Fears of war as polls draw closer

Saturday December 19 2009
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Solders and policemen at Nateente police station that was burnt during the September riots in Kampala.

KAMPALA: Growing fears of armed conflict in the wake of a disputed 2011 election result yesterday prompted a senior diplomat to call for calm even as Opposition politicians said the government was planning a violent campaign. The diplomat noted that there has been a “ratcheting up of the rhetoric” in the last few days which fact does not bode well for the country.

Coming just months after the September 10-12 violence in which dozens died just how smooth the next election shall be is attracting the attention of political actors many of whom believe things could get out of control.
“It’s important to cool down. The election is still 14 months away,” said Ambassador Vincent De Visscher, the head of the European Delegation in Uganda yesterday.

Mr De Visscher was responding to comments attributed to Makindye West MP Hussein Kyanjo that Buganda could resort to armed violence if the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) government fails to abide by the rules of democratic process.

The comments were lifted from an address by Mr Kyanjo who also handles the security and human rights docket in the Shadow Cabinet while addressing the Buganda Conference on Thursday. “I am going to seek a meeting with my fellow ambassadors to see how we can appeal for calm,” Mr De Vischer said, adding that the verbal language being used by politicians has to be controlled.

Studying comments
Also yesterday, NRM Chief Whip Daudi Migereko said Mr Kyanjo’s comments were being studied and that the government would be coming out with a substantive response of how the full import of the MP’s assertions have been understood. Mr Migereko rejected growing concern within Opposition ranks that the NRM was creating an environment that could spawn violence through the active recruitment of a militia force for deployment in the election.

This militia, trained under officially sanctioned military and patriotism courses, according to the Opposition are in fact a parallel political army whose purpose they say is to intimidate and beat up supporters of other political parties.

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In several interviews including with donor sources Sunday Monitor has confirmed that there are serious concerns about the militarisation of Ugandan society ahead of the next elections. In particular, are the military training course tailored for village level officials allied to the NRM and the issuing of military fatigues and guns to them.

Some Opposition officials observe that NRM cadres have taken to turning up in military uniform at occasions where they want to project force. “We have vowed to lose if there is any violence,” said Mr Migereko who added that the training courses are meant to equip NRM supporters to “guide” other citizens on issues like civic consciousness and the election.

“Our objective is to address unemployment and household incomes. Issues of self defence are a by-the-way,” Mr Migereko insisted when asked how training in gun-handling would enable the scores of young graduates of this programme improve their social and economic welfare.
On December 12, President Yoweri Museveni was chief guest at the passing out of 2,400 “election watchers” at Kololo Airstrip.

The graduates were pictured re-assembling AK47 assault rifles and doing an army style march past. The President has been criticised by the Opposition for engaging in political indoctrination programmes and recruitment of party supporters in a countrywide tour that was dressed up in patriotism lectures within schools.

Military training
Mr Wafula Oguttu, the publicist for FDC in an earlier interview said his party had decided not to respond in kind to the military training. “We prefer dialogue but we are compiling a list of people who will be personally held responsible for planning or instigating violence,” he said.

Earlier on Wednesday former UN Under-Secretary General Olara Otunnu, who has presidential ambitions, warned that local perpetrators of violence would be prosecuted abroad. Evoking thoughts of the ongoing trial of Liberia’s former leader Charles Taylor at The Hague he said: “We are going to allow neither the army commanders and the intelligence nor Museveni himself to intimidate or victimise any member of the Opposition for refusing to support NRM.”

Opposition parties, who signed a protocol to work together last week, are however in talks with the NRM on poll electoral standards. The dialogues, with the support of donors, is intended to build confidence and open channels to deal collegially with issues such as the role of security services during elections.

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