Questions that Among’s death threats raise

Speaker Anita Among says she is in possession of a dossier about threats to her life, marked by endless trailing of her motorcade. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Whereas the case of Speaker of Parliament Anita Among has taken centre stage, this is not the first time that a high ranking official has come out to say that their lives are in danger.

Police announced on Monday that their Special Investigations Division had commenced investigations into an alleged plot to assassinate Speaker of Parliament Anita Among.
“Our team of CID (Crime Investigations Department) experts from the Special Investigations Division in close coordination with other intelligence, investigative and operational teams from sister security agencies are investigating the extent of the threats and working with the Office of the Speaker to identify the source of the threats directed towards her,” police spokesperson Fred Enanga told the media.

The announcement followed the disclosure by Ms Among four days earlier that she had received credible reports that assassins were on her trail.
“I have got a report and I have only shared this with the Leader of Opposition [Mr Mathias Mpuuga] and now I can officially tell you [MPs in plenary]. I have got an assassination report… my car is still followed up now,” Ms Among told Parliament.

According to some, it was rather strange that Ms Among’s first point of call was not the Parliament police, Inspector General of Police, or the President, but the Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LOP), but not everyone thinks it is strange.
Prof Paul Wangoola, who was a member of the National Consultative Council (NCC), which served as Uganda’s Parliament after the overthrow of president Idi Amin, doubts that Ms Among would have cried wolf when there was no wolf on the prowl.
“Unless we do not trust her to be of sound mind, but a Speaker takes to the microphone and on camera and she states as she did that there is a threat, do you think the threat would be non-existent? It must be existent. Where there is smoke, as they say, there must be a fire,” Prof Wangoola argues.

The former Makerere University don adds that after all, “it is common that people say their lives are in danger and they actually end up dead”.
Prof Wangoola just might have a point. Former Buyende District Police Commander (DPC) Muhammad Kirumira, former Arua Municipality MP Ibrahim Abiriga, and former Allied Democratic Force (ADF) commander and Muslim cleric Muhammad Kiggundu, were all gunned down after they had told the public that their lives were in danger.

Ms Among is, however, not just any other person. She holds the third highest and presumably third most powerful office in the land. Her office has the capacity to mobilise swift and punitive action against those who issue threats.
Mr Museveni’s government prides itself in security. Whereas there have been some breaches, it surely would not allow a breach of a magnitude such as the assassination of a Speaker of Parliament. 
That would be a kick in Mr Museveni’s teeth. Those that are threatening the Speaker are, therefore, inviting the wrath and might of the nation’s security apparatus.

One would in the circumstances have to be either too powerful and highly connected or too angry and too frustrated to care about the consequences that would come with threatening to take out the Speaker.
Mr Patrick Wakida, the head of Research World International, a social research firm that has conducted several opinion polls in the run up to elections that Uganda has held since about 2010, declined to speak to the particular threat against Ms Among, but said prevailing conditions suggest that if any threat was made, it had to be have been made by a desperate person.

Mr Wakida believes that large sections of the population have been left bitter and frustrated because they feel excluded from the politics and economics. 
Many people in government, he says, use their authority to show others in business or politics that “they are nothing”, which has resulted in economic and political rivalries. The result has been an increase in the number of people who want to push back, he says.
“There are very many people in this government who are participating in both politics and business. They take advantage of their positions to gain unfair advantage over others. That creates discomfort among those that they are competing with and leaves a lot of bitterness,” he says.

Diminished space
Another school of thought argues that the threats such as have been made against Ms Among have been precipitated by the fact that space for democracy and free speech have been diminishing at a terrestrial pace even when Uganda under the NRM, claims to be a democracy.
The 2021 country report on human rights practices that was published by the US Department of State paints a picture of a nation that would have no place on a table of democrats.

The report says there are significant human rights issues, including credible reports of, among other things, “…threats of violence, and unjustified arrests or prosecution of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association..”

Police is always at hand to fire tear gas and brutally break up any form of protests even when they are peaceful. The last one that was broken up was earlier this month, when a group that had sought audience with Ms Among to protest the continued abuse of Ugandan domestic workers were denied audience with her and instead arrested by police.

Matters were not helped by the ban in 2009 of open-air talk-shows commonly known as “bimeeza” by the minister for Information then, Ms Kabakumba Matsiko. 
Bimeeza had been credited for having helped to improve the debating skills of members of the public, including legislators, increasing the level of political awareness and providing spaces where the citizens could vent.
“The spaces where people could go and vent their anger have been taken away. People could be finding their way of communicating the message that they want (by issuing threats),” Mr Wakida says.

Bigger problem?
Whereas the case of Ms Among has taken centre stage, this is not the first time that that a high ranking official has come out to say that their lives are in danger.
Last year, less than a month after she was sworn in as Prime Minister, Ms Robinah Nabbanja became the second highest ranking government official, after former vice president, Prof Gilbert Bukenya, to allude to the existence in Mr Museveni’s government of a mafia that would dare threaten her for posing a threat to their interests.
“They have started threatening [me] and my family. A man drove from Kampala to Kakumiro and when he reached there, he asked my brother ‘what does your sister want?” she told journalists at Parliament.

Ms Nabbanja had a few days before made the headlines when she rejected relief items, including beans, bed nets and blankets that had been purchased by the Office of the Prime Minister for distribution to people who had been rendered homeless when the River Nyamwamba burst its banks and flooded parts of Kasese District. 
Before Ms Nabbanja spilled the beans, two other ministers, Ms Evelyn Anite and Mr Frank Tumwebaze, had gone public about their fears. 
Ms Anite also alluded to a Mafia in government, while Mr Tumwebaze pointed in the general direction of unnamed rivals in government. Ms Among did not say who was threatening her or why. 

Police’s silence
Police have in all those cases announced that they would investigate the extent of the threats, but not once have they made their findings known. The public is, therefore, left wondering whether the politicians were not crying wolf when there had been no wolf in the vicinity.
Police spokesperson Fred Enanga will not say whether the Force had found the cries to be true and the threats neutralised. He says that reports from all previous investigations can be accessed, but on request.

This approach raises a few questions though. Why not go public with reports of their findings if the politicians in question had gone public about it? Why not go public given that the Force almost always makes public its decision to commence investigations into such alleged threats?
“Reports from such investigations are not something that we share anyhow because of the classified nature of the investigations and the profiles of the individuals involved,” Mr Enanga says.

Personalising official threats?
Mr Freddie David Egesa, a private investigator and security analyst with FDE Consult, will not be drawn into discussing the alleged threat against Ms Among, but insists that occupants of high offices should not be going public about the threats when they emerge. Threats, he says, come with the territory.
“Threats are normal and are associated with the office. Once you see anybody guarded, that person by virtue of his office is under threat. That is why there is a procedure that provides that once one assumes a certain level of office, they are supposed to be guarded. If you are the president of the country there are levels of threats that you should expect. It, therefore, becomes funny when people come out in public and tell us what is happening,” Mr Egesa argues.

Why then would a person who knows that offices come with the territory be the first person to cry wolf? 
Mr Egesa attributes it to inadequate preparation for the tasks and challenges associated with high offices.
“I think that people take up offices without prior orientation. We have not created a college or system of taking people through what they should expect or how things should be handled,” Mr Egesa says.
The result, Mr Egesa says, is that occupants of high offices interpret threats associated with their offices as threats to their persons, which makes them panic. He just might be right, but at what point does one draw the line between an official and personal threat? A tough one.

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