anxious to enter Libya to bargain with Gaddafi who has bought his way around the continent over years.  Gaddafi has personally supported rebellions that brought some of these leaders to power and provided them money to buy subsequent elections to appear democratically elected.  I don’t understand the African solution neither do  leaders like Museveni explain that solution that they peddle around to make Africans believe we are all on the same page.

President Museveni briefly looked at the socio-economic conditions within Libya and says they have nice roads and there’s no unemployment.

“In Tunisia and Egypt, some youths immolated (burnt) themselves because they had failed to get jobs.  Are the Libyans without jobs also?  ”

He also says that governments have a right to deal with protesters emphasizing that those who don’t seek police permission to demonstrate. This is a rule he has put in Uganda so we basically have no right to stage a protest against him peacefully. It’s his police, headed by his military men, that is in charge of sanctioning such a peaceful protest.

In the Libyan situation President Museveni sort of asks, what more did these protesters want? He seems to imply that those whose material needs have been met shouldn’t pursue freedom from dictators. I am not surprised this coming from a leader who has decentralized corruption in his own country to satisfy the would-be challengers.

Of course he went on to point out Gaddafi’s weakness but mostly those which contravened with his own standing like the cultural leaders project. A man who has banned cultural leaders and church from engaging in politics –for whatever meaning of politics is- Museveni has been at loggerheads with Gaddafi over the cultural leaders issue. This is not to say Gaddafi was right.

He talks of South Sudan which many Arabs didn’t pay much attention and he’s right but when he calls on Gaddafi to accept opposition and talks I say you should have given that advise 20 years ago. But wait! he had just got money and weapons from Gaddafi so forget the advice.

Africans want an African solution but current leaders like President Museveni who stifle freedoms in their own borders will not deliver us the much needed African solution. And that’s what North Africa has realized and therefore moved to rid their countries of these leaders.  Like Desmond Tutu has said Libya wouldn’t be seeing these strikes if African leaders were answerable to their peers and the  populace. But which Gaddafi’s peers would have kept him in check?   Museveni, Biya or Mugabe?

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