Sunday March 20 2016

Besigye home detention like colonialism’s ‘internal exile’

By Bernard Tabaire

I suspect Dr Kizza Besigye loves his Kasangati home, just north of the city of Kampala. Trouble is that for the last several weeks his free will has not been a part of the equation. That situation must make the man think of his home now as a prison. I am not sure many people like, let alone enjoy, prison.

Therefore, in barricading the former FDC flag bearer for president of Uganda in his home, limiting who he can or cannot see, making him look at his home differently, President Museveni and his security forces are playing a mean psychological game on Dr Besigye. It’s not funny because we are seeing, yet again, a shameless exercise of political power.

If his lawyers get their way and the four-time presidential challenger is freed this weekend, Dr Besigye will have spent a month forcibly confined to his home by the police and other State security agencies.
And for what? The security services say if he leaves his home, according to their intelligence, Dr Besigye will cause trouble in the city and beyond.

Maybe we have reached a point where the security services should call Dr Besigye’s bluff. They should let him be and see what he does.

They should test the intelligence information they have. If actually the man leads supporters into the Electoral Commission head offices or marches to State House, Nakasero, they could then arrest him. As is, the security services come off as highhanded enforcers of President Museveni’s whims. Which they are.

Apparently, Dr Besigye can feel cheated in a presidential election and yet he cannot loudly complain about it the best way he knows how. For even expressing the thought, the man gets put away in an unlicenced place and without any charge for weeks. And he gets his private property forcibly occupied by State security.

Truly exercised power
It shall be said in time that Mr Museveni truly exercised power.

While the colonialists sent protesting natives like the future president Godfrey Binaisa into internal exile (if you were big enough like Kabaka Mwanga or Omukama Kabalega you tasted external exile to places like the Seychelles), Mr Museveni now keeps similar types exiled in their own compounds.

It helps when you have a large and leafy compound. It is striking how far unfair use of power runs in modern Uganda.

Red-hot challengers of the ruling elite have always been literally treated as traitors not deserving of mercy.

I can’t see how Dr Besigye will fail to win a case against the government for unlawful imprisonment. I hope the coming trial will get the security agencies to defend their intelligence.
What is happening to Dr Besigye cannot be good news for leaders like Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago. We now have a new template to deal with the pesky political types.

I may turn out mistaken, but I see Mr Lukwago replaying the script from his previous (unfinished) term, turning run-ins with KCCA minister Frank Tumwebaze and executive director Jennifer Musisi into regular street protests.

For that, the security services will simply confine him to his home. Things could stay that way for a long time. Remember even court orders to vacate private premises can be ignored. Ask Daily Monitor what happened to it in 2013.

Back to Dr Besigye. He could remain barricaded in his home until the Supreme Court rules on the petition that former candidate Amama Mbabazi filed challenging the re-election of President Museveni. That ruling comes at the end of March or thereabouts.
If it goes Mr Museveni’s way it will give him the legitimacy he wants, and he will therefore order Dr Besigye’s release and promptly taunt him about how he has no reason to protest the conduct and outcome of the presidential election. If he carried on with a protest, I could see Luzira Max calling.

If the Supreme Court rules against President Museveni, well…

Mr Tabaire is the co-founder and director of programmes at African Centre for Media Excellence in Kampala.