Kampala. The UK minister of State for Africa, Mr Harriett Baldwin, on Tuesday evening said adherence to democracy and democratic processes such as rule of law and strong institutions are at the core of their development agenda in Uganda and they continue to engage government on the matter.
Responding to concerns raised by UK MPs while debating a motion on democratic deficiency in Uganda in the Westminster Hall — 2nd chamber of the House of Commons, Ms Baldwin described Uganda as “long term friend whose success matters a lot to the United Kingdom”.
“Our strong, genuine friendship and partnership enables us to develop a wide range of mutual interests and to speak frankly to each other about issues of mutual concern, whether in a bilateral context or in the Commonwealth,” Ms Baldwin said.
However, she added: “As a sovereign, democratic nation, Uganda’s political and economic choices are matters for the [Ugandan] government and people.”
The Tuesday debate followed a motion moved by Stockton South Constituency, Paul Williams.
During the debate, the MPs denounced the continued harassment of Opposition figures in Uganda, and the lack of a same-level playing field, the 2016 Kasese massacre, the high levels of corruption, and the UK government’s continued support to the Ugandan government despite its continuous ills.
Ms Baldwin, however, defended that they continue to engage with the Ugandan government on any of the shortfalls. On the November 2016 Kasese crisis, she said the UK and its European Union (EU) partners have continued to raise concern, including with President Museveni last October during dialogue on Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement, over the lack of progress on the investigation.
On November 27, 2016 security forces killed more than 100 people during the assault on the Rwenzururu Kingdom palace outside Kasese Town. The government has since been promising to launch investigation into the matter and bring the errant security officers to book but in vain.
Some of the MPs who contributed to the debate on Tuesday criticised Uganda’s governance system except for John Howell of Henley constituency who sought to know why Britain meddled in Uganda’s affairs.
Below is what some of the MPs said on the floor
Dr Paul Williams
Many Ugandan opposition politicians have struggled bravely to use the democratic process to win power. I do not have time to mention them all, but I will draw attention to two such people. Kizza Besigye has stood for President on four occasions. He has been arrested, beaten and harassed so many times that he has lost count. I also want to mention Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine. He is a young, charismatic musician with a large popular following; Bobi has been the target of totally undemocratic behaviour.
Why are all such attacks on democracy important? They are important for the Ugandan people, the people who might one day want to see a different government in their country. They have no hope of ever seeing a different government if this one undermines democracy to cling on to power. The attacks are also important because of international standards and accountability. The attacks are also important because they undermine the ability of the UK and the Ugandan people to work together on shared goals.
Ms Pauline Latham (Conservative)
I find the lack of democracy disturbing. The President and his troupe, so to speak, are making sure that they win the elections, which I do not believe are free and fair. As the Hon Member for Stockton South said, they go out and pay villagers to vote for them. I know that that happens. When we send observers for the election, the deals have already been done. The people feel intimidated and that they must vote for Museveni and his MPs.
David Linden (Scottish National Party)
I visited Uganda as part of a Westminster Foundation for Democracy trip in February last year, facilitating training for young candidates. It was there that I observed a number of things that gave me concern about the situation for democracy in Uganda.
One of my first observations on going to observe proceedings in the Parliament was that the military has seats in the Parliament. I was shocked and horrified when I saw someone in military uniform speaking at the Dispatch Box. I cannot possibly imagine having military in the House of Commons. I think it sends a very deep signal.
Alex Sobel (Labour)
The Ugandan people have long suffered from tyrants who have committed crimes against their own people. The name Idi Amin will live long in infamy. The rule of Milton Obote was also mired in human rights abuses, with Amnesty International estimating that the regime had been responsible for more than 300,000 civilian deaths across Uganda. After Obote, Museveni became President in 1986.
The minister for International Cooperation, Mr Okello Oryem, yesterday Uganda has no apologies to the UK government.
“Dr [Paul] Williams is continuing with his ancestors’, grandparents’ agenda of destabilising a peaceful country. Uganda’s history has been jaggered because of the likes of the Williams. It was his ancestors who robbed Uganda of its minerals.
As if not enough, his grandfathers chose to bring Idi Amin to destabilise a democratically elected [Milton] Obote who had chosen a socialist stance rather than capitalism. And the implications are still in Uganda up to today,” he said.
He said after 30 years of stability and prosperity, the agenda to destabilise is back on course.
“It is funny at this particular moment when chaos and turmoil engulf the Democratic Republic of Congo, commotion in South Sudan, a coup attempt in Gabon and Bashir struggling in Sudan, then Williams chooses Uganda,” Mr Oryem said.
“We won’t apologise to anybody, we won’t apologise to British government,” he said.
He said Uganda has measures in place to strengthen democracy and boost institutions and that the issue of alleged torture of MPs is in Parliament and courts of law.
The Media Centre executive director, Mr Ofwono Opondo, chose to refer to the UK MPs who attended Tuesday’s session on Uganda as lacking work to do.
“Those MPs in Commons were redundant, the reason very few actually turned up. The UK has Brexit which is more relevant and thorny for them to handle, and they are failing. In any case, Uganda is no longer their colony to take directives. Let’s see how that debate influences Uganda’s domestic politics in the next two years,” Mr Ofwono said.
By James Kabengwa