Besigye’s relentlessness deserves our attention

Raymond Mujuni

Dr Kizza Besigye has been granted bail after a week in jail. Before going to jail, he was in jail. He had been there for nearly a week too. I cannot recall a time in Uganda’s recent political history that Besigye hasn’t been in jail – or under house arrest – and this is a history that spans nearly two decades. 

It is hard to find anyone who has been close to Besigye for the last ten years that hasn’t been in jail on some charge and yet, none of them have ever been convicted – not even Sam Mugumya the hard-knock activist who is making nine years in a Congolese prison on remand. 

It is also almost easy to forget that the State he has resisted has done everything under the sun, including concocting evidence, coaching witnesses, starting dysfunctional rebel groups and even bribing close associates to try and incriminate him and those around him – and yet failed dismally. 

This resistance, the mettle force that Besigye and activists around him have brought and sustained in Uganda’s political climate is dyed-in-the-wool activism, the kind that shifts debate from individuals to the issues that they raise. 

But for some reason, Uganda’s political class hasn’t made time, space and effort for these issues to be debated. 

The principle issue that threads through all this activism is the rule of law; a straight forward appeal that everyone in the country is governed by and subservient to the national laws. That the rules of the game are no different for those who are powerful – as they are not for the powerless. That bail, a constitutional right, goes out to everyone, even those we think deep at heart are criminals [until a court of law pronounces them so]. 

Besigye has been in jail partly due to his activism on the streets, but on the greater part due to a denial of bail by a Chief Magistrate. One of the stated reasons for denying that bail – as reported by this paper – is that the magistrate says that Besigye and his co-accused Sam Mukaku were likely, should he release them, of being arrested on the same offence. Blimey! 

There’s no law that stops court from continuously having suspects before it for the same offence. None! Naught! Up until the court can make up its mind in a ruling – or is it judgement – a person in this country is considered to be innocent. 

And that is really the heart of this matter, that for over two decades, the state has put Besigye before the courts of law for all manner of offences and never, not once, been able to convict him for any of them. It would follow logic, not law, if the magistrate pleased to stop the state from bringing the same suspect without successfully convincing the court that they are a persistent law breaker. 

There are quite a number of Ugandans that feel the issues raised by Besigye and his political kin and kith are legitimate and in fact urgent. Some may disagree on the removal of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) from power but quite a number agree with him on the lack of a rule of law, on widespread mismanagement of the state and its resources, on State sanctioned brutality and even incompetence. 

History tends to be kind to people like Besigye and not to those who torment them. You’ve just got to wonder what history his tormentors read from – if they read at all.