President must address security’s use of force against unarmed civilians

Thursday April 22 2021
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By Karoli Ssemogerere

There has been an uneasy but relative calm after the January general election. After the shock and tension of the balloting, credit must also go to the opposition parties which even though they challenged the outcome did not invoke use of force. Even after the Supreme Court in a widely panned decision declined to allow the petitioner Robert Kyagulanyi from amending his petition filed in haste after being detained at home for 10 out of the 15 days, there was shock rather than another set of hasty actions which would have been counterproductive. 

The outcome of the presidential election only served to emphasise the limitations of the three dominant features of Uganda’s political system. First, that absent a return to presidential term limits, the prospects of peaceful change of power are scanty at best, a factor that has rendered the entire constitutional order that was initially premised on both a return to civilian rule and term limits. Second, that the elements of direct democracy at parliamentary and local government level are of limited use in a country with a very young population, wide economic disparities and much diluted social institutions cannot be expressed out of the ruling party and its structures.

In the presidential election, official results gave President Museveni a 58 per cent popular vote but his party NRM will enjoy nearly 80 per cent of the members of parliament. Busoga, a region which tipped from the ruling party to the opposition overwhelmingly returned NRM MPs. Infact Speaker Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga ran 20 points ahead of her boss the president, and even though she is a senior NRM official, her key vote hunters are opposition MPs and ruling party rebel apparatchiks. Third, that the social fabric comprising of religious institutions, political parties, civil society and traditional leaders are entering an era of diminished influence after decades of being fed off the largesse of government. 

It is an irony that one of the biggest spoils to share will be among the Opposition who will be appointed Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and its key oversight committees.  It will also be which of the Opposition parties in Parliament will cohabit with NRM in election of members of Eala. 

So the next three years are likely to be dominated by an uneasy embrace between the international community and government. After years of standing and falling, Uganda is likely to start pumping crude oil in a subdued international environment where crude oil prices have never recovered from the 2010-2012 peaks north of $100/bbl. Crude is likely to stay stable in the $58-70 range, a figure which likely will cause immediate renegotiation of production sharing agreements whose terms are not public to bring down cost ratios for producers and government. 

Tanzania appears to have given Uganda a miracle access fee to Tanga by requiring Uganda to invest three times more than themselves in the pipeline and the rest being taken up by the actual producers Total and Cnooc. Strong bilateral ties between Uganda and Tanzania and this may cause convergence of their political and economic systems. This is bad news for President Museveni’s opponents as CCM has remained in power uninterrupted since independence albeit with change of leaders. 

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At home, the international community will continue to pressure government on use of force against unarmed civilians. 

Government is still grappling with the fallout of the November riots where official reports state more than 60 people died. The lame duck session of Parliament has been dominated by dueling reports of civilians in detention numbering as high as 1000 held without trial and scores others brought to the court martial on grounds of possessing “toothpicks” in military language. 

One Bobi Wine confidante and musician, Nubian Li was accused of possessing “bullets” rather than a firearm. In my home district of Kalangala, the outcome of the detention and evacuation of Robert Kyagulanyi in December 2020 was total defeat for the ruling party in the presidential, parliamentary and LCV elections. That said, Kalangala like the rest of the country is in a very quiet mood like nothing ever happened so soon after the elections. 

The total disappearance of fish like the military accused of turning the lake into a battle armada is on everybody’s mind, NRM or otherwise. 

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-At-Law and an Advocate. 

kssemoge@gmail.com

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