State of the nation a year after 2021 polls

NUP leaders mourn people who died during the November protests after the arrest of party presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi (2nd left). PHOTO / FILE

What you need to know:

  • Before the nominations, there were calls to postpone the elections, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the country under lockdown, but President Museveni did not  yield to the pressure.

On January 14, 2021, Ugandans went to the polls to elect  the President and Members of Parliament, after 65 days of campaigns marred by brutality meted out on members of the Opposition by security forces.

Before the nominations, there were calls to postpone the elections, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the country under lockdown, but President Museveni did not  yield to the pressure. 

When the campaigns kicked off, the security forces used excessive force against Opposition candidates and their supporters, who they claimed were violating  Covid-19 standard operating procedures instituted by the government.

However, the security forces turned a blind eye when the ruling NRM party candidates organised mass rallies in contravention of Covid-19 SOPs.

Many members of the Opposition were arrested and brutalised  during and after the elections, with a number of them still incarcerated in different prisons and detention centres across the country.

 The National Unity Platform (NUP) party candidates and supporters bore the brunt of  security forces’ high-handedness.

The NUP presidential candidate, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, who came second in the presidential race, said the elections were marred by intimidation,  militarisation, abductions and human rights abuse.

“Today, January 14, marks one year since Ugandans went to the polls. Many had to endure the sweltering heat of the sun as they waited for their turn to vote. With thousands of our people under detention, Museveni deployed guns, machine guns, Mambas [armoured personnel carriers] and all manner of weaponry,” he tweeted on  Friday last week.

“Samuel Masereka, the NUP registrar in Kasese District, was picked up from Kasese in a drone [omni van] on Friday last week. Over a week, his whereabouts are unknown. Not produced in any court. Suspected to be detained in a torture house in Mbuya. The abductions continue!” he added.

The brutal arrest of Opposition figures and those who disagree with the ruling NRM government, their incommunicado detention still prevails.

On December 28, 2021, plain-clothed gunmen with hammers surrounded and broke into the house of Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, a renowned novelist and political activist in Kisaasi, a Kampala suburb.

He was brutally arrested after he criticised Mr Museveni’s son Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba. He spent about 10 days in an unknown detention centre and when he was produced in public, he had several torture marks on his body.

Kakwenza has since been charged with offensive communication under the Computer Misuse Act and sent to Kitalya prison until January 21 when his case will come up for mention.

On the election day, government shut down the Internet and all social media sites. Government has  refused to fully reopen Facebook up to date. The government action followed a move by the social media site to close more than 400 fake accounts operated by the regime agents.

“It’s one year and still counting when the NRM junta banned Facebook operations in our marginalised country Uganda. The majority of Ugandans, especially the youth, are out of business due to the regime’s move to control communication. We strongly condemn this act!” the Forum for Democratic Change tweeted on January 13, 2021 the day Facebook was shut down.

Mr Ssemujju Nganda, the party spokesperson, said the 2021 violence left many people too traumatised to raise any demands, or engage in political activity.

“Where we are now, compared to the 2016 election aftermath is that because of too much violence in the last election, the population that should be rising to protest this and that, is still hesitant… we are a country at war with itself... There is nothing that has changed about governance in Uganda,” he said.

In the run up to the election, more than 54 Ugandans were killed by security personnel over two days of demonstrations following the arrest of the NUP presidential candidate Mr Kyagulanyi.

An investigation into the killings and a report by the Criminal Investigation Department of Police revealed 44 of those killed were not rioters and died due to stray bullets. Government promised compensation through the Office of the Prime Minister but justice still eludes many.

Late last year, the court martial convicted and sentenced two soldiers, one a Lance Corporal and the other a private, for killing three persons in operations to quell the demonstrations.

Mr Ssemujju also argued that the NRM continues to perform poorly in efforts to provide social services, saying it will not get better.

NUP secretary general  Lewis Rubongoya said following the highly divisive January 2021 vote, healing is still a long way ahead.

“You cannot heal when there is no justice, and there cannot be justice if there is no openness and acceptance that people did what was wrong and illegal. If the regime had turned a page even after rigging the election and say, lets respect human rights may be, but they continue to do these violations with impunity,” he said.

Mr Emmanuel Dombo, the director of communication at NRM secretariat, however, said both sides must ensure that there is ground for arbitration.

“What we always advocate for is coexistence of the various political players and all of us relying on the courts of law to arbitrate where there may be a dispute or disagreement. But we also call on the individuals in their various rights that they should exercise restraint in the way they use their pen and the knowledge,” he said.

The Covid-19 pandemic that was first reported in the country on March 21, 2020 continued to wreak havoc, with 3,424 Ugandans confirmed dead and 158,676 cases of infections.

Government on January 10 reopened learning institutions after two years of closure, with schools hiking schools fees and cost of scholastic materials rising.

The year 2021 also witnessed industrial actions by medical workers that paralysed activities in health facilities across the country. Dr Samuel Oledo Odongo, the president of Uganda Medical Association, said the last one year was a tough one for the medical field, with the medical workers and government officials locking horns over  salaries and working conditions.

In December last year, a number of doctors were arrested for demonstrating against government failure to meet their demands.

“It was unfortunate that the year 2021 had a lot of running up and down, which escalated into many issues. Some of us were arrested and bundled and thrown onto pick-ups, which is the cost of leadership and it was a test of persistence, consistence and sticking on the facts that presidential directive must be honoured in this country. 2022 has started with blessings, can we continue with the year of blessings?” he said.

On November 16, 2021, twin blasts hit Kampala central business district, killing three of the suicide bombers and three other civilians. Several others were also injured in the blast. The first bomb exploded near the central police station, while the second blast went off on Parliament Avenue, destroying cars and parts of buildings along the avenue.

Security forces swiftly blamed the attacks on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), while the terrorist group Islamic State later on claimed responsibility for the bombings.

Mr Fred Enanga, the police spokesperson, said at the time that 33 people were being treated in hospital, including five in critical condition. He said intelligence indicated the Islamic State-aligned ADF were responsible.

“Our intelligence...indicates that these are domestic terror groups that are linked to ADF,”  Mr Enanga said.

Weeks later, The Uganda People’s Defence Forces launched attacks on ADF bases in the DR Congo.  The ongoing operation is being conducted in conjunction with DR Congo military.

NRM says

Mr Emmanuel Dombo, the director for communications at the NRM secretariat, on Monday told Daily Monitor that since last year’s elections, the government has achieved a lot.

Mr Dombo said the establishment of the new government paved way for implementation of government programmes.

He said the Parish Development Model will be the key focus to transform the economy from subsistence to commercial economy.

“Government has funded the recruitment of parish chiefs in most of the places where they did not exist, especially in districts which had active district service commissions.

“We have also overcome the issue of the lockdown. You know the economy has been locked down since the election times until government recently announced the phased reopening. This will help the economy to become active so that people can earn money and government can earn revenue through taxation,” she added.

Mr Dombo also said the medical workers’ industrial action also greatly affected the country at a time when Covid-19 was ravaging the country.

“However, we are happy that this has since been overcome by events because money for the intern doctors has been provided and also government has made a very firm commitment to begin paying doctors a living wage effective this financial year,” he said.

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