Raid on NUP: A security or political issue?

Police cordon off the entrance to NUP party offices in Kamwokya, Kampala, on Wednesday. PHOTOS/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI. 

What you need to know:

The raid
Police spokesperson Fred Enanga said the joint operation recovered 67 green belts, 233 red berets, 99 khaki overalls, 187 pips and badges, six rolls of belts, 11 pairs of navy blue warm suits and 102 red overalls.

In June and July 2018, a group of youthful men and women descended on Bugiri District in eastern Uganda. They wore red overalls, red berets and jungle boots.

They were led by Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, who had months earlier taken the political scene by storm and won the Kyadondo East MP seat. They were in Bugiri to campaign for Mr Asuman Basalirwa, the president of Jeema party, who eventually won the race to represent the people of Bugiri 
Municipality in Parliament for the first time. He had been seeking election to parliament since 2001. 

There appeared to be something unique with the ‘red army’ that had descended on Bugiri Municipality. They moved door-to-door, sweet-talking voters and serenading them with songs from Bobi Wine’s rich collection. Their manner of dress must have added a lot to their appeal. 

Bobi Wine has declared intention to challenge President Museveni in next year’s election. He has stayed away from doing too much explaining about how differently he intends to go about the mountain of a challenge he has set himself. Whenever he is pressed hard on how he will challenge Mr Museveni, Bobi Wine says he will use the ‘roba doba style’.

He has never explained what that means. In much of what he does, to thrill and bamboozle seems to be a big part of the game.   

Bobi Wine had used the same dress code and methods during his own campaign and he was only perfecting it in Bugiri Municipality. After Bugiri, he moved on to Arua Municipality, where, with his support, Mr Kassiano Wadri would eventually be elected to Parliament after a brutal skirmish. 

The mobilisation under the auspices of the People Power movement, and eventually the National Unity Platform (NUP) party, seemed to continue to gather pace. The red beret became a big distinguishing feature.  

Enter the army 

On Wednesday, a raid jointly executed by the army and the police was carried out on the NUP headquarters in Kamwokya, a suburb of Kampala. 
The raid, as the military and the police would later explain, was in enforcement of the September 18, 2019 gazette in which Defense Minister Adolf Mwesigye banned the red beret from being won by civilians because “it is a monopoly of the security agencies”. 

The gazette also carried more than 80 symbols that must not be donned by civilians lest such people would be prosecuted under the provisions of Section 160 of the UPDF Act, 2005.

Security operatives display some of the items they reportedly recovered from NUP offices in Kampala after the raid on Wednesday. PHOTO/NMG

NUP officials alleged that the army and the police who collected red clothes, some yellow attires supposedly handed in by people defecting from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and red berets, also made away with essential documents. 

The documents allegedly carried the more than seven million signatures reportedly endorsing Bobi Wine’s nomination for presidential elections slated for early next month.

“They have taken all our signatures, but our lawyers have begun following up these issues because police came and broke into our offices without a search warrant. They took different things from our offices,” NUP party spokesperson Joel Ssenyonyi said.

Police spokesperson Fred Enanga, however, said the joint operation recovered 67 green belts, 233 red berets, 99 khaki overalls, 187 pips and badges, six rolls of belts, 11 pairs of navy blue warm suits and 102 red overalls. 

The police spokesman also alleged that from the NUP offices, the military and police recovered literature detailing plans on how to attack security operatives during campaigns, something Mr Senyonyi said is “laughable”.

“The NUP members spread the propaganda all over social media that the security team picked materials from their offices which are not military-related materials but the search certificate indicates the above-mentioned materials,” Mr Enanga said.

Mr Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of the Uganda Media Centre, says it is wrong for NUP to seek to organise as a military outfit instead of as a political party. He likened them to the “Brown-shirts” in Germany during the late 1920s, who played a key role in the rise to power of the Nazi Party and Adolph Hitler. 

The “Brownshirts” provided security at rallies and other functions of their party and eventually gained influence as Hitler consolidated his hold on power in Germany. He would later plunge the world into the Second World War. 

The raid was extended to a number of shops downtown Kampala in what the army said was an operation to recover from tailors clothes decorated in a manner patented for the Forces with marks like the pips, the insignias and name tags.

City Hall Grade One Magistrate Valerian Tumuhimbise, on Friday, remanded 23 people arrested during the raid on NUP and shops in Kampala to Kitalya Prison in Wakiso District after they were charged with offences related to wearing uniforms declared to be used exclusively by persons performing duties in the armed forces contrary to section 170(1) (2) and (4) of the Penal Code Act.

Remanded until October 23, the suspects were also charged with disobeying lawful orders for having gathered at the NUP offices during the time of the army and police raid, which their accusers say is contravened the presidential directives aimed at stopping the spread of Covid-19.

All too familiar

The security ransacking of NUP offices has been described by many as a repeat of the pre-election attacks on Opposition figures and parties as a way of disorganising their preparations for elections.

After the 2016 election, as former presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi put together a case to challenge the re-election of President Museveni, which had been declared, there were claims that the offices of the lawyers were raided and files taken away. The lawyers and Mr Mbabazi accused the police of carrying out the raid, but the police denied the accusations.

It has been a consistent claim among Opposition players that the
2021 General Election will be rigged or has already been rigged in favour of Mr Museveni because of the circumstances in the build up to the exercise.

Mr Museveni’s main challenger on four occasions, Dr Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, has opted out of the elections, having consistently claimed that elections under the current circumstances cannot produce a result that does not favour Mr Museveni.

Ms Sarah Bireete of the Centre for Constitutional Governance (CCG), thinks the military is being used to fight a psychological war with NUP on behalf of Mr Museveni. She says this is more so since the raid came a day to the start of nomination for MPs.

“In politics, timing is everything. The timing for the military raid explains the political ill-motive of the army against NUP and its supporters. Its purpose was to intimidate, harass and scare away NUP supporters and also to disorganise their preparations for nominations,” Ms Bireete said. 

Ms Bireete adds: “UPDF is using this excuse to harass and intimidate NUP and People Power supporters during nominations. The wider Kampala crackdown, harassment and intimidation of NUP supporters is meant to portray the party as an illegal entity, which people should not associate with or else they risk their own safety. This will erode voter confidence, discredit the whole election process and greatly affect the participation of Opposition supporters in the elections.” 

For nearly a year now, the High Court has not heard the case filed by Mr Ivan Bwowe, a lawyer, challenging the minister’s gazetting of items including uniforms, clothing, boots, headgears and many other items that are supposed to be a preserve of the army officers.

Mr Bwowe stated that some of the items that the minister included in the Gazette are outside the ambits of Section 160 of the UPDF Act, hence illegal.

“The act of the Minister of Defence and Veterans Affairs to gazette clothing, head gears, boots and other items other than the mark or marks is illegal, ultra vires and an abuse of the law and outside the minister’s legal mandate,” Mr Bwowe said.

“The notice has grave consequences as it aims to criminalise the wearing of the red berets by citizens, black boots and other items illegally included in the notice published in the gazette …,” he added.

Mr Crispin Kaheru, an expert on elections observation, described the current situation as a challenge to democracy, adding that if no legal pronouncements are made in time, the 2021 elections will be difficult for NUP.

“I firmly believe that our democracy is facing diverse challenges, not only on account of slowly breaking barriers [but also on that] of civility and decency. I don’t believe that democracy and decency are mutually exclusive. 
It is possible to see both aspects thriving simultaneously,” Mr Kaheru said.
During the nominations for parliamentary candidates this week, it was clear that NUP candidates have the red colour and red berets as a big part of their campaign plan. 

Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga, who is challenging for the newly carved out Nyendo-Mukungwe Country in Masaka City, had men in red forming a pattern around him. If the army moves across the country to break up all this detail as the campaigns progress, a lot will be taken away from NUP’s and Bobi Wine’s campaigns.

Army speaks out

Brig Flavia Byekwaso, the Defence and army spokesperson, downplayed talk that the raid on NUP is aimed at destabilising the party’s preparations for the 2021 General Election. 

She said the search will be extended to whoever is suspected to be in possession of the prohibited “military stores” all over the country and will see the army and policy seizing not only red berets of NUP but also attires being donned by NRM and other parties supporters as long as their designs bare military wear patens.

Defence and army spokesperson Brig. Flavia Byekwaso. PHOTO/COURTESY

“The colour is not the issue but the patterns and designs because if you are putting on red but you have sown it into a design that is patented by the military or by the police, that means we are going to take it away from you. When you put pips, name tags and ranks that are military-like features, the cloth will be recovered,” she said.

Brig Byekwaso said people found with red caps and clothes that do not have any of the gazette symbols of the security forces will not be disturbed, adding that the army will investigate reports that those who raided NUP offices took everything that they laid hands on.

“Even those ones at Kyadondo Road (NRM headquarters), we shall collect them because from now going forward, no one is allowed to don them. You can don the colour but not anything similar to what rightfully belongs to the military or the police,” she added.