Dear Tingasiga: Whereas the latest police attack on Dr. Kizza Besigye’s convoy was an appalling display of barbarism, it was not surprising to anyone who has been awake to the conduct of Uganda’s ruling regime.
Violence against unarmed and innocent civilians is its trademark. Besigye, of course, has been harassed, tortured and threatened with death more than any other Ugandan politician since independence.
President Yoweri Museveni has coined a euphemism for any serious challenge to his continued reign. He calls it “indiscipline.”
Speaking during the NRA heroes day on June 9, the president said: “Anybody who tries to bring indiscipline here in Uganda, we shall suppress him or her. That does not need a lot of talking………”
“Indiscipline” is a code word that gives Museveni’s militarized police a blanket license to terrorize major opponents and their supporters.
We saw them “suppress” former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi when he attempted to engage in legitimate and legal efforts to launch his countrywide consultation exercise. More of the same is in store for him and Besigye in the days ahead.
Museveni, who claims a monopoly on the right to use violence, further energized his police during a speech at a National Day of Prayer last week. With top religious leaders present, Museveni assured his listeners that what happened in Kenya after the 2007 elections would not happen in Uganda.
Then, with a voice and facial expression that turned the religious event into a forum for verbal violence, the president threatened Ugandans: “Anybody who tries to do that will be smashed completely! Completely!”
Within days, the police violently undressed unarmed and peaceful female opposition members. Video recordings of these violations of the women’s dignity have been widely distributed around the world, earning our country the kind of contempt and ridicule that was commonplace in the 1970s.
One video recording was especially striking. It shows a woman, under illegal arrest by the Museveni police, dragged on pavement, violently undressed and then lifted onto the back of a police truck. She then gets up, undresses herself to complete nakedness, exposing her genitals to the police and the world.
To some, her act was strange. In fact it was an understandable reaction to the humiliation that the police had visited on her and on many women. Previous video recordings have captured the Museveni police undressing women opposition members or supporters.
After watching the latest video, Professor Thaddeus Manus Ulzen, a Ghanaian psychiatrist in Alabama, USA, told me: “The lady who undressed herself refused to have her dignity taken away from her. She empowered herself and asserted her autonomy by actively stripping herself.” To Prof. Ulzen, the woman was saying: “You want to see? Here it is!”
My disgust at the conduct of the Museveni police was somewhat eased by welcome evidence that some young Ugandans, though born and raised abroad, share their parents’ passion for freedom back home.
After seeing the photos and videos of the latest police brutality, Kingsley Tumugire, a 16-year old Ugandan-Canadian who visited us over the weekend, told me: “It was another gross display of political repression by a regime that has shown, time and time again, a feudal approach to political opposition.”
To 15-year old Agnes Ndawula: “ It is amazing how democracy is not understood by the government, and that it is still happening in this day and age where people’s voices and opinions are still suppressed in such a cruel and inhumane way.”
The youngsters are not the only ones disgusted by the events of the weekend. Vera Nyirabishwi, a 41-year old Canadian professional who was looking forward to relocating to Uganda in the next few years told me: “I cannot live in a culture where people’s voices and freedoms are stifled. I pity the young and upcoming generation that sees this and probably think it is the norm. They do not know what it is like to have real freedom of speech, expression and association and to live in a genuinely peaceful society.”
To me the most striking thing about the arrest and violation of the dignity of women was the shared nakedness between the victims and their chief persecutor. Museveni enjoys the adoration of a significant percentage of women partly because they believe that he has championed their causes. They believe that appointing women to high profile positions entitles him to their reverence and political support.
In fact the greatest victims of Museveni’s bad policies have been women and children. To be sure, the women who were undressed by the Museveni police were victims of his clear message during the National Day of Prayer. The women’s nakedness exposed the emperor’s nakedness.
My wife Florence put it very well: “It is very sad and embarrassing to witness such primitive behavior, especially perpetuated by women on women.”
Had these been the 1970s, such police brutality would have been rightly, loudly and swiftly attributed to President Idi Amin Dada. Likewise, other leaders of what Museveni calls buffoon regimes would have been held responsible for the actions of their armed organizations.
Commentators err when they hold Gen. Kale Kayihura responsible for police brutality. He is a mere implementer of the ruler’s policies and programs.
Letter to a Kampala Friend
By Muniini K. Mulera