President Museveni this week issued a statement on “Election Rigging in Uganda, 1961-2014”.
He recounted, in detail, rigging in the 1961 and 1962 elections, outlined improvements since, and then, clearly upset by the NRM’s loss in the Luweero Woman MP by-election and others before it, bemoaned what he claimed was rigging by the Opposition.
“We are back to 1961, 1962, 1980,” the President lamented, “…elements from the Opposition, totally lacking in ideology or mission other than thirst for power and money, engage in rigging where the NRM vigilance goes down.”
Mr Museveni’s statement is remarkable, not for the claims it makes, but for the author’s ability to recall electoral fraud from 50 years ago, when he was neither a voter nor a candidate, while ignoring or forgetting the rigging in the four elections since 1996 where he was a candidate and a beneficiary.
Without getting into any detail, a few examples:
Mr Museveni says the late Eriya Kategaya voted, not once, but eight times in the 1961/62 elections despite being under-age.
In 1996, school children in many parts of the country, but particularly in western Uganda, were bussed to polling stations, given as many ballot papers as they wanted, and asked to vote in favour of candidate Museveni.
In 2001, officers from Mr Museveni’s own Presidential Guard Brigade under the command of Captain Ndahura stormed Rukungiri and beat up, harassed, and fired upon supporters of his rival, Kizza Besigye.
Similarly, thugs attached to Major Kakooza Mutale’s Kalangala Action Plan traversed the country in their notorious Yellow Bus beating up and intimidating Opposition supporters. Judges who considered annulling the election received intimidating telephone calls from people who must be known to Mr Museveni.
This newspaper would later tell the story of one man, part of a larger group, who was put up in a safe house in Kampala and pre-ticked so many ballot papers in favour of the incumbent, that he developed tennis elbow. Needless to say, those ballots went into cementing the result of that election.
In 2006, Museveni’s main rival, Besigye, spent 50 days in jail while the incumbent campaigned, on trumped-up charges that, court later learnt, had been concocted in State House. Widespread intimidation continued across the country.
A security operative who shot and killed Opposition supporters in broad daylight remained free for three years until this newspaper led a campaign to bring him to justice.
When he finally had his day in court, he was represented – unsuccessfully thank heavens! – by one of the most expensive lawyers in town, suggesting his legal bills were being taken care of by friends in high places.
Of course Mr Museveni would not even have been on the ballot in 2006 if MPs had not been bribed with Shs5 million each to lift presidential term limits from the Constitution.
In 2011, bribes replaced bullets as sacks of money were given out to poor peasants to buy their votes and retain the incumbent. The resulting inflation was the worst in 20 years.
Against this backdrop, it is rather rich of Mr Museveni to preach to Ugandans about electoral fraud. The President says he has been “insisting on computerised voting for almost 20 years – especially the use of electronically read thumb-print”.
Perhaps he should share with Ugandans the whereabouts of the Shs250 billion contract he offered the German firm, Mülhbauer, at State House Entebbe in March 2010?
Most remarkably, Mr Museveni’s essay is quiet on the 1980 election whose rigging was the raison d’être for the NRA rebellion. It is ironic; a regime born out of the need to defend the democratic right of the people has, over the years, usurped that right and now depends on bribery and electoral fraud to stay in power.
Now that is something Mr Museveni should write about!
Mr Kalinaki is a Ugandan journalist based in Nairobi. firstname.lastname@example.org