As you know on Feb. 18 Uganda held elections that were universally condemned by credible observers including by the U.S. as flawed and having not been free, fair or credible; they were also marred by violence against opposition supporters by state security agents.
The Ugandan military has since escalated its human rights abuses by inflicting brutal repression against civilians.
The U.S., which is a major security partner of the Ugandan regime, providing arms and training for its army – in addition to $700 million in financial support — must at the very least suspend this relationship as required by the Leahy Amendment which “prohibits the U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense from providing military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity.”
With respect to the Feb. 18 vote, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo condemned the Ugandan regimes’ vote suppression in opposition strongholds; he said the delays in delivery of election material were “inexcusable.”
Obasanjo, who led the Commonwealth Observer group concluded that the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party had abused state resources to benefit the candidacy of the incumbent Gen. Yoweri Museveni. The Commonwealth’s report also decried “inequitable media coverage and question marks over the secrecy of the ballot and the competence of the electoral commission to manage the process.”
On behalf of your administration, the State Department concluded that “reports of pre-checked ballots and vote buying, ongoing blockage of social media sites, and excessive use of force by the police, collectively undermine the integrity of the electoral process.”
Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) election monitoring team also concluded that Uganda’s Electoral Commission (EC) wasn’t “competent” or trusted and that while the “political parties were still following tallying and collecting data from the field, the police stormed FDC’s party headquarters using teargas and arrested the flag bearer Kizza Besigye and the party leadership.”
Gen. Museveni hand-picked the EC and its chairman Badru Kiggundu.
All observers condemned the regime’s blocking of all access to the social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp – on election day.
When Mr. Kiggundu declared Gen. Museveni as “winner” of the sham elections, on Feb. 20, the announcement was rejected by the major opposition candidates Dr. Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and Amama Mbabazi the former prime minister.
Dr. Besigye’s supporters believe he was heading to victory, based on reports from polling stations and they consider him as the President-Elect.
Civil society and religious leaders also rejected the announcement by Mr. Kiggundu who in effect acts as Gen. Museveni’s personal referee.
Gen. Museveni has now responded with what amounts to a military coup d’état. He has placed Dr. Besigye and Mr. Mbabazi under house arrest and deployed security forces all over the streets of Kampala. Even journalists with independent media outlets covering the repression have been targeted, attacked with pepper spray, arrested, and assaulted while in captivity.
Up to 300 FDC party officials, including those who were involved in monitoring polling stations, have disappeared and are believed to have been abducted by government security agents.
Mr. President while the opposition party supporters have so far maintained remarkable discipline in the face of attacks and provocations by the armed forces, all hell could break loose the longer that leaders like Dr. Besigye and Mr. Mbabazi remain in detention.
Ironically the current paralysis and explosive polarization could have been avoided if Gen. Museveni had heeded the suggestion that he retire, from many prominent Ugandans, including his own former prime minister Mr. Mbabazi.
When you addressed African leaders last July at the African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa, you also warned of the dangers presented by leaders who cling to power at all cost. Gen. Museveni has ruled Uganda since he seized power in 1986; in 2005 he arm-twisted Parliament into removing presidential term limits.
Instead of paving the way for a new crop of leadership Gen. Museveni decided to run a violent re-election campaign based on threats, repression, and attacks against suspected opposition party supporters.
In the run up to the elections the ruling National Resistance Movement’s (NRM) secretary general Ms. Justine Lumumba Kasule issued the following chilling warning to any youth that contemplated demonstrations to protest alleged election rigging: “the state will shoot you.”
Gen. Kale Kayihura, the notorious police commander, presided over the training of so-called “crime preventers,” about 200,000 pro-government militias who’ve been accused by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International of brutal attacks against opposition party supporters.
Before the election, Kayihura also declared that these pro-regime gangs should be armed with guns to “prepare for war.”
This clear incitement to violence prompted the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski on Jan. 28 to Tweet: “#Uganda head of police vague remarks on arming ‘crime preventers’ for war before election is dangerous/irresponsible.”
Gen. Museveni himself not only failed to condemn the statements by Lumumba and Kayihura — which indicates he approved or authorized them — but he also threatened that any Ugandans who continue to protest would be placed in “the deep freezer.”
This message was not lost on Ugandans who recall that this was a preferred spot for some of Idi Amin’s victims.
Mr. President it’s true that the U.S. has allowed scandalous exception to the Museveni regime. This is due to Uganda’s deployment of thousands of troops to Somalia to help battle al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda affiliated militia. Yet, this U.S. position mistakenly presumes that a democratically-elected Ugandan regime wouldn’t continue security cooperation in Somalia with the U.S. and the other AU countries now involved.
Mr. President Ugandans are paying a very high price for the exception allowed to Gen. Museveni. Suspending military cooperation would send a clear signal to the Ugandan regime that abuses won’t be tolerated and that justice must prevail.
Mr. President the U.S. can help press a resolution by additionally:
1. Making it clear the U.S. won’t recognize any “winner” of the Feb. 18 presidential election as declared by Badru Kiggundu as such a move would contradict the announcements by the Commonwealth, the EU, other election observers, and the U.S. State Department that the vote was not free, fair and credible.
2. Issuing a statement demanding the unconditional release of Dr. Besigye, Mr. Mbabazi, all political prisoners and the missing 300 FDC officials.
3. Supporting the opposition parties’ demands for an independent audit of the ballots to determine who received more votes in the Feb. 18 election before Kiggundu’s fraudulent announcement; a similar U.N.-brokered program was successful in resolving the stalemate in Afghanistan and averting bloodshed.
4. Issuing a U.S. visa ban, asset seizure and other appropriate sanctions against Gen. Kayihura, Ms. Lumumba Kasule, and other Ugandan officials who have made statements inciting violence; this should also cover any commanders issuing orders to carry out acts of violence.
5. Demanding that attacks against journalists stop immediately.
While these actions alone may not resolve the Ugandan crises, they will send the right signal to Gen. Museveni and his military commanders.
The measures will also make it clear to millions of Ugandan voters that you meant what you said, in 2009 and in 2014; that Africa needs democracy and strong institutions not “big” men.
Militon Allimade is a Ugandan journalist based in New York City and is also the CEO for Blackstar News.