From denied access to campaign venues to being thrown out of radio talk shows during the campaign trail in various parts of the country, Opposition presidential candidates, civil society organisations and other democracy activists have questioned whether the security forces have taken over the electoral process from the Electoral Commission (EC) .
Security forces seem to have edged out the EC from managing the electoral process to the extent that they determine whether a presidential candidate should appear on a radio talk show or campaign in a particular area.
From the second day of nominations when security forces raided both Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party offices at Najjanankumbi in Kampala and dragged the party presidential flagbearer, Mr Patrick Amuriat Oboi, to nominations barefooted and later pulled his National Unit Platform counterpart Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, from his vehicle shortly after nomination to stop him from launching his manifesto, the security forces have never looked back. They have seemingly continued blocking Opposition candidates from accessing the electorate.
The campaign trail has been characterised by violence that included the arrest of Amuriat and Kyagulanyi. Mr Kyagulanyi’s arrest last week triggered spontaneous protests in the capital Kampala and upcountry towns, leaving at least 50 killed as security forces battled the protesters.
Mr Kyagulanyi was blocked again yesterday from proceeding to Buliisa District amid gunshots and teargas. A day earlier, he had been forcibly removed from Spice FM studios in Hoima at the instigation of security agencies, few minutes after going on air. At Masindi District where he was also expected to address people yesterday, he was blocked by security forces from accessing the campaign venue.
On Tuesday, his FDC counterpart Mr Amuriat was blocked by security personnel from campaigning in the districts of Kiryandongo and Masindi. Previously, a transmitter of a radio station in Agago District was switched off by the district police commander as Mr Amuriat was in the studios to address the electorate. He spent about 30 minutes speaking before he was informed that the radio had long been switched off air.
Other candidates who have also been blocked on the campaign trail include Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde, Mr Joseph Kabuleta, and Mr John Katumba, all tasting the security forces’ wrath.
“Yesterday (Wednesday), we booked and paid to appear on Spice FM radio station in Hoima District. As soon as we got to the station this morning and started introducing ourselves, the police and military cordoned off the building and forcibly ejected us out of the radio station. We asked why they were doing this, and their answer was “orders from above”. So far, we have been blocked from addressing Ugandans on thirteen radio stations across the country. Mr Simon Byabakama and the Electoral Commission must tell us what the meaning of a digital campaign is, when we are not allowed on radio stations,” Mr Kyagulanyi said shortly after being ejected from the studios.
He has so far missed campaigns in 17 districts including Kitgum, Sironko, Bugiri, Mpigi, Masaka, Kalungu, and Lyantonde after being blocked by police and other security agencies. Other districts where he has also missed campaigns are Luuka, Mbarara, Buyende, Kamuli, Isingiro, Ntungamo, Rukungiri, Kiruhura, and Kibaale, among others.
For Amuriat, he has clashed with security forces in almost all the districts he has visited. He missed campaigns in Lira City, Gulu City, Amuru Town Council, Moyo, Obongi, Masindi, Kiryandongo, and Agago North.
The blocking of candidates has been in form of diverting them to impassable rural roads where their vehicles can hardly pass to reach the campaign venue and outright shooting using tear gas and live bullets at the Opposition candidates and their supporters to deny them access to each other.
The EC, which is charged with the management of the electoral process, seems helpless about the security forces as the latter threaten to derail the poll process.
Yesterday, members of the Inter Religious Council of Uganda, led by the Church of Uganda Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba met the EC to answer to inquire why security forces have continued to act with impunity and blocked Opposition candidates from campaigning. Dr Kiziimba said they are concerned that some candidates are denied access to both the campaign venues and radio stations where they should have campaigned digitally to minimise physical interaction with the masses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The prelate also said while the initial guideline was that only 200 people should be allowed at a rally, the figures should depend on the size of the venue.
“We propose that the size of the venue should determine the numbers of people to be admitted for rallies, but not only 200 people as indicated in the guidelines. We also propose that the Electoral Commission together with the Uganda Communications Commission should procure airtime on all radio stations and distribute it equally to all the candidates so that they can reach out to the voters across the country,” Dr Kaziimba said yesterday.
The Electoral Commission yesterday insisted they have not lost control over the electoral process to the security forces. Justice Simon Byabakama, the EC chairperson, said they are aware of what is happening on the campaign trail and have sought answers from police on to why the latter have continued to block Opposition candidates from campaign venues and radio stations.
“We are still in charge of the electoral process and you will recall that the exercise did not start today, we have done a lot of things from preparing the paper works to nominations and the process is still ongoing…,” he said.
Justice Byabakama said they had discussed the issue of candidates being blocked from accessing the venues with the members of Inter Religious Council of Uganda.
In a letter the EC wrote to the IGP yesterday, a copy of which this newspaper has seen, the Commission has urged the IGP to ensure police facilitate smooth running of the campaigns. However, the EC did not write to the army who have also actively participated in the blocking of Opposition supporters alongside police.
Justice Byabakama blamed voters for challenging security forces in times of danger, urging that Ugandans must learn to obey commands and maybe use legal redress where they feel aggrieved. “If the security says don’t do this, why don’t you comply? Why don’t you wait and challenge that decision in the courts of law ..?” he wondered.
On the issue of whether candidates who missed some districts will be allowed to go back to those places and campaign, Justice Byabakama said the Commission has no objection to that.
“If a candidate fails to go to a particular place, we don’t bar him or her from going back so long as no any other candidate books on that particular day. The issue is will time allow them,” he said.
By press time yesterday, we could not obtain responses from the police and the army on why they have continued to block Opposition candidates and their supporters while the NRM supporters hold processions unhindered. Both the police and the army spokespersons did not answer our repeated calls. Security minister, Gen Elly Tumwine too did not respond to our calls.
EU weighs in
The European Union delegation to Uganda also added their voice on the religious leaders’ call for a level ground in the election campaigns. They castigated the violence by security forces in the last one week and asked government to take full responsibility for the safety and security of Ugandans including the candidates. “We offer our sincere condolences to the families of the victims, who reportedly include innocent bystanders,” the EU delegation said in a statement and asked for an inquiry into the killings of civilians last week following public protests after the arrest of Mr Kyagulanyi