When the police impounded thousands of calendars at the Mutukula border post a few days ago, it was a reaction typical of the siege mentality haunting Uganda’s security community.
There is an unhealthy suspicion of anything which carries the merest whiff of anti-establishmentarianism today. This slip into total control was accelerated when the chief of police was declared a true ruling party cadre last year -- a double-edged accolade from the President inspired by the police’s crack-down on legitimate peaceful protest.
This week, the head of the army reminded the nation that his troops are ready to help in dealing with the Activists for Change whose political rallies are now considered a clear and present danger to the regime. That Uganda’s security finds that it cannot abide by the constitutional restraints which require them to be non-partisan makes a mockery of the President’s claim to 64 per cent of the 2011 ballot.
It is ironic that a leader who only 10 months ago revelled in a ‘landslide win’ is suddenly fighting the people.
Parliament is asserting its constitutional hegemony as the rightful eyes, ears and voice of the people. More attention is being called to the corruption which runs rife today as more Ugandans make the connection between constrained delivery of public goods and graft.
It probably explains why the calendars which carried the message of change (coincidentally the opposition’s rallying call) had to be impounded -- irrespective of whether that amounted to an attack on the universally recognised right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Instead of fixing the things which are breeding the regime’s unpopularity, this misconceived attack on a pillar of any democratic pursuit can only end in tears. Recent history proves that you cannot win by retreating into a totalitarian shell.
It is especially rash that Uganda has rejected a recommendation of the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism (UPRM) of the United Nations Human Rights Council as has been reported. The UN is supposed to assess the human rights situation of its respective member countries through the UPRM.
In October, Uganda was asked to allow a visit by the Special Rapporteur on promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression – another sign of international concern at the state of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association in this country – which has been indefensibly refused.