by Ann Garrison
Flashpoints broadcast on KPFA Jan. 21, 2016
Flashpoints Host Dennis Bernstein: You’re listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio. My name is Dennis Bernstein.
We turn our attention now to the African nation of Uganda. The United States is the number one bilateral donor to the East African nation of Uganda, and the U.S. has had a longstanding military partnership with its President Museveni and, of course, along with the Ugandan Peoples Defense Force.
Uganda in fact invaded Rwanda in 1990, then the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1996 and ‘98 and then South Sudan in 2013, leaving millions dead or displaced. Observers therefore have an eye on the U.S. government’s response to Uganda’s presidential election coming up on Feb. 18.
President Gen. Yoweri Museveni began his 30th year in power in 2016, and he is running for his fifth term. Uganda’s Parliament abolished presidential term limits in Uganda to enable him to remain in power in 2005. Ann Garrison spoke to Milton Allimadi, Ugandan American Editor of the Black Star News, about what to expect.
Ann Garrison: Milton Allimadi, what would you like to tell us about this upcoming Ugandan presidential election?
Milton Allimadi: I think it’s unique in that, for the first time, we also have as a candidate one of the individuals who, allegedly, in the past, had been involved in the rigging of the elections, and of course I’m talking about Amama Mbabazi, the former prime minister until two years ago and secretary general of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party of Gen. Yoweri Museveni. Amama Mbabazi has now declared that Museveni is indeed an autocrat, a dictator, and he’s running against him.
And you had an interesting presidential candidates’ debate, which was boycotted by the president on Friday, the 15th. And the other leading candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye, president of the Forum for Democratic Change, during a section of the debate, when candidates were allowed to ask a question of the other candidates, he asked Mbabazi what knowledge he had of past rigging in the elections.
And of course, Mbabazi deflected it, I would say, in a rather clever way and said, since he was not directly involved, he was not aware but he did hear rumors of rigging. And he said he would be willing to offer his experience and work together with candidate Dr. Besigye to make sure that rigging does not happen this time, in this coming election.
AG: I don’t see how you could expect anything but a rigged election because reports have been that the Electoral Commission is, once again, not independent.
MA: Absolutely. The outcome is probably predetermined in the incumbent’s mind, Gen. Museveni’s, and his hand appointed Electoral Commission’s. But nevertheless, there are ballot boxes that need to be stuffed and, if Mbabazi says he has experience, meaning, I presume, he knows how it’s done, perhaps he does have a way to make sure that it’s not enough rigging to prevent going into a run-off.
Because to avoid a run-off, Gen. Museveni is going to have to win more than 50 percent of the vote, and many people think that is highly unlikely. Many people believe Besigye alone actually defeated him in the past elections and, obviously, the only reason why Museveni was declared the winner was because the Electoral Commission is handpicked by Museveni.
But, given the fact that we now have Mbabazi, who can pull votes away from the National Resistance Movement (NRM) while Besigye may have actually expanded his base, I don’t see how Gen. Museveni would be able to get more than 50 percent of the vote.
AG: Do you know how many dead people are registered this time?
MA: Hahaha, a very good question. Actually, you know, that’s a very important question, Ann. The numbers really don’t matter and I’m glad you just went to the meat of the matter.
I think the most important factor in this election is going to be what the chairman of the Electoral Commission, Kigundu, Badru Kigundu, is willing to do on behalf of Gen. Museveni. I don’t think he’s a person that’s unintelligent.
I think Mr. Kigundu is probably reading the signs on the wall, and I would be very surprised if he goes along with it one more time and allows Gen. Museveni to steal these elections. I think he knows what the possible consequences might be and I don’t think he wants that to be his legacy. But then again, we don’t know what kind of threat he’s under, so we don’t know what exactly is going to happen the day after these elections.
There are many options. People are talking about the possibility of Museveni actually engineering a “friendly coup d’état” that would be led by officers who would protect his interests and protect his family. Even the U.S. is aware that Museveni is a spent force and that his major concern is how to protect his family, how to protect himself and the ill-gotten gains that people close to him have been able to reap over these 30 years.
And I don’t just speak based on speculation. Actually I’m speaking based on a conversation with a U.S. senator who is very familiar with the region and knows Gen. Museveni quite well.
AG: There’ve been reports of many things that happened last time. Rallies are being broken up, candidates are being arrested, and it’s reported that Museveni, his government, is preparing to spend a lot of state resources to buy this election.
MA: Well, he’s not doing anything in a different manner from at any time in the past. I think the only difference this time around is that the repression has been much more severe; and obviously you are aware he and the police chief, Gen. Kale Kayihura, have trained this militia force called “crime preventers,” euphemistically.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called for these militias to be immediately suspended before these elections. They’re actually going around terrorizing people that they suspect may be voting for the opposition candidates. Some have been beaten up severely, some have been killed and some have simply disappeared.
So you’re right; going into the Feb. 18 elections, there’s no indication that Uganda has a chance to have peaceful and free and fair elections. But at the same time, I think Ugandans have reached their limit. I’m seeing a lot more sense of defiance.
There was an incident where candidate Besigye wanted to visit some people who had been displaced from their land, and the land had been turned into game reserves. And now they’re living in internal refugee camps, and they invited him to come in and witness their living conditions.
And the police set a gambit to prevent him from going through, but his supporters, together with the candidate marched right through, and the police panicked and fired live bullets and fired tear gas, and the people backed off, but then the people from the camp came and joined with the supporters of the candidate and, once again, proceeded to move forward.
So, in other words, when you see people now defying police who are firing tear gas and live shots, it gives you a sense of the mood in the countryside. So I think President Museveni, Gen. Museveni, Dictator Museveni, together with his Electoral Commission, headed by Badru Kigundu, will be responsible for any consequences that will arise if these elections are stolen. And, as I said, just looking by the level of defiance that people are now taking, I think people are willing to do their utmost to make sure that Gen. Museveni does not get away with stealing the Feb. 18 election.
AG: OK, and what about this grisly incident: Thirteen male bodies washed up on the beach of Lake Victoria, and the government said, oh, they got drunk and drowned in the lake.
MA: That is one of the several incidents where the government is trying to send a clear sign that these are the type of things that can happen to people that don’t toe the line and would dare support the opposition.
According to the police, there were 13 bodies, male bodies, that were found, and the police preposterously claimed they had all drowned after celebrating Christmas and apparently drinking too much.
OK, a couple of questions. Number one, how would the police come to that conclusion, since not a single autopsy was performed, so obviously this was a manufactured and convenient explanation. That’s number one.
Number two, the police claimed to identify the bodies. How did they identify the bodies? Many of the bodies were semi-nude. How would they have been able to get hold of their IDs in order to identify them?
And then the other thing is that several of the males were actually Muslims. I don’t know how that was determined, but let’s go with that for a second. Why would Muslims be celebrating Christmas? So a lot of this does not make sense.
And then, Ann, the most critical and important thing is actually that the owners of the beachfront hotels where these individuals allegedly had been celebrating the holiday season, all of them said that they did not witness a single incident and that they patrolled the waters off their hotels, including with speedboats and that, out of the whole entire celebration season, only one family came to report that a relative of theirs who had gone swimming had disappeared. Just one report.
So obviously there are many questions. People think that this was a clear sign to try and intimidate people that the government was sending out.
And then, of course, the second incidence is the one that’s been widely, also, reported, the so-called disappearance of Christopher Aine, who was a senior aide to one of the candidates, Amama Mbabazi. And subsequently a photograph of a body appeared in one of the local papers in Uganda, and his sister, Aine’s sister, said that indeed was a photograph of the corpse of her brother. And it’s believed that he has been killed on the orders of the police chief, Gen. Kayihura, who of course would take his orders from Gen. Museveni.
AG: How credible a mediator do you think Gen. Museveni is in the Burundian situation?
MA: That’s almost like Hitler being a mediator in any crisis in Europe in the 1940s. It is preposterous. It does not make sense. How can a genocidal killer hope to help another country avert a domestic crisis?
It’s preposterous and it also points at the hypocrisy – outrageous hypocrisy – of the international community to allow someone with his reputation and his history to be a “mediator” in any political crisis in another country.
AG: OK, lastly, what sort of stance do you think the U.S. is going to take with regard to this election?
MA: The U.S. will take a wait-and-see stance. The U.S. just wants a partner that the U.S. can work with. If Gen. Museveni steals these elections, if there’s enough resistance from the population and they refuse to allow Gen. Museveni to steal the elections, and if he acts with brutality, if he unleashes bloodshed, I see the U.S. actually, at some point, issuing a statement telling him to step down.
I think the U.S. has realized that Ugandans have reached their limit and they’re willing to take any measure, any action, to make sure that the 30-year regime, the dictatorship of Gen. Museveni, does not continue in Uganda.
AG: Milton Allimadi, thank you for speaking to KPFA.
MA: Thank you so much as always.
Oakland writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Black Agenda Report, Black Star News, Counterpunch and her own website, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, KPFA Evening News, KPFA Flashpoints and for her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. In March 2014 she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for promoting peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa through her reporting.