Without the army President Yoweri Museveni is naked. This is what most Ugandans believe. And that is why whoever wants to dislodge Museveni from power has to deal with the issue of a personalized and partisan army.
This is also the reason Presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine is trying to woo the army and police to his side or atleast make the armed forces understand that they can actually live a better life if they stopped harassing and maiming the opposition and voted their current commander-in-chief out of power.
Bobi has promised to increase pay for armed forces by more than 100 percent, improve their housing facilities, provide soldiers and policemen free education upto University and enforce promotions and award ranks on merit.
“Our promise to pay a minimum of 1 million shillings to the soldiers and police officers will take immediate effect,” the musician-turned-politician, who is wrestling power from President Yoweri Museveni, announced while launching his manifesto in Mbarara City on November 7, 2020.
Under the salary structure for the Uganda Police Force and the army, lower rank officers earn about shs400,000/= and high ranking officers get about shs2.5m per month. This is despite the rising defence and internal affairs budgets. Defence budget rose from $44 million in 1991 as far as $200 million in 2004. Military expenditure again increased to $406 million in 2018 from $347million in 2017. In 2019, central government requested parliament to approve US$320 million as supplementary budgets. The money must be passed urgently before the current FY2018/19 closes in June. Of that amount President Museveni directed the Finance Ministry to allocate$100 million towards the defence budget. The Ministry of Defence will use up to 53 per cent of its budget for the financial year 2020/2021 on classified expenditure. The ministry has spent close to shs4 trillion on classified expenditure.
Bobi Wine hopes that even middle managers in the armed forces will digest his message considering that for long there has been unfair deployment and award of ranks. Several times questions in parliament have been raised as why most senior commanders of the army, intelligence agencies, police and prisons come from one region, western Uganda, so is the commander-in-chief, President Museveni.
Bobi Wine is therefore enticing the armed forces with better pay, better accommodation and generally respectable working conditions to win their hearts.
But this message that is bound to excite members of the armed forces and also cause debate amongst themselves has caught Museveni off guard, for one who in the last four decades has evolved from a ragtag rebel into an internationally recognized professional commander.
So when Bobi Wine promised salary enhancement for armed forces during his nomination speech it was the same armed forces that pounced on him and brutally assaulted him and his supporters on orders of their superiors immediately they stepped out of the nomination venue at Kyambogo University.
The behavior of the army and police was not by accident. It was to prove to Bobi Wine and any other political opponents that armed forces were still loyal to their commander-in-chief and that Bobi Wine had touched a “wrong button” by offering them a better deal.
A day after Bobi Wine and his supporters were assaulted on nomination day, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the former Special Forces Commander and son to President Museveni, tweeted, “I told you my young brother, that you can NEVER intimidate us. We are much stronger than you can ever imagine to be. If you want to fight we will simply defeat you. We want peace! But if you attempt to fight us then Bring it on!”
“Our soldiers, police officers and prisons officers live like beggars even when they do a lot of work. There is no fairness in promotions and deployments. In many cases, promotions and deployments are not based on merit, but on who knows who. Our promise to our men and women in uniform is that they will be paid better as soon as we are in government,” Bobi Wine further said while launching his manifesto in Mbarara.
He added; “We shall get all that money stolen in form of classified expenditure and use it to improve the lives of these men and women who keep awake at night to keep us safe. I have said it before that the majority of our police officers and soldiers are good people and decent citizens. Even when they are sent to beat and kill us, many of them do not like beating us. Therefore, we must commit to improve their welfare and in turn demand them to respect the rights and dignity of the citizens.”
Mr Museveni has always used the military to subdue dissent. And therefore it won’t be his first time to use security forces to win elections as Uganda heads into the 2021 polls.
The election script in Uganda has always been the same; subdue the opposition through violence by the military and police. It’s only actors contesting against President Yoweri Museveni that have been changing.
In the 2016 elections tensions spiked just days before the vote as police and opposition supporters clashed in Kampala. Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter were also blocked early in the day while news spread that 150,000 security officers, including military troops, were deployed across the country.
A pro-NRM militia called Crime Preventers was assembled to break-up opposition rallies and for conducting a roll-call of voters’ political allegiances.
The police and military were also involved in widespread electoral violence around both the 2001 and 2006 elections. While the 2011 elections were more peaceful, post-election protests led to a deadly police crackdown.
Today, the National Resistance Movement Chairman’s office (President Museveni is also the NRM Chairman) is overseeing training of a militia group whose leader, Lwanga Charles alias Master Lee, is a professional boxer.
The group has been undergoing training at Nakivubo blue primary school in Kampala and will work hand in hand with the police during times of protests in support of Bobi Wine.
“We will help the Kampala Metropolitan police in times of protests by Bobi Wine and his supporters,” Master Lee says. “We are inspired by the rising pressure mounted by NUP supporters who think the city is theirs. We are ready to deal with them,” Master Lee warns.
Creation of Master Lee’s pro-NRM militia comes days after police in its unprecedented working calendar advertised a much larger recruitment number. The police spokesperson Fred Enanga has said that they are recruiting over 55,000 police constables purposely to contain ‘violence’ during the electoral season.
Police has also set up a new ‘Violence Suppression Unit’ to guard television and radio stations that host politicians during the 2021 presidential campaign. It is part of efforts to stop crowds gathering outside media houses in violation of the country’s curfew. But critics say Covid-19 is being used as pretext to further stifle dissent.
Museveni’s government has carefully crafted a narrative that Bobi Wine, who was groomed up by ghetto lifestyle, is sponsoring and orchestrating violence. This narrative has been popularized to justify horrible actions against the opposition by police and the military. So by applying violence and intimidation the military and policy feel justified.
Museveni during his nomination warned that those intending to cause violence would not succeed.
“Anyone planning mischief will fail. No one should threaten Ugandans with chaos. I thank you and I will delve into details of our manifesto at the launch later today,” he said.
In support of his boss, Senior Presidential Advisor/Special Duties, David Mafabi, on November 6, 2020 wrote on social media; “Our presidential candidates must avoid any commission or omission that wittingly or otherwise, contributes to the destabilization of the country, and devalues the ongoing democratic electoral process. Presidential Candidates, further, are not above the law of the land – and must subordinate also themselves to the Common Good.
But will the 2021 elections be like in the past? Probably not. The United States of America has sent a stern warning to individuals that perpetrate election violence in Uganda, and warned them of serious consequences as the country gears up to the 2021 presidential and general elections.
The US Embassy in Kampala indicated that Uganda’s upcoming elections have important significance for the country’s democratic development and expression to the will of the people was paramount.
“The United States government reaffirms unequivocally that it does not support any specific candidate or party in Uganda’s upcoming elections. The United States supports the democratic process itself. This includes ensuring the safety of all candidates, respect for the rule of law, and the impartiality of the authorities in charge of managing the elections,” a statement added.
The United States said it will pay close attention to actions of individuals and organizations who interfere in the democratic process or instigate violence against the civilian population before, during, or after the elections.
“We will not hesitate to consider consequences for those found to be responsible for election-related violence or undermining the democratic process,” a statement added, “calling on all political parties, candidates, and supporters to promote a peaceful and transparent electoral process”.
Unconfirmed reports also indicate that the US has a list of individuals in Museveni’s government considered for sanctions.
Security Minister Gen. Elly Tumwine, who last month gave a shoot-to-kill order against all those that may participate in anti-government protests during the forthcoming national elections, is alleged to be on that list of individuals that face sanctions.
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