What you need to know:
- The speech came on the backdrop of widespread reports of civilians being abducted by security operatives.
President Museveni’s speech last Saturday about the state of security in the country appeared intently peppered with facts, half-truths and revisionist commentary. He decidedly cherry-picked facts in regard to his address on Uganda’s relationship with the West a few days after the European Union Parliament recommended sanctions against individuals and organisations they claim are responsible for human rights violations during the recent general election.
Mr Museveni’s televised national address on Saturday, February 13, 2021, came on the heels of concerns that Uganda under his leadership, as Kampala Catholic Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga echoed a day later on Sunday, had slipped into a ‘dark past.’
There has been widespread reports of civilians being abducted by security operatives without name tags and driven in numberless vans, nicknamed ‘drones’, to unknown destinations, leaving families and relatives in distress. There have been widespread accusations that security forces kill people at will as long as they can qualify an individual was a protestor or threatened them, and go unpunished.
Such was the case on November 18-20, 2020 that not a single soldier or police personnel has been arrested or prosecuted over the death of at least 54 Ugandans in protests over the incarceration of then Opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine.
In that fracas, some security operatives were injured and one young female officer whom a protestor repeatedly knocked with a hammer, was left paralysed on the ground. In addition, protestors forced women wearing yellow T-shirts of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) to remove them .
Those are the videos President Museveni called to be played during his address, but he ignored footage showing security forces dressed in civilian shooting indiscriminately at buildings and civilians.
To be fair, the President acknowledged in a previous address that 54 people were killed when security operatives fanned out to end the demonstrations on city streets, although he concluded without providing evidence that majority of the victims were rioters.
On Saturday, the President made no mention of the dead or injured civilian victims and never asked his team to play the videos of their victimisation, casting the narrative as a one-sided attack on soldiers and police.
One possible interpretation of the President’s laissez-faire commentary about lost lives is that the individuals deserved to die because they were rioters. In multiple interviews with relatives and witnesses over nearly three weeks, backed with post-mortem report findings, this newspaper re-enacted the circumstances of the killings, and the findings collectively debunk the official claim that the victims were to blame.
Mr Museveni’s Saturday address aimed to placate the public, anxious about mysterious disappearances of people, some of who are found dead. For many, there is no information about their whereabouts. This trend prompted some citizens using mainstream and social media to liken the current government to those of former presidents Idi Amin and Milton Obote.
However, President Museveni rejected the comparison of his administration to what he called “low-calibre conduct” of the past governments he fought against.
In his speech, Mr Museveni acknowledged that the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) had arrested 177 suspects who were recently granted bail by court and another category of 65 under investigation. However, many of those arrested were picked from homes in the night and are still being held incommunicado. A few who have returned to their families bear visible scars of torture.
In defence of UPDF
“Uganda under NRM cannot have that type of situation. The UPDF now, [which was before called] the National Resistance Army (NRA), the security forces we built afterwards like intelligence services are taught not to be part of that culture of violating people’s rights with impunity,” he said.
To his credit, the President ordered those individuals still in military and police incarceration to be freed or their identities and whereabouts publicly disclosed.
But more than 24 hours after the directive, the security forces have made no disclosure.
So, was Mr Museveni’s instruction in vain? Are security agencies delayed by bureaucracies? Or, do they feel entitled that they did a lot of work through the arrests to scatter and demoralise the Opposition and secure Mr Museveni’s re-election that disclosing identities of the suspects would expose them in a manner that leaves them in front of a running bus?
Early last week, security sources told Daily Monitor that the President had berated security chiefs during a meeting at State House over the kidnappings, which he said were tainting the image of his government.
All those under arrest, sources said, the President ordered that they must be taken to court and those for whom there is no evidence of crimes committed be released. The President specifically ordered the Deputy IGP, Maj Gen Paul Lokech, to arrest security personnel who have been using drones to abduct people.
Following the directive, sources say at least 11 security operatives have been detained, while the commandant of the Joint Anti-Terrorism Taskforce (JATT), Brig Jeff Mukasa, was removed and appointed as commandant of the Military Intelligence School in Nakasongola District.
While the President said his government should not be compared with previous regimes he described as “low conduct calibre,” the current wave of kidnaps bears parallels with the conduct of previous regimes.
Whereas security forces under the Amin and Obote regimes bundled their victims into Peugeots, the Museveni-era operatives yank suspects into vans, baptized drones for their high speed. Like under past regimes, today’s security forces do not identify themselves, give no reason for the arrests nor disclose the place they take the suspects. In addition, there is no public sanction and the impunity appears to grow.
In Uganda’s political parlance, the word ‘disappearance’ was, as is now, an euphemism for civilians taken by security operatives without disclosed offence, taken to an unknown location and without certainty about their return.
As such, the sight of a ‘drone’ vehicle instills so much fear in the public.
It is this fear that the President on Saturday tried to fight, giving reassurance that the practice will stop and “action will be taken” where security agencies have erred.
“We never cover up. There’s nothing, which we do, and hide,” he said.
Late in December, unidentified security personnel gunned down former national boxing team captain Isaac Senyange as he fled upon the drone careening towards his home in Bwaise, Kampala. Reports indicated he was shot nine times.
As police offered denials, President Museveni in his New Year address on December 31 apologised for Ssenyange’s death whom he admitted was gunned down by “soldiers during an operation.”
Early this month, this newspaper quoting police sources reported that the force indicated they had completed investigations into Ssenyange’s killing, but said they cannot arrest the suspects until the President gives the green-light. Some of the abductees, upon resurfacing, bore visible torture marks while others remained too mortified to speak.
In his address on Saturday, Mr Museveni said he in the run-up to the January 14, 2021 elections deployed elite commando units, who had fought against al-Shabaab in Somalia, in the city and they “quickly defeated the terrorists.”
It was upgraded crime classification of suspected protesters and the President said the commandos “killed a few and arrested scores of those law-breakers in Makerere-Kivulu, Mukono, and Kyotera”.
Without a trial before a competent court, the allegations against the killed individuals remains unproven, rendering their death to possible extra-judicial killing. Besides, the rules of engagement by the security forces ignored Mr Museveni’s previous guidelines in tackling public disorder.
In October 2018, while addressing security chiefs, the President said demonstrators should not be beaten or maimed, but subjected to legal processes.
“In what capacity are you beating the criminal? Are you the punisher? You are not. Your job is to detect, investigate, arrest and interrogate the suspect by using the facts of your investigations,” he said then.
Before that, Mr Museveni had implored arresting officers to “always identify themselves so that the public knows that they are legal operators.”
It is unclear why security officers are not heeding to the Commander-in-Chief’s instructions and whey none is being held accountable.
With such a problem at hand, the President on Saturday still found time to scoff at the proposed sanctions by the European Union Parliament against government officials and organisations in regard to the regime’s human rights abuses.
Looked at through the perspective of nationalism and patriotism, the President is right to take on Brussels and other western powers for meddling in Uganda, since the head of state and head of government is responsible for safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country.
Relations with the West
But what the President did not acknowledge is that the EU is a huge funder of Uganda’s development, particularly infrastructure, and a fight with Brussels is railing against a loaded purse. On the other side of the Atlantic, the United States gives Uganda nearly $1 billion dollars each year, mainly for health and security support.
In return, Uganda does security leg work in the region, more significantly fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia, and playing its diplomatic power favourably at international fora.
The West is now the problem, it appears, according to Mr Museveni who at his inauguration in 1986 had said Africa’s problem is leaders who overstay in power.
But according to the book titled: Combatants: A memoir of the Bush war and press in Uganda, authored by William Pike, the former editor-in-chief of New Vision, Mr Museveni occasionally sought support from the West.
“After I came back from Uganda in 1984, I knew Museveni was going to win. I knew he was going to overthrow Obote —— So Museveni asked me to go and meet the Foreign Office [UK] and brief them,” revealed Pike in his book.
Mr Museveni has on several occasions accused his rivals, especially Bobi Wine, of being an “agent” of the neo-colonialists. It appears to Mr Museveni, it is right for the West to deal with him and wrong for it to deal with another person in Uganda.