Amnesty International has issued a sensational report on what they call “Violations of the Right to Freedom of Assembly by the Ugandan Police” covering the period between July and October 2015.
Uganda Police Force (UPF) would have liked to comment on each of the incidents quoted in the ‘report’ but that would not be very useful without being put in perspective. That is what the compilers of the ‘report’ did. Any incident which is not put in perspective can be interpreted in any way to suit the interests and intentions of the person making the interpretation.
That is exactly what the compilers of the said report did and thus greatly disrespected the quoted seven million supporters of Amnesty International. There is cynical adage in journalism that “never let the truth get in the way of a good story” and that is exactly what the compilers of the AI report did. It is however not new for people with an agenda to purport to use research in order to prove a pre-determined position and we are not surprised that the ‘report’ compilers did just that. May be this explains why many mushrooming NGOs in Uganda are duplicating similar reports in the name of Human Rights activists
Let me proceed to give, in plain English, the perspective and context in which certain opposition politicians were prevented from addressing illegal public gatherings cited the ‘report’ before the agreed campaign period was announced. Although this information is common knowledge in Uganda where the average members of the public can see through the publicity stunts of their politicians, we need to summarize it for the benefit of the “seven million supporters” of Amnesty International who are not conversant with Ugandan politicians’ attention-seeking gimmicks and have been fed with a good story which has not been “spoilt’ by the facts.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is the authority that manages election activities in Uganda by implementing the electoral laws as passed by parliament. The roles of this Commission include nomination of candidates and supervising campaigns of the candidates.
When the EC called on persons interested in running for presidency to pick nomination forms, dozens upon dozens of aspirants did so. Although some clearly unqualified persons including some twenty-year olds and a mentally ill but harmless Kampala figure turned up, the EC gave all the benefit of the doubt and they were given the forms.
At that stage, all Ugandans between the ages of 35 and 75 with an A’ level school certificate are deemed eligible. It would be anarchist and disruptive of the EC to allow any of them to start holding campaigning rallies. Simple sanity (and the law as well) requires that the aspirants are required to bring certain requirements like a minimum number of registered voters’ signatures from a given number of districts for their nomination application forms to be considered.
It would be discriminatory to allow some aspirants to start campaigning (whatever clever term they may use to describe their campaigns) as there is no criteria of choosing who to allow to campaign before others and then bar others at face value because they look young or a member of the IEC Doesn’t approve of their dress code. And as I said, it would be anarchic to allow every aspirant go and campaign as they wish.
After the EC has received back the aspirants’ forms (only about ten managed to return the forms with the requisite documents and signatures), the submissions are vetted and those found to be fit are invited to be nominated. It is after being nominated that the aspirants become candidates.
The EC proceeds to sit down with the duly nominated candidates or their agents and all agree on a draft schedule for campaign rallies. This is the way we Ugandans do it to prevent avoidable clashes of charged candidates’ fans if the venues and dates of rival candidates clashed. Suggestions in good faith by AI and other well-wishers of better ways to schedule campaign rallies are welcome and should be forwarded to the IEC and parliament well before the 2021 elections.
The campaign rallies schedule agreed upon by the candidates was to start early November and has been proceeding smoothly, only interrupted for a couple of days when His Holiness Pope Francis of Vatican visited Uganda, which I hope is understandable. Before November, several aspirants used different kinds of tricks to hold campaign rallies and UPF, which is primarily mandated to uphold law and order for over 35 million people in addition to ensuring that the then less than one hundred presidential aspirants do not disrupt public peace, stopped the illegal rallies.
UPF will not apologise for protecting 35 million people from illegal disruption of their peaceful activities. The AI ‘report’ criticizes the preventive arrest which is simply the prevention of an aspirant from going to hold an illegal rally when police gets ‘verified’ intelligence that such an illegal activity has indeed been planned and is about to be executed.
We for instance blocked a couple of processions by some youthful aspirants in their twenties who were poised to cause chaos in Kampala protesting “discrimination” by the constitution which bars them from seeking the presidency. Unfortunately for them they lacked the contacts for powerful bodies like AI and their ‘case’ has not been highlighted the ‘report’.
The case of some “poor youth” cited by the ‘report’ because police blocked their meeting would not surprise any Ugandan as it is a common aspect every five years when opportunistic young men keep moving between rival major camps and keep upping their bargains for “facilitation”. When they tend to disrupt public order, police blocks them and we have no apologies for it.
In total, all incidents quoted in the report arose from blocking premature, illegal campaigning. Before the permitted campaign period, some aspirants tried to use different tricks including hiding behind holding ‘consultations’ which are allowed for testing the viability of their candidature. But those who failed to comply with the ‘consultation’ guidelines one of which requires that they be held inside a building were blocked, for the safety of the public who also have a right to live and work in peace.
The compilers of the AI report say they interviewed 88 people. It is curious that it did not occur to them to find a few or even one person to brief them about the attention – seeking stunts that precede any election campaign in Uganda.
It is an unfortunate culture that starts at our universities and some politicians carry on with it even in adult life and national politics. One candidate even after nomination has faked a kidnap and our officers in Eastern Uganda worked hard to protect him from himself.
But AI does not have to take my word for this, they should just come to Uganda, where they have always been welcomed and even the Inspector General of Police has given them several hours of his time, and try to understand the context in which political aspirants operate.
In conclusion, AI is advised to be more careful when hiring its ‘researchers’ and when assigning them, give them comprehensive guidelines so that they come up with a report that does not omit facts that spoil their ‘good story’. Amnesty International owes it to their “seven million supporters” to give them the all the relevant facts of the story. It is just a show of minimum respect for their supporters that we urge AI to exercise.
Chief Political Commissar, Uganda Police Force