The stretch marks of highly flammable general elections in Uganda have been exhibited by the violence in the just concluded ruling National Resistance Movement party internal elections to determine flag bearers for the 2021 general elections.
The competition for the NRM flag was a do or die affair. The violence has left about half a dozen people dead and more dozens seriously injured sending signals for much more violence in the forthcoming elections.
The NRM with close to 12 million members went to the polls last week to choose the party flag bearers for Woman Member of Parliament and directly elected MP seats for the 2021 general elections.
But the violence that has rocked the party primaries is what has dominated the public debate. Violence was more prominent in Western Uganda and was orchestrated by Ministers and members of the First Family. President Yoweri Museveni also comes from western Uganda.
Despite the blatant breach of Electoral Commission ban on public rallies for prevention of Covid-19, the NRM primaries have bred internal violence that has not been seen before in any other party.
Across the country, the elections have been rocked by chaotic or violent scenes with candidates or their supporters involved in bloody clashes to the extent that the party’s electoral commission chairperson, Dr Tanga Odoi suspended the exercise in certain areas.
This forced President Museveni to intervene by directing Uganda People’s Defence Forces and the Uganda Police Force leadership to deploy at least 15,000 police officers, with the army commanders at the apex of the operation in districts and regions mapped as hotspots.
The President also directed that all government vehicles in districts be used for these operations and Chief Administrative Officers, working with Resident District Commissioners, avail transport for the same.
In a radio message dated September 3, and sent to UPDF headquarters at 1805 hours (6.05pm) through the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen David Muhoozi, the President instructed the army chief to meet the Inspector General of Police Martins Okoth Ochola, and brief him.
President Museveni, who is also the chairman of the ruling party NRM further ordered police to investigate any candidate who participated in fraudulent activities of bribery, assault, intimidation, altering declaration forms among other illegal activities.
He ordered police to cross-check and institute criminal proceedings against the culprits. “Unfortunately, there are shallow people who resort to shallow schemes to steal the power of the people. These do the following: bribing, intimidation, altering declaration forms, even attacking and injuring people, using the underage to vote, importing voters from other areas etc,” President Museveni tweeted a few minutes to 6pm on September 5.
He added: “We should not allow crooks to pollute our massive force that you saw yesterday. I am not Tanga Odoi (NRM electoral commission chairman) but my entering from the criminal side, which is my constitutional duty as President, will help Tanga Odoi. Help us with the facts.”
Again at 8pm on the same day he tweeted saying; “I don’t want to hear any opportunists intimidating, beating, etc any Ugandan without prompt action by @PoliceUg. Anybody attacking the wanainchi (citizens) must be arrested and there must be no police bond. They should all wait for court to decide.”
The President’s directive to contain the situation came at a time when majority of the aggrieved contestants blamed him for usurping powers of the NRM electoral commission chairman when Mr Museveni allowed all those that wanted to vote but were not in the NRM register to be allowed to vote.
This created a window for weak candidates to bribe and ferry people from neighboring constituencies and opposition parties to boost their support thus triggering violence.
Secondly, the competition for political positions was so high supporting the argument that most contestants were mere job seekers. For instance, more than five contestants competed for the NRM flag for at least 66 Parliamentary seats across the country.
The party members went to the polls to choose flag bearers in 353 Constituencies, where the MPs are directly elected and 140 woman MP seats across the country.
Still awaited are primary elections for the party to choose flag bearers for the workers MPs, Youth MPs, the elderly MPs and MPs for Persons with Disabilities.
Thirdly, the army and police failed to withdraw security personnel guarding Ministers and incumbent Members of Parliament. These guards were used as mercenaries to intimidate rival contestants.
Prior to the primaries there were already indications that the process would be volatile. Contestants refused to adhere to health guidelines for COVID 19. Rallies were organized without observing social distancing, sanitizing and putting on masks. Huge sums of money were allowed to be used to bribe voters. Voters’ registers were tampered with by incumbents. Communication between the NRM electoral Commission and voters was also hindered because of high costs to use media platforms since the National Electoral Commission had resolved that mobilizing voters be restricted to media platforms as a way to managing the spread of coronavirus. In some hard to reach areas airwaves cannot be accessed hence the electorate depended on word of mouth from contestants.
Therefore, constituencies with powerful incumbents whose re-election was being threatened because of their failure to deliver on their previous manifestos manifested some pockets of violence leading to loss of lives and property. Police had identified 45 hotspots across the country and deployed heavily to stop any form of election violence.
In Manafwa district, the NRM electoral commission chairman Dr. Tanga Odoi suspended the primary elections in Bukono constituency in Namutumba district after Minister Persis Namuganza’s agent was reported killed. Police is investigating the matter.
In Rushenyi County, Ntungamo district, the State Minister for Labour and Industrial Development Mwesigwa Rukutana shot and injured some people, as well as damaging a vehicle of his opponent, Naome Kabasharira.
Rukutana turned chaotic and in the scuffle grabbed a gun from one of his bodyguards and shot two people who were rushed to hospital in critical condition.
However, the President has said that the former deputy Attorney General must answer charges related to the violence he orchestrated after losing the election.
“The Minister Rukutana is in jail and will be prosecuted, “Museveni said.
Rukutana has since been arrested and charged with attempted murder by shooting, inciting violence and malicious damage. Rukutana claimed he was trying to secure himself.
“Those people were armed. They came to my farm and blocked my family members from leaving home. My guards went and urged them to leave but they refused. I was trying to secure myself,” the Minister defended himself.
Another Minister State Minister for Economic Monitoring Molly Nawe Kamukama’s supporters attacked the tally centre, tore declaration forms and an unknown person vanished with the laptop belonging to the Electoral Commission before results were announced. Kamukama later claimed she had won the hotly contested Kazo Woman Member of Parliament Primaries.
In Isingiro district, three people lost their lives in electoral violence including a polling agent of Dr Ponsiano Mugyenyi, the rival of Bright Rwamirama, the state Minister for Veterans Affairs. Rwamirima is also a member of the First Family. Dr Tanga Odoi cancelled all election results of Isingiro district accusing Rwamirama of causing the death of his opponent’s supporter and intimidating his rivals. Dr Tanga said he had been directed by the President to cancel the results.
According to police, the polling agent, Wlber Nkabandiho, was shot dead by a private guard Siddi Katiikiro who fired at rowdy voters in Katuragye cell in Isingiro town council.
The other two that were killed are; Musa Bright, a resident of Rugaga trading centre and Gordon Muhumuza, 20, a resident of Karo A111, central ward Kabuyanda town council.
Musa was reportedly shot by a UPDF soldier in Rugaga trading centre. He breathed his last while being rushed to Mbarara regional referral hospital for treatment. Police said Musa was shot as UPDF officers dispersed supporters of Jeremiah Kamurari, an LCV chairman now competing for a parliamentary seat.
Muhumuza, on the other hand, was killed in mob action. Police said the deceased was lynched by the mob around 4:00 pm when he tried to interfere with the electoral process.
“Our preliminary investigations show that the deceased who got late at the polling centre, tried to interfere with the election process, which annoyed people and they started beating him until death,” said Samson Kasasira, the Rwizi Region police spokesperson.
In Sembabule district, the election had to be suspended on the directives of President Museveni, who is also the NRM national chairman.
In the district, the race in Mawogola North pits Museveni’s younger brother Godfrey Aine Kaguta also known as Sodo against Shartis Musherure, a daughter to Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kahamba Kutesa and another candidate Salim Kisekka. The trio is jostling to replace Kutesa who is retiring from active politics.
The cancellation of the elections came amid heavy deployment of both police and the army in Sembabule district that was directly supervised by the deputy inspector general of police Maj. Gen. Sabiiti Muzeeyi, who camped in the area.
In Mawogola West, another constituency in Sembabule district, polls were also suspended after a spate of campaign violence. The Sembabule district NRM registrar, George William Katokoozi, announced the suspension of the polls allegedly on instructions of President Museveni.
In Bugiri district, eastern Uganda, a woman was shot dead during a procession by voters protesting the delayed release of results from the NRM primaries for Bugiri Woman Member of Parliament.
Florence Muganda was hit by a stray bullet while selling pancakes by the roadside when a combined security of the army and police opened fire to disperse a group of voters who were matching to Bugiri Central police station to demand the declaration of the results. Voters decided to storm the police station after Bugiri District NRM party registrar to declare a winner between the incumbent, Agnes Taka Wejuli and Hadija Babi.
Muganda breathed her last while being rushed to Jinja regional referral hospital for treatment. Trouble is said to have started at the tally centre after Babi accused presiding officers of pocketing bribes from her rival to doctor the results in her favour. Babi, who was shouting at the top of her voice, tore declaration of results forms, which were being prepared by the NRM registrars forcing police to take over the tally centre and transfer all electoral materials to Bugiri police station in preparation for the declaration of the winner.
According to Babi, there was massive rigging of votes in Buluguyi, Kapyanga sub-counties and Namayemba town council.
Bugiri district police commander, Jeff Sebuyungo, said they decided to use teargas to disperse the voters because they were targeting some candidates. He said the residents started pelting security officers at the district headquarters with stones, prompting one of the soldiers to open fire.
An NRM registrar in Tororo was knocked dead. The deceased had misunderstandings with unknown people who were fighting over the results. Tororo residents and their leaders had decided to boycott the NRM elections.
Tororo County is occupied by mainly the Iteso community and they have for long demanded a district status as a solution to end their long-standing conflict with the Jopadhola, but the government is yet to heed to their call.
In Katakwi, another district in eastern Uganda, three people were shot and injured at Apule polling station in Kapujan sub-county, Toroma County in Katakwi district. Eyewitnesses reported that one of the three, whom they identified as Teresa Ikiror, later died at Katakwi General Hospital.
The other two, named as Charles Etyang and Lucy Apenyo, are admitted at the same hospital for treatment. Charles Etyang who reportedly sustained a bullet wound in his lower abdomen, while Lucy Apenyo had her shoulder shattered.
Speaking on his hospital bed nursing an injury from the incident, Etyang claimed that one of the armed men wearing LDU uniform shot at them.
An eyewitness said the chaos erupted when polling agent Augustine Okello, the LC1 chairperson of Apule village, suspected to be of candidate Walter Elakas Okiring’s camp, started pulling supporters of Joseph Andrew Koluo’s long queue. Elakas, the LCV chairperson, is eyeing the Toroma County parliamentary seat. Koluo is the incumbent MP.
It is reported that a member of the Local Defence Unit guarding Apule polling station fired shots to try to calm the situation after the violence erupted between the supporters of Elakas and Koluo. He added that the suspects have been taken to Katakwi Central Police Station for interrogation.
In Rakai district bordering Tanzania, at least six people have been admitted at Rakai hospital in critical condition following clashes between different candidates in the just concluded NRM primaries.
The victims include Remegio Lubyayi, 45, of Buyamba sub-county, John Kakooza, and four others whose identities had yet not been established. It is said that the six were injured during a fight by groups of supporters of Amos Mandela, the Buyamba County MP and his arch-rival Gyaviira Ssemwanga. According to Dr Yasin Kiyemba, the hospital medical superintendent, several patients from different sub-counties were received at the hospital with severe injuries but some were discharged because of their injuries were minor.
He said that the majority of patients who were admitted sustained injuries on the head, chest, back and other parts of the body and some complained of severe chest pain.
Chaotic scenes were also reported in Mbale. During the pandemonium, the registrar was punched and he was forced to flee the tally centre after residents disputed the vote counting process. Police fired live bullets and teargas to disperse supporters of Mbale Woman Member of Parliament, Connie Nakayenze Galiwango, who had camped at the Regional Block in Mbale City, demanding to know who would carry the flag for the National Resistance Movement Mbale City Woman Member of Parliament.
This followed the delayed declaration of results of the winner between, Galiwango (the current Mbale District Woman MP) and Lydia Wanyoto, the Chairperson of NRM National Female League, after Fridays’ party primaries to choose a flag bearer ahead of the 2021 elections.
Galiwango’s supporters wanted Mbale District NRM Registrar, Mr Boniface Wamunga to declare their candidate the party flag bearer claiming that she was leading by a “big margin” the previous evening.
According to Galiwango, out of the 12 sub-counties, she had won in 10. But Wanyoto’s driver was arrested for reportedly tearing declaration forms of Galiwango.
Police in Nakaseke district are investigating a case in which a car belonging to one of the candidates vying for the NRM flag to be Nakaseke South MP, was torched. Savana Region Police Spokesperson Issa Ssemwogerere said four suspects were being held at Nakaseke Central Police Station in connection with the torching of a vehicle Reg. No. UAQ 227W belonging to Mr Charles Nsereko Kauma.
Meanwhile, the Member of Parliament for Serere County, Patrick Okabe, reportedly engaged in a fist fight with his main challenger, Samuel Otaala, at Ojama Village in Ocapa Town Council. The duo recorded statements at police.
West Budama South NRM parliamentary aspirant, former Minister Dr. Emmanuel Otaala, was arrested in connection to election irregularities. Otaala a former state minister for health, was arrested in Magola sub-county while monitoring the election exercise and transferred to Tororo Central Police Station.
Kagoma County MP Moses Walyomu fought and injured his opponent at the Jinja NRM tally centre. Police arrested him alongside his brother and they were both in custody. Walyomu’s opponent, Fredrick Munyirwa, was leading in the polls before he was attacked.
In Kitgum district, police fired live bullets and teargas to disperse locals who had turned rowdy at a polling station in Kiteny sub-county in Chua East Constituency. Apparently, the locals demanded to get all Kiteny sub-county results from the presiding officer to enable them to understand the results between incumbent Chua East legislator and State Minister for Foreign Affairs Henry Okello Oryem and Godfrey Luwo who was reportedly leading at most polling stations.
However, results read to them during the declaration indicated that Luwo had lost the bid to Oryem. When the presiding officer, Richard Otema, declined to heed to their request to announce results from other polling stations, the locals who suspected election malpractice, turned rowdy. Police later responded by firing live bullets and teargas to quell the locals who had become rowdy.
In central Uganda, Prof Gilbert Bukenya, a former vice President, who wants to bounce back into elective politics, decried massive rigging and violence in his constituency, Busiro North. Bukenya has petitioned the NRM electoral commission chairman to annul the results.
In august 2019, a study conducted by Democratic Engagement and Action in 13 districts of Uganda indicated that many people involved in election preparations and Ugandan politics expect violence around the 2021 election. The study looked at early warning signs of violence ahead of the elections and strategies to mitigate unrest.
Those reasons given for likely violence included a lack of electoral reform, an issue that has been noted in election observer mission reports since 2006. Other reasons included unresolved tribal issues, a recommendation that the election management system be reformed, and the involvement of security agencies in partisan politics.
Respondents were drawn from the ruling National Resistance Movement and opposition parties, and also included electoral officials, security officers, civil activists and journalists.
Jackie Asiimwe, who works for Democratic Engagement and Action, said the electorate no longer trusted the electoral commission, and she maintained that politicians fuel violence among the largely unemployed youth.
“Election season is seen as a way that some of these young people can also cash in, especially in violence,” she said. “Again and again they are used as part of the violence machinery, which is a very sad thing and very irresponsible, in my view.”
Alice Alaso, the secretary general of the opposition Alliance for National Transformation party, described the report as very candid.
“It has highlighted seriously the signals, the signs that are a recipe for a violent election,” she said. “And even now we can see that during the 2016 election the greatest perpetrators of violence were state institutions — the army and the police.”
Ruling party politician Lydia Wanyoto agreed that politicians on all sides had helped fuel violence, but she said the government was committed to ensuring there was peace during and after the elections.
“There is not going to be violence unless we choose to,” she said. “But if we are going to have rowdy people in the streets, government has institutions, Uganda is still running; they will be checked.” However, Wanyoto is one of the NRM contestants involved in the NRM internal elections violence
The research suggested there should be accountability and punishment of those who violate electoral laws. It also suggested citizens be made familiar with electoral laws and policies.
Museveni, who has been in office since January 1986, was for many years widely respected at home and abroad for bringing stability and economic growth. He has lost support over the past decade, however, especially among young adults, who make up more than half the electorate. Critics say he has become increasingly repressive as he works to keep power.
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