Uganda’s New Normal?

By Maria Burnett

Uganda's Electoral Commission declared President Yoweri Museveni the winner on February 20, but the process is far from over. The last three weeks show that critics of President Museveni's governance and the elections are guilty until proven innocent.

Opposition parties are struggling to respond to a poll marked by glaring flaws and a blatant show of muscle by security forces on behalf of the incumbent. Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, chairperson of the Commonwealth electoral observers, noted that, "the fusing of the state and ruling party in Uganda... had deepened, with a consequent adverse impact on political freedoms and further undermining any efforts to level the playing field for these elections."

Using the constitutional process to challenge the election has been challenging. Opposition candidate Amama Mbabazi managed to file a petition, but claims police have detained people with relevant evidence. On March 9, when affidavits were due, files and computers were stolen from two of Mbabazi's lawyers' offices, jeopardizing his petition. The lawyers and opposition leaders blame the police for the theft.

Another opposition candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye, who according to the electoral commission won 35 percent of the vote, did not file a petition, arguing that police made it almost impossible for him to do so. It's hard to disagree. The police have barricaded him in his home since February 19, arresting him if he tries to leave, arguing they have "intelligence" that he intends to cause unrest. So he has spent most of the 10-day filing period sitting in police cells and being ferried home at nightfall. Police have denied him access to visitors, including his own lawyers, who tried to see him days before the filing deadline.

When I was invited to Dr. Besigye's house to speak to him - a normal event with those whose rights have been violated - the police claimed I needed to set an appointment with them to enter his home. Later, the local commander said I should comply with the Public Order Management Act, by writing to notify the Inspector General of Police three days in advance - absurd for a meeting on private property with someone who hasn't been convicted of any wrongdoing.

The police have also attacked and arrested numerous journalists, sometimes as cameras rolled, for covering their "siege" on Dr. Besigye's house or the opposition's efforts to gather evidence of electoral irregularities.

The police are violating Uganda's own laws and international human rights obligations. That those who hold contrary views can be arbitrarily arrested, detained, beaten, or tear-gassed makes everyone vulnerable to abuse. Unfortunately there is no reason to believe this will end once there is a ruling on the electoral petition.

Source: All Africa


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