Go-Forward presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi has accused the army of working with police recruits known as crime preventers to alter the national voters’ register.
Addressing the media in Kotido, the former prime minister said it’s disappointing that the injustices for which the 1981-86 liberation war was waged, are manifesting again.
“I have said it before; one of the other thing, I will say it again, unfortunately, is the usage of crime preventers in managing the voters’ register. They have a register in every village and have been going around trying to ascertain those who are there and who are not,” Mr Mbabazi said.
“Who is controlling all this? Is it not the Electoral Commission (EC)? It is also happening with the political commissariat of the UPDF. They have been given a register and are going around with it quietly as the crime preventers; it is being stealthily done,” he added. Mr Mbabazi made the remarks after he had been blocked from appearing on a scheduled radio talk show on Voice of Karamoja.
The UPDF chief political commissar under whose docket the political commissariat falls, dismissed Mbabazi’s allegations. “I’m shocked that a person of Mbabazi’s experience can make such a statement. The national voters’ register is public document which can be accessed by whoever wants. There is no way UPDF can start making changes to the register,” he said.
President Museveni waged a guerilla war ostensibly because the 1980 election had been rigged. Mr Mbabazi, a former ally of President Museveni until the fallout in 2014, insisted that the circumstances notwithstanding, he will stick to his message of “tolerance” as a democrat.
The claim comes against background of numerous complaints other Opposition leaders in Parliament have made that crime preventers were blacklisting known Opposition supporters per village. The addition of the army on the list of the alleged malpractice comes barely five months after the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) warned serving soldiers not to meddle in political campaigns for the 2016 general election.
In his warning, Gen Katumba Wamala asked all UPDF soldiers to strictly adhere to the existing laws governing the army. “The CDF has cautioned the officers not to dare engage in politics at all and anybody who breaks the law will be dealt with because this is an order,” Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, the UPDF Spokesperson, said on August 8.
On the recent claim by Mr Mbabazi, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda said: “Let him provide proof. UPDF soldiers are voters like all other Ugandans. Working with EC, we made sure they were registered. Organising the register is the work of EC, not the commissariat.”
Mr Mbabazi, who was blocked from attending a radio talk show that had been scheduled to take place from 8.30-10pm on Tuesday, said: “The ground is clearly not levelled because one side is using state machinery mainly to intimidate competition. I cannot believe that Uganda under NRM can drop to this level. I hope they will start listening to reason and stop all this,” Mr Mbabazi appealed.
The former prime minister said, for example, Mr Museveni had his field day in Karamoja sub-region and was not interrupted by any other candidate. “In my constituency where he is campaigning today (Wednesday) ay), I have it on good authority they distributed soap and sugar to people to attend his rally. Did anyone stop them?”
In Kotido, a district with only one secondary school and one functioning health centre 111, Mbabazi did not suffer much setbacks as experienced in neighbouring Kaabong. However, preparations for his two rallies were not short of local authorities trying to interfere.
A Land cruiser van pasted with NRM posters as early as 8am could be seen rallying people and giving out yellow T-shirts bearing Mr Museveni’s face to counter Mbabazi’s supporters as police officers looked on. The town was thrown in panic for about two hours after Police deployed heavily but did not help much until a handful of UPDF military officers showed up and the NRM group stopped its activities and disappeared.
Addressing his first Kotido rally at Kanakwat market, Mbabazi decried the drought in the area and criticised little government intervention. The nomadic pastoralists explained to him the difficulties of having to share the little water available for both their cattle and household use.
Through the interpretation of former ESO director general David Pulkol, Mbabazi, promised to build hospitals, schools and also revive cooperative societies through which the Karamajong can benefit from their cattle trade.
“Many of you might wonder that I have been in government for 30 years but what new change am I going to cause. Do not forget that I have never been president to have power to cause certain things to happen,” he said. “When you vote for me as your next president, construction of the first modern hospital will start in the first month.”
He later drove to the main trading centre where he addressed a mini-rally, emphasising his message of “time for change is now or your lives will never be changed.”
Also unlike in Kaabong where his rallies were openly frustrated, Mbabazi received warm reception in Kotido. 56-year-old Jackson Oula, when asked what he made of Mbabazi’s message said: “President Museveni has lied to us for 30 years but he never fulfils any of what he pledges so I think whether it is Mbabazi or whoever, this country needs change.”
Mbabazi later drove to Abim District for a main rally at Abim Primary School but made several stopovers in the villages of Alerek, Morulem and Nyakwai. Here he preached his proposed sub-county model which he said would bring required service delivery closer to people.