“The 2021 General election (in Uganda) seems to have been increasingly polarised as it is perceived to be the last one that will see the incumbent contesting as he paves way possibly to his eldest son (Muhoozi Kainerugaba) who is the current commander of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces Special Forces Command.”
These are the words of Boniface Mwangi, a Kenyan human rights activist who toured Uganda ahead of the January 14 General Election in the capacity of Africans Rising Ambassador.
In his mission, Mwangi says that the election has been extremely polarised, due to increasing repression and reduced space for civic engagement, and also the presence of a young candidate, Robert Kyangulanyi alias Bobi Wine.
The repression started with the arrest and prosecution of the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority
(UCAA) human resource manager, Ms Efrance Musimenta Mbagaya, for allegedly pulling down Uganda President Yoweri Museveni’s campaign posters.
“Ms Efrance Musimenta Mbagaya was arrested in November 2019 by officers of the Special Forces Command. They allege that she took down the president’s campaign posters displayed in the UCAA office building in Entebbe. Mbagaya was sacked and is currently facing trial,” writes Mwangi in his report.
In the capital city Kampala and other towns, the posters of Museveni’s challengers are not there. Campaign posters of his main challenger Wine are routinely removed by the police.
“Billboard companies have refused to rent the National Unity Platform (NUP) party leader space because the state will still vandalize their property in removing Bobi’s images
and they expect their businesses to be targeted by the state. To counter that vandalism, Bobi Wine’s supporters resort to carrying mobile placards, which they display in campaigning areas during the daytime and remove at night. Several of such enthusiastic supporters have been arrested for this ingenuity and stand accused of spreading COVID-19,” writes Mwangi.
In his report, Mwangi alleges that thousands of Bobi’s supporters have been arrested, made to disappear and others killed by being shot at by police or the military. Those arrested include 82 arrested on October 14, 2020, accused of being in possession of military fatigue.
On November 18 and 19 2020, following protests which erupted after Bobi was arrested, it is reported that at least 53 people were shot dead and more than 60 injured. Human rights groups put
the death toll at 94, with unconfirmed reports indicating that the number could be higher.
“According to Bobi, some 2,043 of his supporters are in jail. 96 of his polling agents and campaign team members – the people meant to ensure the protection of his votes and electoral rights – are in jail. About 100 people have been killed by security forces so far. A total of 11 people who had been working with Bobi Wine directly since he started campaigning in November 2020, have been killed,” reports Mwangi.
Mwangi, who met Bobi during his tour in Uganda, says that Bobi has only been able to campaign in 98 out of Uganda’s 135 districts.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Ugandan security officers have assaulted at least 10 journalists covering opposition events ahead of the country’s General Election, since December 11, 2020.
“Bobi’s official photographer, Ninye Tabz, is currently in jail. Journalist Richard Kalema was arrested on 3rd January for his reporting on Bobi. He is still languishing behind bars. On December 27, a police officer fired a projectile that struck Kasirye Saif-Ilah Ashraf, a reporter for Ghetto Media, in the head, fracturing his skull. Kasirye remains hospitalized, with most of his cognitive functions impaired,” explains the activist.
He reveals that 13 editors from different media houses have been denied accreditation to cover the elections, whose outcome seems to be pre-determined.
The Chairperson of Uganda’s Electoral Commission is Justice Simon Mugenyi Byabakama, whose image is already tainted since he has been on record mistreating opposition candidates. He worked in the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and is responsible for the fictitious evidence which was dismissed by the court, in the rape trial of an opposition politician, Col. (Rtd) Dr Kizza Besigye in 2006. The case has since been dismissed.
Uganda’s military is quoted saying that they have orders of “shoot to kill”, targeted at opposition candidates and their supporters, explaining the death of several people they have shot during protests.
“We shall not spare your life, we shall take your life. That is the order. People should know that. You have heard and you have seen on television, for us, we shoot to kill. We aren’t breaking people’s legs, we shall shoot to kill. The head and the chest is our target,” Brigadier General Deus
Sande, commandant of the Uganda People’s Defence Force Armoured Warfare Training School is quoted by Mwangi.
“The following people have been tasked to assume management of police operations: Gen Kayanja Muhanga; Major General Sam Kawagga; Major General Leopold Kyanda; Major Abel Kanduho; General Kandiho Head of Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence; Brigadier Chris Ddamulira, Director of Crime Intelligence in Uganda Police and Brig. Gen JK Mukasa. Nicknamed ‘Lion of Mogadishu’, Maj. Gen. Paul Lokech from the Uganda Peoples’ Defense Forces (UPDF) is now the Deputy Inspector General of Police and police operations in Uganda are headed by the military,” explains Mwangi’s report.
Nicholas Opiyo, one of Uganda’s most prominent human rights lawyers, was arrested and remanded at Kitalya prison. He told Mwangi that more than 1,000 youth are being held in underground cells after being arrested on court-martial charges.
“The government has plans to remove any influential person in every neighborhood who might disrupt the vote tampering,” said Nicholas Opiyo.
Election observers have been locked out of the elections, including Kenya’s Mr Simon Osborn who had worked in Uganda for seven years as country director of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and was working for the EU on projects aimed at strengthening Uganda’s electoral process.
Earlier today, the United States embassy in Uganda has canceled its diplomatic observation of the country’s General Election.
In a statement on Wednesday, US Ambassador Natalie E. Brown said the Electoral Commission of Uganda had denied more than 75 percent of the US election observer accreditations requested hence the move to boycott the exercise.
On Tuesday, two days to the election, Uganda’s Communications Commission Executive Director Irene Sewankambo ordered all internet service providers in the country to block all social media sites and messaging applications hours after Facebook shut down accounts belonging to government officials it accused of seeking to manipulate public debate ahead of this year’s elections.