The first day of the General Election campaign kicked off Monday with mixed fortunes – some peaceful while others were disrupted. Excited Ugandans greeted the campaigns with excitement.
But some of these feeling of lively and cheerful joy ended in turmoil and tears as the police and other security agencies again lobbed tear gas at chanting supporters who thronged highways and towns to cheer on their presidential candidates.
This non-proportionate violence in the face of open and legitimate stop-wave-and greet, or even open campaign, is unwarranted. No candidate is asking any favour from the police and sister security agencies, but have a right to move, stop, and greet their excited fans after a long period of lockdown during the coronavirus lockdown.
At least nine of the 11 presidential candidates are fresh faces on the trail. Naturally, the Ugandan voters are excited to put faces to the names. As should be expected, the atop-overs, stopping and greeting and gaining face recognition for the voters are a crucial part of the campaign, and the police violence is, therefore, uncalled for.
- Previously, the police and back-up security agencies provided excuses that the campaign calendar was not yet out, but this should never be the case any more.
Sadly, as we have frequently and constantly pointed out, these acts of aggression by the police and back-up armed forces that have often resulted in injuries and destruction, seemed targeted at Opposition political players.
This, to any ordinary observer, seemed skewed to subdue political opponents of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. Just as President Museveni acknowledged, throngs of NRM supporters came out in force to wave to him at Matugga on Monday. And this scenario will be expected wherever Mr Museveni and his presidential campaign opponents will pass or stop over during this political season.
Given this political play script, the counsel by Church of Uganda Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba that the police and other security agencies should step back from confronting every problem with unnecessary violence is well-timed.
Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba is right that the police and military have unnecessarily used excessive force and must quickly consider other more peaceful alternatives of political crowd management since their option of violence is not justified and cannot be defended any more.
Going forward, the police and other security agencies can still make amends, step back from violence, and make the campaign free and fair for all players. Their priority now should be to play their cardinal role of preserving law and order; not indulging in violence against wananchi, but giving ample space for political competitors, and ensure a smooth campaigning process.