NGOs Denied:35 years Museveni’s dictatorship, human rights abuse & Democratic Decay
“Pseudo democrats, be informed that the game of trying to hijack our democracy by fascists and foreign agents is over. We shall not tolerate any threats by words or by actions. Enough is enough. Media houses should also stand warned. Do your mandate: balanced reporting” .The state House of Uganda Press release, Sunday 19th August 2018
Those were words from dictator Yoweri Museveni during the state of the nation address delivered in 2018. By saying those words, the dictator was sending a warning to the Civil Society organizations and their donors in Uganda of the tough times ahead for their involvement in human rights works and democratic activism. He assured Ugandans that the days for taking lectures from foreign entities were over for him.
Dictator Museveni won a sixth term in office as the President of Uganda in January 2021.Following numerous reports by human rights groups. The electoral process was characterized by widespread intimidation, violence, voters bribery, and misuse of public funds.
As reported by the media, Museveni’s government reacted violently to the oppositions and heavily deployed his security into the streets of Kampala after the announcement of his victory, with one soldier atop an armored personnel carrier urging citizens to maintain social distancing as a helicopter run overhead.
Museveni is one of Africa’s longest-serving presidents accused of crushing the opposition, threatening civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and media ahead of one of the most violent election campaigns in recent years. His Sixth term re-election mark the beginning of his pursue of Civil society organizations, human rights defenders, and opposition leaders as the election was marked by harassment and arrests of the opposition, attacks on the media, and the deaths of at least 54 people.
Museveni’s coming to power
When dictator Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Army/Movement (NRA/M) took over power in Uganda after a five-year-long guerrilla war, Uganda was a country legendary for massive civilian killings and other human rights abuses on an enormous scale. During the military dictatorship of Idi Amin (1971- 1979) and after the return to power of Milton Obote in 1980, hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed and many more were subjected to arbitrary arrest, beatings, torture, and other abuse.Human Rights Watch, hostile to democracy : The Movement System and Political Repression in Uganda, New York
Shortly after taking power in 1986, dictator Museveni promised a “fundamental revolution” and not a “mere change of the guard”. However, since then it has been 35 years, he is in power. He has through his political party NRM enjoyed a virtual monopoly on political power in Uganda. Through suppression of pro-democracy voices and elimination of opposition influence. He has carefully managed the political system to forbid his opponents from taking over the leadership of the country. By doing this, he has been able to effectively neutralize political opposition which is characterized as sectarian, divisive, and at odds with national unity.
Civic space restrictions and democratic decline
Uganda has dropped significantly in the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders. In 2021 Uganda is ranked 125 out of 180 countries in the world. It is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual study of political rights and civil liberties worldwide.
The main reasons for the decline in press freedom, civil liberties, and political rights in Uganda are the increased Museveni’s government interference with media outlets and the growing restrictions on civic spaces, and an increase in violations and abuse of fundamental human rights.
The civic space for NGOs has been curtailed and their operability is vulnerable to various legal restrictions, burdensome registration requirements, and occasional threats. Numerous NGOs that work on human rights issues have suffered targeted threats and intimidation in form of office break-ins at their offices and burglaries at their residential premises, and the police have failed to adequately investigate the incidents in most cases.
The human rights records of Uganda have deteriorated so much with democracy and human rights facing serious erosion and decline. Dictator Museveni has enacted several legislations and restrictions to limit operations of civil society groups operating in the country and has openly vilified international donors and their grantee partners and expelled many of them out of Uganda.
Organized political activity has been criminalized, and dictator Museveni has always resorted to repressive measures when he is challenged by oppositions, civil society, and human rights defenders. Numerous political rallies have been halted, some through force. Political activists who have challenged dictator Museveni’s clings on power are frequently harassed and sometimes arbitrarily arrested. Museveni under his NRM has demonized political parties, blaming them for all the current and past abuses in Uganda, although the NRM is itself to any outsider just that a political party.
The 2016 Non-Governmental Organizations Act imposes “special obligations” on NGOs, for example, to “not engage in any activity that is prejudicial to the interests of Uganda and the dignity of the people of Uganda.” NGOs that express criticism of the Museveni government risk politically motivated charges, and groups whose work focuses on issues related to the environment, land, and oil face increasing obstruction. Land tenure remains a very contentious issue and the government has been particularly aggressive towards NGO activity that could threaten government and private company investments. NGOs seeking to educate the public about land issues and rights have been subjected to threats of deregistration, accusations of “economic sabotage,” and arrest. Organizations working on good governance and corruption have had their meetings interrupted and canceled as they have tried to carry out citizen education and advocacy campaigns and in some cases have had their members detained for their activities. Government tactics to intimidate and obstruct the work of NGOs range from closing meetings, lambasting NGOs for their work, and demanding retractions or apologies, as well as occasional resort to threats, harassment, physical violence, and heavy-handed bureaucratic interference to impede the registration and operations of NGOs.
Civil society actors working on governance, human rights, land, oil, and other sensitive issues such as transparency in compensation and reparations for land acquisitions and sales, political and legal reform, and protection of human rights, are the targets of Museveni’s government. Researchers and journalists who investigate Museveni’s government weaknesses, mismanagement of public assets, and the ways that government officials profit from foreign investment at the expense of local communities are equally targeted because they are viewed as oppositions and threats to his government.
The National Bureau of Non-Governmental Organisations in Uganda halted in August 2021 the operations of 54 non-governmental organizations for alleged non-compliance. Numerous organizations have been affected by the government’s move to suspend their operations. This was an effort by Museveni’s government to tighten control over civil society. Uganda’s National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO Bureau) which is part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, said that the organizations had not complied with the NGO Act. Of the 54 NGOs, it said that 23 had expired permits, while the bureau said 15 had not filed annual returns. Others are alleged to have failed to register with authorities.
Museveni continues to spread doubt about the legitimacy of civil society organizations in Uganda accusing them of peddling in the internal affairs of Uganda, labeling them anti-development, and accusing them of serving the interest of the foreign governments. He was on several occasions said that “ Ugandan civil society organizations are elite groups who are not representative of the people they claim to represent”.
Increasingly lower-level district officials are also threats to NGOs ’ activities. For example, resident district commissioners (RDCs) who are directly appointed to each district by the president, district internal security officers (DISOs), and in some instances regional and district level police commanders who threaten and obstruct the work of NGO’s based outside the capital city. DISOs have arbitrarily detained NGO members or activists for short periods, prevented meetings from taking place, or demanded bribes in exchange for granting permission to NGOs to access communities to conduct research. Such as the RDC’s and DISO’s of Buliisa, Hoima, and Kikube districts in the Albertine region where Oil is discovered require NGOs to pay a bribe of Ugandan shillings 2,500,000 before they are allowed to operate in the districts. A fee that is much higher than those charged by the National Bureau of the Non-Governmental Organisations at the Ministry of Internal Affairs for an NGO registration and for issuing operation permits of five years which are less than Ugandan shillings 500,000 compared to what is being charged by the Buliisa, Hoima and Kikube RDC’s and DISO’s as well as District Community Development Officers DCDO’s respectively.
Research and fieldwork activities in the Lake Albert region where oil has been discovered are restricted as Journalists and researchers covering these projects have been targeted for abuse. Human Rights defenders and journalists are unable to freely visit villages affected by oil projects, they have been abusively arrested, attacked, intimidated, and harassed. The government has attempted to control outsiders’ access to the communities, particularly in Buliisa district, where the oil processing facilities operated by Total Energies are located nearby of the district local government offices and visitors from Europe, the UK, and the United United States of America is not allowed to go to these locations. Organizations and human rights defenders, as well as journalists and researchers working on oil issues, are required to present written permission from the Oil and Gas Protection Police Unit, RDC’s, GISO’s and permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development each time they seek to visit the region. In the first week of November 2021, the Buliisa Resident District Commissioner -RDC expelled the delegation of the European Union to Uganda who had visited Buliisa district to supervise the work being done by their grantee partners Advocat Sanfrontiere Uganda and Kakindo Integrated Women’s Development Agency (KAWIDA) which are implementing access to justice project with the communities and oil Project Affected Persons in the Buliisa district. The delegations were ordered to leave the district and were escorted at gunpoint until Hoima where they had to spend a night at Kontiki Hotel before they could return to Kampala the following day.
As reported by FIDH, on May 25, 2021, Maxwell Atuhura and Federica Marsi were arrested by the Resident District Commissioner and the District Police Commander (DPC) of Buliisa. The arrest took place at the Adonia Hotel in Buliisa town council where they were staying for fieldwork to interview communities affected by the Tilenga project Oil development project by French oil company Total Energies. They were then taken to the Central Police Station (CPS) in Buliisa, without being told the reason for their arrest or if they were formally charged. According to the media report, Federica Marsi was released without charges shortly after and was asked by Buliisa Central Police Station officers to leave the Albertine region, Uganda’s oil frontier, “before bad things happened” on to her. On her way from Buliisa to Hoima, her taxi was stopped in Biiso by two unidentified individuals in civilian clothing, who attempted to arrest her and threatened her. She was brought in front of the Biiso police station but eventually allowed to continue driving.
In December 2020, Nicholas Opiyo the executive director of Chapter Four was arrested at Museveni’s request, he was accused of receiving $340,000 “ from the American Jewish World Services AJW’s knowing at the time of receipt that the said funds were proceeds of crime.” However, according to Opiyo, the arrest was connected to investigations into the November 2020 riots that were sparked by the arrest of Bobi Wine on the campaign trail. More than 50 people were killed by security agencies as they tried to quell rioters.
Comparably, in July 2010 the chairman of the Buliisa district NGO Forum was arrested and charged with “disobeying police orders,” after arranging meetings in the district for a local NGO, the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE). He was held for five days and eventually released on police bond according to Human Rights Watch report. Also in July 2010, the RDC of Buliisa district ordered the arrest of NAPE staff members after they held a community meeting earlier that day. On January 20, 2011, the then resident district commissioner of Amuru district and security operatives stopped officials from Publish What You Pay Uganda from screening a documentary about oil issues, and their equipment was confiscated. As one Buliisa resident told the media, “organizations coming from outside the District are the ones being restricted. Very many researchers have been chased out of the District and many journalists have been chased out because they did not have the permission of the permanent secretary or authorization by the RDC’s, DISO’s, or the Oil and Gas Protection Police Unit.
In parallel, on January 2nd, 2021, President Museveni ordered the suspension of Democratic Governance Facilities DGF activities, stating that its funds were “used to finance activities and organizations designed to subvert the Government under the guise of improving governance.” The Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) was established in 2011 by the European Union, United Kingdom, Denmark, Ireland, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Norway. The DGF provides financial and technical support to both state and non-state actors in areas such as democracy, human rights, and rule of law. According to Freedom House, “ by suspending DGF, the government of Uganda is standing in the way of progress driven by Ugandans themselves”.
In 2019, the Bureau of Non-Governmental Organisations in Uganda requested NGOs to submit financial information including budgets and donor lists to the Bureau. In a few weeks, the Financial Intelligence Authority, a government agency that tracks and combats money laundering, wrote to a commercial bank requesting financial records of 13 pro-democracy NGOs including the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative FHRI. A letter was sent to Equity bank that reads, “The purpose of this communication, therefore, is to request you to search your databases and avail us account opening documents, bank statements for the last three years and any other information available to you linked to each of the above-listed entities for our further review,” Asubo’s FIA executive director letter to Equity Bank reads in part.
A list of NGOs affected by the investigation included Action Aid International Uganda, Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring, Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, Human Rights Network Uganda, National Democratic Institute, and Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies. Others were The African Institute for Energy Governance AFIEGO, Democratic Governance Facility, Kick Corruption Out of Uganda, and the National Association of Professional Environmentalists among others.
At one time, the government has also examined the financial status of other NGOs working on oil governance. For example in February 2012, Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE)—a prominent organization working on good governance and oil sector accountability, among other issues—hosted a meeting of 300 district councilors as part of their “National Local Government Councilors Association and the Local Government Scorecard,” a peer review process on government accountability. It is unclear what aspect of this meeting prompted concern from the security agencies—likely a discussion on oil revenue allocation—but shortly after, on March 16, the governor of the Bank of Uganda sent a letter to all commercial banks to hand over details of ACODE’s accounts. He stated that the bank “suspected” ACODE was “engaged in suspicious transactions.”
Political leaders, NGOs, human rights defenders, and journalists are some of the popular users of the internet for communication. However, the government has noticed the potential of digital platforms and increasingly increased its control through censorship, surveillance, and the use of laws that criminalize political speech. In recent years, there have been several cases of journalist’s arrests, beatings, and imprisonment, blocking of websites, and the internet shut down. Such as on Wednesday 13 January 2021, the eve of Uganda’s general elections, Uganda’s communications regulator UCC ordered telecoms operators and internet service providers in the country to suspend all internet gateways until further notice. The president’s justification for the internet shutdown was in retaliation for Facebook taking down some pro-government accounts, which is frivolous and vexatious.
The National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda has documented incidences in which human rights defenders, civil society activists, and opposition political leaders have been blocked by police from appearing on the media, especially in upcountry media houses. According to the Coalition report, “the perpetrators were officers of the Uganda Police Force at the respective districts and the Resident District Commissioners (RDC)”. In most cases, payment for the appearances on media had been received by the management of the media houses but after being approached by local authorities, they acted on the orders to cancel the shows prohibiting activists from participating in the radio interviews. In some cases, the police physically, through the use of force, blocked opposition leaders from accessing the studios, and radio stations were switched off for hosting the opposition leaders. For example, In the Adjumani district, a media house officially wrote to a talk show host to explain why he hosted an opposition leader despite express orders not to do so. On April 29, 2019, the national communication authority UCC ordered 13 media houses to suspend at least 39 journalists for broadcasting content related to the controversial arrest of Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi who is popularly known as Bobi Wine.
“Civil society organizations that were actively involved in election and democracy related activities were targeted for surveillance, intimidation, ad-hoc investigations, freezing of bank accounts, profiling of HRDs working with the organizations, confiscation of property such as computers and other financial records, and suspension of accreditation to monitor elections in the country. Organizations targeted include Citizen Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda CCEDU, New Uganda, Action Aid Uganda, the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS), Public Affairs Uganda (PAC Uganda), Action Alliance (Solidarity Uganda), Chapter Four Uganda, Centre for Public Policy among others”.Democracy on trial
“Democracy on Trial “ found out that press freedom has been heavily violated in Uganda. For example; on April 18, 2019, the coalition documented violence against journalists working with Mubende FM Radio who were blocked by the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) of Mubende district and police from hosting Dr. Kizza Besigye, the former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) presidential candidate on a live talk show. A few minutes into the talk show, police officers descended on the station and pulled Dr. Besigye out of the studio.
Moreover, on July 10, 2019, William Anyolitho, the Executive Director of Life Concern Uganda (LICO-U) and the Board Chair of the Alliance for Election Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM), and three other accredited election observers operating under ACFIM were condemned and ordered to apologize at a stakeholder meeting in Nebbi District for appearing on a local radio evening talk show to narrate their ordeal in police detention. The observers were arrested in Erussi Sub County in Nebbi district on July 8 for allegedly engaging in election observation activities without accreditation. They were detained for one night at Nebbi District Central Police Station. Henry Muguzi, the Executive Director of ACFIM, and the observers declined to apologize at the meeting because they did nothing wrong. He maintained that the organization received an accreditation letter for the organization to deploy four observers for the LC V Chairperson By-Election of Nebbi District, which they had done.
Again on August 14, 2018, the NBS Television crew was blocked from covering near Pacific Hotel in Arua following deadly clashes after a by-election. After being denied access to the hotel, the crew set up its equipment from a distance, intending to report live. However, army officers advanced towards them, threatening them with guns and telling them to stop filming. The three journalists managed to escape but their camera and a tripod were confiscated by the army officers. They recovered their equipment later that evening from Arua Central Police Station.
In the same way, on n July 4, 2018, the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) was suspended by the Electoral Commission EC after staff called the Women Council Elections a sham during a media interview. Justice Simon Byabakama Mugyenyi, the Chairperson of the EC noted that the Commission resolved to suspend CCEDU as a partner in disseminating voter education messages and as an election observer for being ‘partisan’.After a stand-off and a case being filed in court to challenge the decision of the EC in a judicial review process, CCEDU and the EC agreed on a joint committee comprising of officials from the two entities. A joint committee report was later presented to the EC and it was adopted.
As of September 20, 2017, Ugandan security officials launched an unprecedented raid on the offices of ActionAid Uganda, a nationally registered antipoverty and human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) affiliated with a global federation working in forty-six countries. The siege lasted two full days. Officials cordoned off the offices and confiscated laptops, personal mobile phones, and several organizational documents. Two weeks later, the Bank of Uganda froze ActionAid’s bank accounts, having received allegations from the Criminal Investigations Department that ActionAid was being investigated for money laundering and conspiracy to commit a felony. The attack on ActionAid Uganda was part of a wider crackdown on legitimate citizen protests against ongoing efforts to remove the presidential age limit from the Ugandan Constitution—a move that would allow sitting President Yoweri Museveni to remain in power indefinitely. The cordon-and-search operation was aimed at delegitimizing ActionAid’s work by framing it as dangerous and subversive. It was followed by a relentless propaganda campaign, including by the government spokesperson and the head of Uganda’s media center Ofwono Opondo, accusing ActionAid and several other civil society organizations of being agents of imperialism. Government officials like Ofwono Opondo and many others repeatedly have accused civil society leaders of being opposition politicians in disguise, of being corrupt, and of receiving outside money to destabilize the country. As a result, Human Rights Defenders, civil society activists, and organizations in Uganda have been judicially attacked, verbally and physically threatened, and even been prosecuted for having allegedly received foreign funding.
Growing Fears among human rights defenders and Civil society groups
The majority of NGO leaders in Uganda are concerned about whether their organizations will continue to operate given the current civic space restriction in place. Others are already scaling down on activities such that they are not arrested, killed, and threatened by the RDC’s, DISO’s or by Oil and Gas Police officers. Others are changing the mission and objectives of their organizations and strategic focuses to less controversial topics such as health, farming, and Water and Sanitation due to fear of engaging in human rights, democracy, land rights, or environmental activism against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline. Others believe it’s a waste of time to continue working on human rights and land rights as government hates those activities. For these reasons, they have to re-strategize their objectives if they will survive the harsh political environment for civil society operability.
According to the Human Rights Watch report on the security of human rights defenders in Uganda, “ Some organizations have already stopped or significantly changed their work on oil, human rights, and governance; areas deemed too sensitive. With mounting pressures and government scrutiny, one organization has stopped its work on evictions and land grabbing and its related advocacy campaign on the issue. “We have been diverted…. To the public, we seem to be abandoning them,” commented one employee who would previously receive reports from those displaced by land grabbing. She now no longer feels like she can respond to allegations of victims of land conflict because of the current situation.
“We don’t want the government to think this is a witch hunt,” said one NGO staff member, “but corruption is a serious problem and officials can make it very hard to get the right information. If we say we are going to research or track corruption in the district, they will not permit us to carry out our work. So we say other things and then we get the permissions we need.
Corruption and cross-cutting issues
As one of the youngest and most rapidly growing populations in the world, Uganda’s growth rates have remained insufficient to achieve further reductions in poverty and make progress towards Uganda Vision 2040 to become an upper-middle-income country. As things stand, the economy does not appear to be on track towards providing inclusive economic perspectives for young people. Significant challenges remain regarding the improvement of public services. Public sector performance continues to be undermined by inefficient and bloated bureaucracies and endemic corruption. This also affects the implementation of Uganda’s otherwise well-designed development plans. While the discovery of significant oil reserves was believed by some to be the answer to all economic problems, progress towards actual production has been slow and revenue projections already had to be adjusted downwards significantly.
The image of Uganda has been tarnished by recurrent corruption scandals. The violent crackdown on opposition protesters, including the arrest and torture of prominent politicians, has led to international condemnation and raised doubts about Uganda’s democratic trajectory. Museveni wields a monopoly on the use of force and exercises full control over the entire country.
The legitimacy of the Uganda police is undermined by allegations of criminal activity within the force and increasingly blurred lines in police cooperation with informal security groups. The lack of trust has further fueled local incidences of mob justice, which sporadically challenges the state’s monopoly on the use of force.
The performance of public services is hampered by inadequate revenues and resource allocations, a lack of technical capacity, and high levels of corruption. In an attempt to enhance efficiency and reduce costs in the bloated public service sector, the government in 2018 announced plans to scrap or merge numerous agencies.
Government health services cover the whole country, but only 5% of Ugandans are covered by health insurance, and health care providers operate under deplorable conditions. Understaffing, lack of equipment, poor qualifications, training, and may undermine the performance of health workers and there is a high incidence of absenteeism.
The judicial system still suffers from major human resource gaps, and case handling is slow. Cases relating to land, family conflicts (including domestic violence), and major offenses, such as rape, are handled at low levels such as Local Councils that lack the jurisdiction and competence to do so. Moreover, the lower courts and the police are often accused of corruption.
Democratically elected representatives and officeholders have to a large extent the effective power to govern. Uganda’s political reality is a blend of democratic processes and outright authoritarian interventions. Loyalty to the NRM and government is assured through political patronage and dissidence is dealt with using violence or the threat of it. Democratic institutions are a mere facade and decision-making de facto does not follow democratic procedures.
The major veto holder is the army. For a long time, its top leadership consisted of Museveni’s comrades-in-arms from the guerrilla wars. Gradually, and to the chagrin of some of the old guard, a shift took place to younger military leaders, often associated with Museveni’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who has had a meteoric rise through the ranks and is now a major general serving as senior presidential adviser for special operations.
Judges are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission, and with the approval of parliament. Corruption undermines particularly the performance of the lower courts that are believed to be disposed to bribe-taking. Trials are easily politicized in the lower courts as well, with judges yielding to political influence. In rural areas, citizens often perceive judicial institutions as treating people according to their social status or political affiliations. The judges at the higher levels of jurisdiction most times appear to be able to use their legal powers to rein in the government. Nevertheless, some judges may be susceptible to pressure from the president, who has repeatedly attacked the judiciary in public when disagreeing with its judgments. In several incidents, courts have been raided by armed security forces and suspects were (re-)arrested in the precincts of courts.
As stated by professor Moses Khisa,
“Museveni’s rule has become more repressive, characterized by mounting brutality against political opponents and his seemingly rusted response to biting socioeconomic difficulties”
“Museveni has repeatedly claimed he fought the 1981–1986 war to restore democratic governance and respect for human rights. Until the mid-1990s, he was praised for developing progressive reforms that gave voice to the citizenry through local-level political participation and robust public accountability. For long spells, armed insurgency in the north of the country constituted a drawn-out human rights disaster, but the rest of Uganda returned to a sound, stable and secure state. Museveni projected himself as a ‘security president’ who had fundamentally transformed the role of the armed forces from being predatory to protective, from serving as a source of insecurity to guarantors of security of person and property. His democratic credentials appeared credible and compelling to Ugandans and foreigners precisely because he had not been tested yet. Western political and diplomatic actors saw him as representing the ‘new breed of African “leadership” and as a ‘beacon of hope’ for the continentMoses Khisa, Museveni’s Rhetorical Belief in Democracy and the 2021 Elections in Uganda
According to Moses Khisa,
“the weaknesses of Museveni were exposed during the 2001 elections, and subsequent electoral cycles in 2006, 2011, 2016, and 2021, that Kizza Besigye and Robert Kyagulanyi also known as Bobi Wine fully exposed Museveni’s weaknesses and feck promises of the self-imposed peacemaker and a progressive incumbent who had earned respects from Western Nationals. Beginning from 2001, Museveni resorted to state brutality and all manner of underhand machinations to beat back the surprising challenge from his former personal physician and senior cabinet member. From 2001 and on, state-organized violence and blatant repression against opposition parties and politicians became the mainstay of Uganda’s electoral landscape”.
Old wine in new bottles?
Ever since Museveni became the president of Uganda, he has enforced the ban on political activities independent of the NRM. Many cases have been documented in which meetings deemed political were dispersed by the Museveni’s government. In particular; when the former U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Uganda in March 1998, at least two political events were broken up and prevented by police. In May 1998, the Ugandan authorities halted a seminar discussing the controversial Land Bill, and arrested two members of parliament following a rally opposing the bill. In June and July 1998, at least four seminars sponsored by the Foundation for African Development (FAD) and the Uganda Young Democrats (UYD) on the topic of Human Rights and Democracy were dispersed by the police, some violently. On June 19, 1998, FAD/UYD seminar in Tororo, six persons were injured after the police charged into the building and beat participants with batons.
The Ugandan authorities also blocked a UYD rally in Mbarara on July 21, 1998; a seminar on the land act sponsored by the Young Congress of Uganda, a group aligned with the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) political party, in Mbale on July 25, 1988; and an August 9, 1998, seminar in Iganga at which the president of the Justice Forum, Kibirige Mayanja, was supposed to speak on poverty alleviation in Uganda. A paralegal workshop sponsored in Masindi on July 27, 1998, by the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), the oldest human rights organization in Uganda, was almost dispersed because the resident district commissioner had confused the organization with the FAD.
In December 1998, Karuhanga Chapaa, chair of the National Democrats Forum (NDF), was arrested and charged with sedition in connection with anti- Museveni comments he allegedly made at a political rally. He was convicted of sedition in June 1999. After allegedly attending another political event at Bitereko on December 26, 1998, Chapaa received a threatening letter from the resident district commissioner, ordering him to stop engaging in illegal political activities and suggesting that Chapaa had uttered treasonable utterances. The letter also ordered Chapaa to stop distributing party membership cards, Which is an illegal act.
A report by Human Rights Watch found out that On January 6, 1999, the house of Wasswa Lule, a member of Parliament, was surrounded in the evening by heavily-armed policemen and he was arrested and taken to the Kampala police station. At the police station, Lule was interrogated about having suggested at a seminar that President Museveni should be personally probed for involvement in corruption. Lule was released at about 2 a.m. and was not charged with an offense.
As, on January 16, 1999, three FAD officials were arrested in the West Nile town of Moyo while participating in a training seminar on civic education. The training seminar was dispersed by the police. The district police commander demanded that the FAD officials write a letter of apology before releasing them twenty-eight hours after the arrest. On April 26, 1999, police and intelligence officials harassed and intimated a local council chairperson in the Mpigi district who had allowed FAD to organize a workshop on Human Rights in the Community. The officials warned the local council chairperson not to give FAD access to such forums in the district.
As stated, political parties were prohibited from holding party conferences, a ban that severely hampers their internal reform. Attempts to hold party conferences were met with strong and unambiguous warnings from the Ugandan government that they would prevent such meetings. The restrictions have also made it virtually impossible for viable independent political parties to emerge, and have hampered attempts at internal reform among the existing parties.
In particular, he exercised full control over nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) by delaying or threatening to withdraw their registration, which must be sanctioned by a government-controlled board and can be quickly revoked. Like in the old days, NGOs were required to function as nonpolitical and nonsectarian organizations, and practice a significant amount of self-censorship of their programs to obtain and maintain registration. A situation that has continued up to date.
For instance, some NGOs have faced significant interference from the Ugandan government a typical example of what is freshly recurring in the country. The government has refused to register the Uganda National NGO Forum in 1997 and declared its 1999 second general assembly an” illegal meeting”. For example, the National Organization for Civic Education and Elections Monitoring (NOCEM), a coalition of twelve NGOs that sought to engage in civic education and election monitoring, had to wait almost three years for its registration, this happened because the government was concerned that the organization included advocates of democratic pluralism. The Uganda Human Rights Education and Documentation Center (UHEDOC) had its registration arbitrarily terminated after hosting a widely attended seminar on corruption in Uganda. The Ugandan government has also attempted to create its own NRM-aligned civil society structures and was hostile to attempts by NGOs to organize themselves into more effective networks. President Museveni has often reacted with hostility to accusations of government abuse of human rights by NGOs, urging them to focus on rebel abuses instead.
In the old days, Museveni detained, interrogated, and criminally charged journalists for their reporting. Common charges included the publication of false news and seditious libel, under legislation dating from the colonial era. More commonly, journalists were called into police stations and interrogated about particular press reports, to be released hours later without charges. In 1995, the editors of the Monitor, Citizen, Crusader, the People, Rupiny, Uganda Express, Uganda Confidential, Assalaam, and Shariat have all been detained and questioned about stories in their respective papers, and some have been charged with criminal offenses. As, Hussein Musa Njuki, the editor of the Islamic opposition paper Assalaam, died in police custody in August 1995 under unclear circumstances. The frequent arrest and harassment of journalists have had a chilling effect on freedom of the press in Uganda, and have caused many journalists to practice self-censorship. The media was also strictly controlled through the 1995 Press and Journalists Law which granted the government Media Council the power to suspend journalists and publications and several leading position politicians were charged with treason by the Museveni government.
Finally, despite the cries and warnings by the Ugandan civil society fraternity, dictator Museveni has always termed these warnings as mere propaganda that have no basis, are western or foreign engineered, and therefore less consequential to him ruling the country. He has on many occasions termed the warnings as less representative of real majority Ugandans and concluded that those are mere negative sentiments of the opposition, and other politically frustrated groups working under the influence of western enemies. The president has again on many occasions said that the blames by the civil society and at times by the international community don’t mean anything to him because he hasn’t seen popular Ugandans the majority of youths and communities where he gets majority votes come up to show concern over corruption, human rights abuse and mismanagement of public services as well as how the Oil and Gas resource and other key national resources are being managed.
Fortunately now as the dictator Museveni continues to cling to power, he continues to make many mistakes that have become a wake-up call for the majority of Ugandans especially youths and impoverished communities whose lands he has stolen for an Oil production project. The Youths in all the above situations plus Civil Society have stood out as the key constituents opposing government over the above injustices to the extent that they have taken Pigs to parliament as a way of expressing anger over massive corruption in government. There is thus a need to change strategy and adopt a nationwide demand for good governance on Oil and other resources. This could quickly be achieved if it’s approached from a young, representative, vibrant constituency that forms the core voting age.
Help, as the risks increase it becomes more and more difficult to do our job (which is a job we did not choose but are forced to do), as grassroots activists we are becoming less and less, the communities believe we have abandoned them. How long will we have the energy and resources? Civil Society activists and human rights defenders must be supported for them to stay resilient in the face of attacks, civic space restriction, and democratic decay brought by dictator Museveni.