But selfish interests fail national unity against human rights abuses
I sat in a taxi recently from Kajjansi to Bwebajja along Entebbe Road and tasted the bitterness of Ugandans arising from the continued torture of people who are opposed to the government.
A conversation started between two passengers, a female and a male whom the woman identified as Pastor Yellowman, perhaps because of his support for the ruling party. The discussion started with what the lady called the rising cost of living which she said had left her unable to access basic services such as electricity and healthcare.
She pointed an accusing finger at Pastor Yellowman for causing her suffering. “Mutusibyeko omusajja. Omuntu takyasobola nakugenda mu dwaliro lwa bwavu! Kati atandise kutta na kutulungunya bantu olwokuba boogerako,” she said in Luganda. This is translated as “You have kept the man in power. We the poor cannot even afford basic needs such as healthcare because of poverty. He has now started killing and torturing people for voicing dissent about his government.”
She prodded Yellowman by asking whether he didn’t feel ashamed about it. The soft-spoken lady’s complaint was followed by momentary silence, until Pastor Yellowman answered that he cared only about one, two, three things, and he kept adding others he named as important in his life. These he said were Jesus, his children, his wife and his job. It is as if he had opened a can of wasps. Nearly the whole taxi burst into a rage and attacked him for being insensitive to the ongoing torture and suffering of innocent Ugandans at the hands of security agencies.
“Your comment betrays your professed faith in Jesus because Jesus cares about the suffering of innocent people,” another woman shouted out. “How can you say you don’t care when a fellow human being is beaten while he has surrendered?” a man who was sitting next to the driver, also angrily asked, before adding; “How can you torture and again deny a full Member of Parliament access to his doctor?”
The chorus response by passengers may be the first sign of what seems to be the clearest indicator yet awakening among Ugandans to the brutal realities of human rights abuses and the politics of exclusion by the government. But some rights defenders have argued that a lot still remains to be done by majority of Ugandans to translate that anger into action.
Human rights advocates have argued that the moment someone refuses to oppose and condemn the abuse of someone else’s rights, he or she is preparing the ground for the abuse of their own rights.
Dr. Kizza Besigye, the de-facto leader of Opposition in Uganda and one of the most tortured politician argued recently that the apparent up-tick in feelings of resentment are not enough to uproot a government.
While Besigye blamed the well-entrenched system of controlling money and freedom of speech and expression by the government, he also blamed the pervasive perception held by most Ugandans that human rights defence or opposing the injustices perpetrated by the government, is someone else’s job or that people can simply pray against them.
Besigye emphasised, however, that merely casting a vote against Museveni may not be enough to uproot him from power. Rather, he has argued before that Uganda’s constitution gives people the power to use all necessary means, to remove someone who has overthrown the constitution.
He further argued that what happened in Arua and many previous elections across the country, point to an overthrow of the constitution. He also argued that the continuing trend of torture and killing of unarmed people by agents of security forces is in line with efforts to stop the masses from protesting similar human rights violations. He cited previous murders such as in Bugiri about a month ago, as another sign of the disproportionate use of force, particularly the misuse of arms against unarmed people.
The most outstanding of the violations is the continuing harassment of Members of Parliament particularly Kyaddondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake and Mukono municipality MP Betty Nambooze.
Kyagulanyi and Zaake have been forced to seek urgent specialised medical help abroad because of severe injuries they suffered at the hands of the President’s Special Forces Command (SFC) soldiers following their brutal arrest on August 13, in Arua where they had gone to campaign for independent Kasiano Wadri to replace NRM stalwart Ibrahim Abiriga who was murdered in cold blood a few months back.
By the time of filing this report, Zaake had been released from police detention at Kiruddu government hospital and was allowed to travel to India for specialised medical treatment.
Torture not new
Other observers argue that human rights violations are not new but rather an escalation of a trend that has been supported by the ruling NRM government for many years.
In 2015 at the height of the campaign against passing of the anti-homosexuality law, experts in legal and media affairs convened a meeting at Hotel Africana where they revealed that a good number of laws that were passed in recent years were aimed at stifling freedom of the media and of expression. They cited the anti-terrorism act, the Public Order Management Act, the Anti-homosexuality Act, the computer misuse act among others.
On March 6, 2014, at Hotel Africana, Makerere University law lecturer James Nkuubi, while presenting a paper on the controversial introduction of the Anti-pornography Act 2014, argued that Uganda was being governed under a military regime for many years. He cited a 2005 incident in which the army used a helicopter gunship to disperse a crowd of Democratic Party supporters who had gathered at the Constitutional square to campaign against the lifting of the presidential term limit.
Dr. Kizza Besigye, the four time presidential aspirant and former leader of the Opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) argued recently while appearing on CBS’s Kiriza oba Gaana political talkshow, that the violent acts that were committed by the SFC in Arua are only a continuation of an escalating trend that has been witnessed in many previous elections.
He argued that the government not only uses such incidents to threaten its opponents from participating in elections but also to instil fear among Ugandans particularly the youth from rising up.
“The first perpetrators of violence is the government in the way it abuses the office and power of the presidency,” Besigye argued, adding that President Museveni moves with all the authority of the presidency including vehicles, helicopter, but abuses that power to campaign for a candidate of his party.
“What happened in Arua is what has been happening in many previous elections everywhere. The president uses all the resources put at his disposal as the president of everybody to campaign for one party. This is the first form of injustice that inflames people,” Besigye argued.
Recalling the fateful August 13th day MP Bobi Wine’s driver Hassan Kawuma was killed in Arua, Besigye said: “That day started when all roads had been blocked because the president was in the area.
Already, there was anger by the injustices, which means that it is the government that incites violence. What sparked off violence was the abuse of the presidency, that blocked people from going wherever they wanted to go at the most critical hour of choosing their leader.”
The events in Arua may have helped reveal the dark side of NRM government. The initial widespread condemnation from the general public appears to have taken many in government by surprise. The growing tensions appear unlikely to make access to basic goods and services by the masses any easier.