Security Minister Gen. Elly Tumwine has given a shoot-to-kill order against all those that may participate in anti-government protests during the forthcoming national elections.
Tumwine’s order is likely to spark off confrontation between the ruling National Resistance Movement government and the Opposition dominated by the People Power Movement. Previous elections under the current regime in Uganda, notably in 1996, 2001 and 2006, were marred by violence.
The one-eyed military general has directed police and the military to be more repressive and use “some of the weapons they have in possession.”
“We gave you the guns to kill those protesters. When someone throws a stone at you during a protest, shoot him back. If he dies it’s up to him,” Gen. Tumwine said on Friday 23, 2020.
“When I went to the Bush I lost my eye and didn’t blame anyone because I took myself there and nobody had invited me. So if you lose something in war, don’t blame anyone,” he added as he cautioned supporters of Bobi Wine, the leader of the National Unity Platform, who has presented himself as one of the most formidable contestants to wrestle power from President Museveni in the forthcoming 2021 presidential polls.
Gen. Tumwine’s emphasis on use of violence to counter dissent is largely seen as a government position crafted to contain the red beret group belonging to Kyagulanyi Ssentamu Robert alias Bobi Wine.
The security boss stopped his armed forces from using a ‘soft approach’ and ‘unnecessary kindness’ while handling supporters of Bobi Wine.
Bobi Wine, a musician-turned-politician, who is being promoted as Uganda’s symbol of the ordinary people’s struggle for democracy, freedom, liberty and social transformation, has emerged as the main challenger against President Museveni, who seized power in 1986 through a five-year rebellion.
Through his music that is laced with messages critical of undemocratic policies and tendencies in Uganda, Bobi Wine has become appealing to majority unemployed and frustrated youth.
Therefore, his candidacy, in channeling a grassroots youth movement and a fiercely anti-corruption message, promises a more high-profile threat to the status quo than at any previous point during the current administration’s reign. In that alone, Bobi Wine has already done the impossible.
Facing violence in the streets, censorship, and close tracking by military personnel, Bobi Wine’s movement, called People Power, has nonetheless gained widespread support from Uganda’s urban youth, which bothers the ruling National Resistance Movement government.
This is why government has hired publicists and spin doctors to portray Bobi Wine and his People Power movement as a violent group that shouldn’t be trusted with state power.
“The Bobi Wine supporters I encounter online are radical extremists – uncouth, antidemocratic, intolerant of dissent and heavily reliant on their prejudices and rumours for “facts” to guide their political decisions and actions. They dominate social media where they indulge in unrestrained cyber bullying – forgery, slander, blackmail and lies. If they can terrorize their opponents with the little power they have on social media, what would happen if they gained control of the state’s powerful instruments of repression like the police, the army and the prisons?” Andrew Mwenda, a prominent journalist and one of Museveni’s hired guns posted on his face book page recently.
Another Museveni apologist and former Presidential Spokesman, Tamale Mirundi, has been all over the media claiming that the Bobi Wine candidacy is a creation of the American Central Intelligence Agency.
Museveni’s government hopes that should the narrative that Bobi Wine, who was groomed up by ghetto lifestyle, is sponsoring and orchestrating violence then police and the military will have sound ground to equally apply violence and intimidation to possibly restrain the People Power network and curtail their efforts to recruit enmass.
This is why the NRM Chairman’s office is overseeing training of a militia group whose leader, Lwanga Charles alias Master Lee, is a professional boxer.
The group currently undergoing training at Nakivubo blue primary school in Kampala 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.
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.
The alternative to the ballot box is usually a revolution. Dr. Kizza Besigye, who has four times competed against Museveni since 2001, has long argued that elections are useful only to manufacture a crisis.
And the People Power leaders are less openly cynical, but they are not naive. Bobi Wine’s elder brother Nyanzi, a longtime council chairman in the Kamwokya ghetto, is organizing traders and boda-boda motorbike riders and taxi drivers for possible post-election protests. “These are the people who are going to vigilantly help us cause this revolution. That’s why you see us with the boda-bodas, the oppressed,” he is quoted saying by the international media.
The Forum for the Democratic Change (FDC), under which platform Dr Besigye has contest for presidency, has also put Museveni’s government on notice that they would pursue “Plan B” that entails defiance tactics during the 2021 elections should NRM continue to antagonize the political climate.
The FDC president, Patrick Oboi Amuriat, who is also contesting against President Museveni, has said his party will not complain, but ‘act’, if the 2021 general elections are rigged.
Amuriat says his political group believes that the Electoral Commission (EC) is biased and they will not seek help from courts of law as they have done in the past.
“We are alive to the fact that EC is partisan. We don’t care. We are going to be in the polling stations to collect the DR forms and tally the results and show the public, and then we know what to do. What will be different this time is that we will not complain but act, this is not a threat,” he said.
In a similar tone, former Security Minister Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde, another presidential contender, has been appealing to masses to “own the liberation cause.” Tumukunde believes that huge losses suffered by Museveni’s Ministers during the NRM internal elections to determine flag-bearers is an indication that “Museveni is at his weakest.”
Many in the Opposition believe that no one would fairly beat Museveni in elections because the President directly oversees activities of the Electoral Commission and the armed forces, which he single-handedly controls and keenly manages.
It is for this reason that some Opposition figures and critics like Charles Rwomushana, a former intelligence officer in State House and political commentator, are mooting the idea of a popular uprising should Museveni rig the election.
It is these statements that have caused anxiety amongst the armed forces and are therefore likely to trigger clashes between the ruling NRM government and the Opposition
However, the state is deploying a familiar mix of coercion and co-option to neutralize the Opposition.
In January this year, Bob Wine tried to hold consultation meetings with voters; police arrested him and his supporters in a cloud of tear gas. In the following months, his People Power movement accused the state of killing two of its supporters, as well as detaining, beating and allegedly torturing Francis Zaake, an independent lawmaker and the leader of People Power’s youth wing.
Recently, police and the military raided Bobi Wine’s political party offices, the National Unity Platform, in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb and 130 supporters, were arrested and charged for donning the red beret attire, which security claims is similar to their own and illegal to wear.
Army Spokesperson, Brig Flavia Byekwaso, said they had got information indicating that “political young groups had started a militia life behavior by forming brigades,” which is why police and military raided Bobi Wine’s offices and confiscated numerous red attires.
Red emerged as the color of political resistance in Uganda in 2017, when parliament introduced a measure to scrap a clause in the constitution requiring presidential candidates to be under the age of 75.
The amendment aimed to allow the president, Yoweri Museveni, then 73, to run for office again in 2021. Protests spread across the country, under the rallying cry of “Togikwatako!” or “Don’t touch it!” in Luganda—“it” being the constitution. Opposition lawmakers wore red ribbons of protest to parliament, where they sang the national anthem to prevent the motion from being considered.
The next day, they were dragged out of the chamber by soldiers from an elite presidential guard. As soon as they were gone, Museveni’s supporters in parliament rushed to pass the motion, and a subsequent amendment bill, which was enacted in early 2018.
One of the defiant parliamentarians was Bobi Wine, who had won his seat in a by-election just a few months before.
A few days later after his offices were raided by the military Bobi Wine reported sighting drones in the night above his home in Magere, Kampala possibly on a surveillance mission. Police denied knowledge of the drones.
Analysts suggest that this is part of Museveni’s wider campaign to demoralize and disorient Bobi Wine, who has been arrested, prosecuted and tortured several times, just like Besigye, who has been arrested more than 1000 times.
More recently there were deliberate legal maneuvers to block Bobi Wine from appearing on the ballot paper. His age, academic qualifications and legal existence of his new political party, the National Unity Platform, have all been contested in court but to no avail.
Political scientists consider Uganda a “hybrid regime,” combining an authoritarian, militarized state with the trappings of democracy. At the top, Museveni’s power is unshakeable, but in local arenas, elections are fiercely fought. As a result, opposition politicians take on a hybrid role of their own, seeking to contest elections even as they denounce the system as crooked.
However, the 2021 elections appear to be driving the country into new untested waters. The NRM government has been accused by the Opposition of selectively enforcing the Covid-19 guidelines in favour of the ruling party.
During the NRM internal elections to choose flag bearers most of the contestants did not observe the Covid-19 standard operating procedures that include social distancing, sanitizing and dressing masks. But every time Opposition aspirants tried to meet with some of their supporters in limited numbers as per the Covid-19 guidelines they were arrested whether they observed the SOPs or not.
The 2021 elections have been declared Uganda’s first scientific election. This means that ideally candidates for political office are expected to exploit new online media avenues to reach their potential voters. The candidates can also use radios and televisions, which are the most widely disseminated media, far beyond the internet in Uganda.
Unfortunately, political candidates like Bobi Wine have been blocked at every turn from appearing on radio shows to argue their case. It reached such an extent that police was asking radio and television stations to submit requests to them and the Uganda Communications Commission for permission to host politicians on their shows.
Lately, police has instructed broadcast media to stop hosting political guests donning red berets.
Opposition politicians returning from appearances on radio shows have sometimes found themselves held in police cells for days before being released with no charges.
In addition, a number of posters of presidential and parliamentary aspirants belonging to Bobi Wine’s political party have been pulled down and confiscated by police in the past few weeks on claims that they were blocking visibility.
The mass violence in NRM internal elections that recently left more than half a dozen dead have also mentally prepared the Opposition and given an indication on the nature of campaigns and elections to expect.
Bobi Wine has in the past come face to face with death at the hands of the state. In August 2018, Museveni, Besigye and Bobi Wine were all in Arua, the largest town in northwestern Uganda, to rally support for their respective candidates in a by-election.
Bobi Wine was campaigning for an opposition candidate when his driver Yasin Kawuma was shot dead in their vehicle on August 13, 2018. Observers claim that Bobi Wine was the target.
But all this has not deterred the 37-year-old from proceeding with his ambitions. “We know that Museveni is planning to rig the election, he has done it in the past … But we are banking on overwhelming him because a vote can easily be rigged if it’s not overwhelming,” says Bobi Wine.
He adds: “And ultimately, if President Museveni tries to rig the election … the people of Uganda will rise up and they will stop it … They are tired of this operation and they are tired and they will not take it any longer.”
“This is a national cause, this is a generational cause. What we want is to take power back to the people,” Bobi Wine is quoted in an interview with foreign media.
In the eyes of its supporters, People Power is a revolutionary cause fueled by a new generation of Ugandans who are ready to remake their country.
The Movement looks like a generational revolt. Many older people fear a return to the turmoil that preceded Museveni’s rule—but nearly 80 percent of Ugandans are under the age of 30, and are too young to remember the traumas of the past. The group is a microcosm of a country ruled by old men, where 700,000 people reach working age every year, and struggle to find jobs. Bobi Wine, who is 37 years younger than Museveni, seems to provide an alternative.
According to the researchers violence will be due to lack of political reforms, formation of new political parties, failure to find solutions to previous causes of electoral violence, oppression of the opposition, political intolerance, banning opposition politicians from radios and dispersing political rallies among others.
Alice Alaso, the interim secretary general of the Alliance for National Transformation political party, says government holds the key to peaceful elections.
“How do you even talk about peaceful elections when the government is forming Local Defense Units (LDUs), a new outfit to replace crime preventers? Who knows their command structure, who knows their terms of reference; why are they coming now and not when women were being killed in Entebbe?” says Alaso.
Pundits also claim that Mr Museveni and the NRM could employ indirect bribery to sway away Bobi Wine’s support base just like in 2011, when NRM election spending broke all records and fed into a post-election surge in inflation rates.
Already, key social media bloggers that sold Bobi Wine to the young voters via internet and fellow entertainers including musicians have since defected to the ruling government after meeting Mr Museveni for a “handshake.” They have all admitted that they have received “something” for their defection.
These defections in the entertainment and media industries are mostly being handled by Balaam Barugahare, a music promoter and Capt Mike Mukula, a regional vice-chairman of the NRM, has been courting Opposition activists all over the country wooing them to join the NRM. Mukula says he welcomes several defectors a day. The two reportedly splash a lot of money to entice and motivate the defectors.
But the ruling party is also staking a lot of money to facilitate mobilization for President Museveni’s candidacy. Even before nomination of Presidential candidates, it is estimated that NRM has spent over 100 billion shillings to buy 70,000 bicycles for NRM village chairpersons; paying nomination fees for their flag-bearers and printing posters for them. The ruling party is also procuring vehicles for the NRM district chairpersons.
Critics fear that the six trillion supplementary budget recently requested by government is intended to compromise the electorate to boost Museveni’s support.
“It may not be for buying voters but for influencing voters. Why ask a supplementary budget three and a half months into the new budget cycle?” Dr. Ndebesa Mwambutsya, a Makerere University lecturer, said in an interview with the local media.
His colleague, Dr Nixon Kamukama, also an academic, said he observed massive use of money in the NRM primaries to bribe voters and bribe election returning officials.
Kamukama, who was contracted to coordinate the ruling party elections, said for special interest groups, candidates hired hotels for members of the electoral colleges where they fed and paid them to deny opponents access to them until polling day.
Research findings by Alliance for Finance Monitoring show that Ugandans seeking to win Parliamentary seats in the 2021 general elections will have to spend between 500 million to a billion shillings. The figures are exclusive of what candidates will spend on party primaries.
In the last presidential elections, President Museveni is estimated to have spent a minimum of $231m (Shs773b) to secure a fifth elective term in office, according to the Alliance for Finance Monitoring. The researchers say 2.4 trillion shillings was spent by political parties and candidates that contested in the presidential and parliamentary elections.
The Executive Director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, Cissy Kagaba, has predicted that during the 2021 general election, the country would witness digitized ways of vote-buying.