By Stephen Twinoburyo
President Yoweri Museveni’s office announced that he would be in Nairobi on official business the day after his political opponent was flown there in great agony for urgent medical attention following injuries he sustained in a brutal attack from the president’s security agents. This visit came at the time when the nation was angry and expected answers from the president. The international community has also been following Uganda’s events keenly.
During his stay in Kenya, Museveni was interviewed by NTV Kenya.
In the interview, Museveni seemed angered by the journalist who asked him if he didn’t feel concerned that he is increasingly being compared to former Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, in various circles. He instead started berating the journalist and telling him that he was “unserious” and didn’t know his work if he could ask Museveni such a question. He spent more time berating the journalist than putting the matter to rest. Museveni seems to suggest that it’s an insult for anyone, least of all the journalists, to compare him to Amin, when actually he is doing nothing, and instead encourages the actions that bring that comparison. He has variously used the notoriety of Amin throughout the world to hide the heinous acts and violation of human rights by the police and the army under his regime. When Ugandans mention him in comparison with Amin they are only holding him to the statements he made of the aims of his movement and government i.e. to stop state inspired violence, to end torture, to respect the rule of law.
In the same interview, President Museveni failed to express any regret about the method of arrest his political opponents or the number of innocent people hurt by teargas, bullets or beatings. And he instead justified the actions of the police and army. This is regrettable. Ugandans truly feel hurt and would have expected the president to express regret and condemn the actions of his security men. He seems to be out of touch with his people and does not seem to be reading the prevailing mood. If this is not the case, then he is outrightly arrogant. After the scenes that have been beamed around the world, the president could have done better. Newspapers around the world have been using headlines such as “Uganda police brutality in pictures”: http://www.iol.co.za/news/africa/uganda-police-brutality-in-pictures-1.1056881. This is an image Museveni should have been cleaning. Museveni seems to be behaving the same way ousted Egyptian president, Hosni Mubbarak, behaved in his addresses to the nation during the Egyptian riots, completely misreading what his people were asking him.
May the president take a look at this video again and see if the actions of these men don’t deserve regret, and in fact disciplinary action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoNt_RKhIdk
In the interview, President Museveni instead claims that it is Dr Kiiza Besigye who was responsible for the way police acted because he sprayed pepper spray onto the police and then the police together with plain-clothes security agents retaliated with their own pepper spray on Dr Besigye. This statement is bizarre. Firstly, none of the numerous local and international news media captured this action yet they all captured the brutal police assault and vandalism. Secondly, how did the police know in advance that Dr Besigye was going to use pepper spray on them such that they came prepared with theirs? Is pepper spray one of the tools police use in their duties? Thirdly, the police and security agents vandalised Dr Besigye’s car with hammers and guns, breaking windows before spraying him with harmful chemicals. How then was he able to spray them with pepper while he was in a closed car they were vandalising?
The clip above shows Museveni’s security agents, who people refer to as thugs, heavily assaulting other people. Did the president not see the need to regret the actions of these “thugs”? As Uganda’s clergy put it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GgzGVoowuw&feature=share), in any normal society, a person vandalising somebody’s car would ordinarily be a thief or thug and police would be required to arrest him unlike in this incident when the police just looked on, and in fact took part. What a disgrace to the police uniform! The president should have expressed regret for this action rather than seeming to condone it. The Washington Post recently remarked that Museveni’s comments nowadays boarder on the bizarre and the scolding of the Ugandans clergy for daring to advise him as shown in the following clip underscores this, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4WAdyvgHc0&feature=share.
It’s a shame for the president to refer to the police/army/CID as boys who might have taken the action a little far in a rather trivial manner. If he can say that of police brutality of this magnitude, wouldn’t Obote, whom Museveni castigated, not also have the justification to use a similar line of reasoning about the brutalities of the police/army when arresting suspects during his regime? And the leadership of the operation on site included an ASP and one Turyagumanawe who are very senior police officers. Are these the officers Museveni calls boys? If they are indeed Museveni’s boys, do then those who disagree with Museveni stand a chance before these ‘boys’?
The president, without any shame, said Dr Besigye earlier wanted to walk but the police told him not to walk. The president should realise that within the prevailing hardships, walk to work is an expression of people’s frustrations with his reckless spending of public money , without any sign of regard or feelings for ordinary people when the majority of Ugandans are living in abject misery. As TIME magazine puts it “Museveni’s reelection campaign is estimated to have cost $350 million, with a supplementary budget approved to foot the bill after the national treasury was reportedly exhausted. Since then his regime has spent $740 million on fighter jets and at least $1.3 million on his swearing-in ceremony [this month, May 12] — all while inflation has soared from 6% to 11% since February…. infrastructure is crumbling. Education and health services are failing the people. To buy off potential political adversaries, Museveni has added so many new districts that Uganda, a country of 32 million, now has the highest number of sub-national administrative units in Africa and the fourth highest in the world. And the standard of living is still painfully low, with GDP per capita at only $509, according to the International Monetary Fund.” http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2067136,00.html
Already the lead security agent in the Besigye attack is said to have fled the country. His homes across different parts of the country, from Kampala to Rukungiri, have been destroyed by people angry at his actions. Doesn’t it say a lot if the Museveni’s security agent can run into exile out of people’s anger? It was also reported that people stoned the army commander, Aronda Nyakairima’s convoy as it drove through a Kampala surburb. Isn’t this a sign that things have changed in the country? Museveni and his group must be wondering why people hate them so much so soon after an election he ‘won’ convincingly, when just a matter of weeks ago people were ululating his name on the campaign trail. First of all his campaign was a moving Bank of Uganda in a galaxy of poverty but also the actions of his men as we see in the following clip are turning even his erstwhile supporters away: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNvfwtby_FE&feature=share
So much seems to have changed in Uganda. Does Museveni think that everybody: the clergy, local and international media, the people, foreign observers e.t.c are getting it wrong and it’s only him that is right? Even the Amins had a similar mindset. “The riots, in which roads have been barricaded with burning tyres and vehicles pelted with rocks, mark a new level of defiance. Facebook and Twitter, which the government unsuccessfully tried to block, are reverberating with dissent. Museveni’s heavyhanded attempts to put out the fire only appear to be fanning its flames.” The Guradian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/29/uganda-rebellion-crackdown-besigye-museveni
The above situation seems to be summed up in one Ugandan’s comment on facebook: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” – George Orwell, ‘Animal Farm’. – “You know you’ve sunk to a remarkable level of depravity when you’re repeatedly compared to Idi Amin!”