Many Ugandans have referred to what happened in their country on 18th February 2016 as a selection, not an election. A process where Ugandans were called to go to the polls to elect a leader of their choice, when in fact the Electoral Commission (EC) had already selected which of the presidential candidates they would announce as the leader.
Many voices have come out to question why a poor country like Uganda should spend billions in organizing an election which will at the end of the day not reflect the will of the people. Like the former Libyan leader the late Muammar Gaddafi, the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni who has ruled the country for 30 years since 1986, referred to the opposition as rats to which he can never hand over power.
Uganda was this time craving for change from all corners of the country and Ugandans came out to vote in numbers that have never been seen in the country before. This was because of the work done by civil society in the past four years, encouraging Ugandans to use their vote to effect change in the way their country is being governed.
The citizens heeded to the message, and on 18th February by 5:30 am, people were already lining up at the different polling stations in anticipation of voting for their leaders in the presidential and parliamentary races. They lined up early enough despite knowing that voting at the polling stations was supposed to officially begin at 7:00 am and end at 4:00pm. Nevertheless, people waited, and waited, and waited. In some polling stations, the voting materials that were supposed to be at the polling stations by 7:00 am arrived at 2:00pm, and in some polling stations, the voting materials never arrived at all.
At my polling station in Lubya Parish at St. Mark’s Church, the voting materials arrived at the polling station at 11:00 am and we started voting at 11:30 am. My polling station is located approximately 5 kilometres from the stores where these materials were kept for the whole of Kampala district which is the country’s capital city.
I stood in the queue for three and a half hours waiting to cast my vote. I, like many other Ugandans, did not pay attention to the scorching sun. I was among the lucky few who voted, but whose votes never counted. They never counted because all results coming from areas where the leading opposition candidate Dr. Kizza Besigye won were never tallied to reflect the total vote for Besigye.
The government knew that Besigye has massive support throughout the country, but that support was even immense in urban areas. Therefore by not delivering voting materials to the urban areas, they disenfranchised many Ugandans from exercising their inalienable human right of choosing a leader of their choice. In polling stations like mine where the materials were delivered late, thousands of people were eager to vote and stood up in winding lines, but were chased away from the polling stations as soon as the official time of closure ticked.
While a semblance of voting was going on in the country, the ruling government machinery was at work stuffing ballot boxes with pre-ticked ballot papers in favor of the incumbent. Besigye got wind of the news of ballot-stuffing at one house in upscale Naguru area and he went to a nearby police station to report it. He was given a police officer to go and investigate the incident at that house, but on reaching the house, the police officer who had come with Besigye was disarmed and arrested by the pro-government militia which was standing guard at the gate. The rigging this time was simply obscene!
In another incident, the polling station where Museveni cast his vote has a total number of 437 voters. However after voting, Museveni got a total of 760 votes from the same polling station, and Besigye got two. Only God knows how 437 voters can turn into 762 votes! The Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah was found with seven ballot boxes all stuffed with ballot papers in favor of the incumbent. In other areas, they were still voting while the EC was already announcing their results.
Yoweri Museveni was declared victorious in these presidential elections with 5.2 million votes followed by Besigye with 3.4 million votes. The EC declared that out of the 15.2 million registered voters in the country, only 9.2 had come out to vote. The first countries to congratulate Museveni on his win were North Korea, Russia and Burundi.
While appearing on national TV a few days before the election, the EC Chairman Badru Kiggundu said that if he had powers, he would not have nominated Besigye to run for presidency. People were therefore not surprised when the same man denied them their choice for president. Besigye was arrested on Election Day and he is still a prisoner. His party offices (Forum for Democratic Change – FDC) were closed down by police.
International observers have also expressed their dismay about the rigging of the election. The European Union observers and the US Government have come out strongly to castigate the sham process, and have called for the release of Besigye.
The rigging of this election did not come unexpected; President Museveni throughout his campaign period made it clear that he would never hand over power to the opposition because they want to steal “his oil.” Uganda is a few years away from beginning oil production, and Museveni said that it was him who discovered that oil therefore it is his. “How can you expect me to leave now when the plantation that I planted is beginning to bear fruits?” he asked the masses at one of the political rallies.
Though he has walked away in during the last elections that were also rigged, Museveni is likely to find a hard time this time, especially when his close allies, the US Government, begins to show disgust about the way the democratic processes in the country are being run down. For criticizing the way his regime organized the elections this time, Museveni has told off the EU, assuring them that he does not need lectures on how to run his democracy. Though the EU election observers made their position clear in the election report, it is still not clear what steps this strategic block is going to take in calling the Ugandan regime to order.
Museveni has for long been seen as a stabilizing factor in the Great Lakes region, mediating peace in Burundi and South Sudan. His decision to venture into Somalia when all African countries were chickening out earned him great international recognition and strategic allies. Due to his military escapades, the west has continued to be part of the countries that supply arms to Museveni’s regime.
One of those escapades was in the late nineties and early 2000’s when the Ugandan army entered eastern Congo in pursuit of the Lord’s Resistance Army (Kony’s LRA) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Apart from fighting the rebels in the jungles of Congo, the Ugandan army plundered natural resources from the mineral-rich part of the world. Besides gold coltan and other minerals, timber, charcoal and other natural resources were looted from Congo by the commanders of the invading Ugandan army. After the invasion, the Congolese government dragged Uganda to the International Court of Justice and Uganda lost the case. Today, Uganda has to pay reparations worth 10 billion Dollars to Congo for the plunder.
Many of the army generals that were at the frontline in Congo during the plunder have since parted ways with Museveni. Gen. David Sejusa, the former Coordinator of Intelligence Services is now a major critic of the Kampala regime. He fled to exile in London after authoring a dossier in which he stated that Museveni had a plan to assassinate all army generals and senior politicians who were not in support of the move to have Museveni’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, succeed his father. He lived for a period of one and a half years in the UK before returning to the country to support the opposition. As I write now, he is in prison and will appear in court on 11th March 2016 to answer charges of uttering politically divisive statements as a serving soldier.
Gen. Mugisha Muntu who was the Army Commander of Uganda’s armed forces for years is now the President of the leading mass opposition party whose candidate, Retired Col. Dr. Besigye, was also a minister in Museveni’s government during the regime’s formative years in the early nineties.
Another one, Gen. James Kazini was killed under unclear circumstances on 10th November 2009 in a Kampala suburb. Gen. Aronda Nyakairima who was one of the people that Gen. Sejusa mentioned as Museveni’s assassination targets also died mysteriously on 12th September 2015 in the United Arab Emirates where he was transiting back home from South Korea.
The role of the Army and Police in keeping Museveni in power
Being a former guerilla soldier who shot himself to power in 1986, Museveni has ensured that the Army and the Police force remain loyal to him as a person. Though he claims that he has in the course of the years professionalized the army to international standards, it is clear that the Ugandan army is bent on serving the interests of this one man.
He has on several occasions reminded Ugandans that he has the army and it is his army. To make this point clearer, he appointed his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba to be the Chief of the Special Forces Command (SFC), a force that protects the President and also controls the Air force and the mechanized departments of the national army. The son, Muhoozi, is seen as the de facto chief of the national army, calling the shots and making all the strategic decisions.
Museveni also appointed an Army General, Kale Kayihura, to be the Chief of Police. Kayihura has exhibited great loyalty to the president by crashing the opposition. As I write this, Kizza Besigye’s home is surrounded by Police and this has been the case since the election results were announced on 20th February.
Popularly known as “Afande Tear gas” because of the ease with which the Police force sprays citizens with tear gas, Kayihura is now regarded as the only remaining Bush war comrade who is still bent on serving Museveni’s interests and ensuring that the president maintains his hold on the country’s body politik. Backed up by the Military Police, the Police force was and is still deployed in all parts of the capital city because the regime fears an uprising of the masses following the rigged 2016 presidential elections.
The Army and Police have done well in as far as intimidating the masses. Museveni said that any Ugandans who will go out on the streets to protest the election results will be shot. The same position was reiterated by his party’s Secretary General Kasule Lumumba who warned parents not to let their children go to the streets to protest against the regime because if they do, they will be killed.