Marking a month under house arrest, Opposition leader Kizza Besigye this week said he is mentally prepared to make the required sacrifice for the sake of Uganda’s liberation even as the government warned he will be kept out of public life for a long time.
In exclusive interviews with Sunday Monitor between Wednesday and Thursday, Dr Besigye observed that while there is a price to pay: “It is something I have been through many times and something that I am prepared for psychologically and emotionally.”
Since his freedom to come and go as he pleases was forcibly taken away by the State, it has been a testing 30 days which can be traced back to the evening of February 18 as election results began to trickle in.
On that evening, the Forum for Democratic Change’s presidential candidate arrived outside a house in the Kampala suburb of Naguru where he suspected pre-ticking of ballots and manipulation of results was underway.
As Dr Besigye demanded entrance into the building, police swung into action; grabbed and bundled him into a waiting omnibus which sped off to his Kasangati home. That would be the last day he would be a free man.
On each of the nine occasions he has tried to leave home since then, Dr Besigye has been roughed-up, arrested and held in different places around town -- often denied access to party officials and lawyers. Only his family was allowed very limited access to him each time.
Today, enforcing round-the-clock surveillance the police has thrown a cordon around his home in the Kasangati suburb of Wakiso District. Access is restricted.
Vehicles are strictly barred from entering the compound.
The neighbourhood is bristling with both uniformed and plain-clothed security people. Anyone lucky to be allowed in is first thoroughly checked and their particulars registered.
In the one month he has been locked away, Dr Besigye has been visited by members of the diplomatic corps; politicians and activists from the Women’s Situation Room which monitored last month’s elections. The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) has also visited and opened a file documenting his detention.
The US government has called for his immediate release, warning that continuing to detain Dr Besigye will affect Uganda’s relations with America which is one of the biggest development partners of the country.
Similarly, the European Union Parliament on Wednesday asked the Uganda government to release Dr Besigye immediately while international human rights organisations have spoken out against his situation.
A campaign to secure his freedom is underway with the FDC rallying public support under the slogan, ‘I can’t breathe’. The party has also started weekly prayer days as one of the ways to fight what FDC president, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, has repeatedly described as “injustice”.
A separate option through the High Court is also on.
Dr Besigye is seeking a court declaration that the siege at his residence is illegal; an order for the police to get off his property and the payment of damages for the inconvenience, mental anguish and injury to his dignity resulting from the actions of State organs which continue to violate a slew of his constitutional rights to liberty, protection from inhuman treatment, freedom of speech and movement, among others.
In the meantime, former presidential candidate, Maj Gen Benon Biraaro, who visited Dr Besigye during the first week when he was held virtually incommunicado, says the retired Colonel’s situation is “miserable.”
“It (the house arrest) is not good. I think Besigye has difficult choices. The defiance [campaign] is a double-edged [sword]. The government thinks that if it lets him out, there will be consequences which they would not like because he believes in the power of the people.
But if he remains in, it is miserable for him. It is an awkward situation for both the suppressor and the suppressed,” Maj Gen Biraaro told Sunday Monitor in an interview.
To unlock the impasse, Maj Gen Biraaro floated the idea of dialogue with the government which he says Dr Besigye “had issues which he has raised from time to time with some people but the key word was ‘yeah’- he is not against dialogue. But there must be a few things on the table.”