Opinion

UGANDA’s 2021 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: It can be peacefully held; heal nation’s wounds

If given room, goodwill will suppress the violence and intimidation

 

Bobi Wine’s arrest in Kampala, Uganda, shortly after he registered his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election. PHOTO | HEBOBEWINE.

JANUARY 10, 2021

By Gregory Aaron,

Tranquility News reporter, Boston, Massachusetts.

As Uganda is in preparation for the January 14 presidential and parliamentary elections, the situation in the country seems to be capricious and volatile. Journalists, opposition members, and human rights activists are under constant attacks by partisan state actors.

On January 7, 2021, the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) reported: Since December last year — Ugandan security agents assaulted at least 11 journalists and detained two. Meanwhile, Daily Monitor reported on November 19, 2020, that more brutality was unleashed on the general population by the state security agents; over 50 people were killed (by summary execution) on the streets of Kampala because of a peaceful demonstration amidst a pandemic; it is alleged that other members of public are still in incommunicado, with no any iota of  trace. Isn’t this a crime against humanity? One wonders!

“We are all implicated, if we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state or a nation.” Bryan Stevenson, author of ‘Just Mercy’, says.

Faces of some of the people that died during the deadly November 18/19 protests sparked off following the arrest of opposition party NUP presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine in Luuka District. See more faces of the victims at the end of the story. PHOTO | NMG.

Apparently, there is no clear data to indicate the number of people in state captivity beyond the constitutionally mandated 48 hours. However, unverifiable sources estimate the number to be more than one thousand Ugandans — who are mostly youth detained in unknown locations; a catastrophe that has left relatives and well-wishers in specter of despair and hopelessness.

Mr Justin Juuko is accused of training youth to fight Ugandans after the elections. PHOTO | COURTESY.

Let’s not forget the message of Mr. Stevenson: The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more it is necessary to recognise that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and perhaps, we all need some measure of unmerited grace.

If a regime can only offer temporary freedom due to constant  pressure by powerful voices locally and internationally to only the famous or well-connected political prisoners; like former lightweight boxing champion Justin Juuko, who was held incommunicado for about three weeks. Then local and international community ought to demand for more accountability on behalf of the other vulnerable and voiceless Ugandans languishing in state captivity because of their political opinion.

Majority of Ugandans who disagree with the regime, view the police and other law enforcement agencies as ambassadors of oppression.

Ugandan law enforcement agents normally operate like political mercenaries hired by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) ruling party; it is worse during election season. The mission is to instill fear to whoever the regime may consider as a credible opponent.

 As a consequence, majority of the people with no connection to state power wander in despair and survival mode; because of malice, intimidation, bribery and harassment conducted by a few powerful partisan state actors.

President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who has been in power for 35 years, has added an extra layer of fear in the population by uttering undemocratic cautionary statements to the population that he is going to unleash an avalanche of state actors against anti-regime protesters.

Raymond Wack, the author of ‘Introduction to Law’, explains how a surveillance society can easily generate a climate of mistrust and suspicion.

Mr Wack elaborates the need for an effective oversight of security services, lest a reduction in the respect for law and those who enforce it. To him, the law would face formidable difficulties in this respect: Arbitrary powers of arrest and detention, imprisonment without trial, secret trials, and the like.

In times of crisis, natural law demands humans to use emotions with the benefit of the intellect, but it can only be possible when there is an effective and transparent oversight to do justice for those violated. 

Maybe for the start, Uganda needs to set up a post-election Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a meaningful gesture to heal the aggrieved and injured.  

“Treat people as they want to be and help them to become what they are capable of being,” says Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, a German philosopher.

Ugandan supporters of opposition presidential candidate Bobi Wine stage a protest outside the Ugandan High Commission in Nairobi on November 19, 2020, demanding his release and an end to police brutality. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG

Otherwise, it is a bad publicity locally and internationally for a regime to let poorly supervised state machinery attack journalists, members of the opposition and the vulnerable population in broad day light; especially in this new era of social media where everything is clear and visible from any angle of the earth.

An injured man is led away after he was shot in the side of the face with a rubber bullet, November 18, 2020, in Kampala, Uganda, amid protests over the arrest of presidential candidate Bobi Wine. PHOTO | GETTY IMAGES

Young democracies like that of Uganda need a constant reminder: History teaches us to be aware about the process of authoritarianism inclinations like a cancer growing in the body. In the initial stages, citizens start losing interest in quest for ideas that directly affect their lives. They look for someone to rescue them, thus paving a way for a charismatic leader who creates a bubble of blame game while establishing their foot on power structures.

Yuval Levin, academician at the American Enterprise Institute and the Editor of National Affairs in his New York Times (NYT) article explains: What stands out about our era in particular is a distinct kind of institutional dereliction — a failure even to attempt to form trustworthy people, and a tendency to think of institutions not as molds of character and behaviour but as platforms for performance and prominence

Mr Levin explains how we can lose faith in an institution if there is no ethical or formative role of teaching the people within it to be trustworthy. This can happen through simple corruption, when an institution’s attempts to be formative fail to overcome the vices of the people within it, and it instead masks their treachery — as when a bank cheats its customers or a member of the clergy abuses a child.

For as long as unlawful act is done in an official capacity, it affects the performance of official duties. The actor in this regard feels unrestrained since there is no immediate consequence

It is not too late to remedy the mistakes committed by rogue political state operatives humiliating critical citizens of Uganda under the disguise of national security. Releasing political prisoners and forgotten men and women held in incommunicado is a first step to enable  accountability and healing process while still in power; or else International Criminal Court (ICC) will waylay like a lion ready to pounce on its prey when the perfect moment strikes. Charles Taylor of Liberia; Omar el-Bashir of Sudan, and Laurent Ggabo of Ivory Coast can attest more on what happens after one relinquishes power involuntarily.

All actors in Uganda’s 2021 presidential and parliamentary election can borrow Mr. Stevenson advice: “Fear and anger can make us vindictive, abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from an absence of mercy and compassion. We condemn ourselves as much as we victimise others.”

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