Freedom To Campaign As A Political Leader Should Be Free In Uganda

The upcoming Uganda elections seem to be stirring up common political outrage. Encaved in the heart of East Africa, Uganda has been ruled by President Kaguta Museveni since January 1986. It is public knowledge of how his terms of office and re-elections have been conducted. Having constitutional laws providing for the formation of political parties, there have been 26 parties registered for the January 2021 election. 

One of the prominent opposition leaders, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu (nicknamed as Bobi Wine), a reggae star is experiencing unfair treatment from the security forces. His office was raided by soldiers and police officers. They invaded the headquarters of the National Unity Platform (NUP) in Kamwokya, a suburb of Kampala. The invasion was unexpected by Wine and they seized cash, posters, banners, and quantities of red berets – Wine’s signature headgear and a “symbol of resistance” which the government says is illegal.

Robert has publicly accused President Yoweri Museveni of seeking to block his candidacy for next year’s elections through a series of “trumped-up” legal challenges and a campaign of intimidation. Explaining the details of the raid, he told The Guardian that “Hundreds of police and soldiers came and broke into our offices. They said they were looking for berets but that was just a pretext. I’m telling our supporters in Uganda and all over the world that this is the sign of a crumbling dictatorship. All dictators behave like this before they fall. We are strong. We are not giving up. We know that history is on our side.”

Not strangely, this is not the first time he has been assaulted, arrested, or detained since his election victory as a lawmaker representing a constituency near Kampala in 2017. He has been charged with treason and for inciting riots, which he still denies.

However, analysts say incumbent leaders such as Museveni, 76, benefit from powerful patronage networks, long-established political machines, control of the media, and links to big business, as well as support from the military or other security forces, The Guardian reported.

The response from the government’s police spokesperson, Fred Enanga, claiming the operation at Wine’s offices was aimed at seizing red berets is very familiar and similar to political intimidations consistent in all countries ruled by dictators.

He insisted by quoting the law that was introduced in 2019 to ban wearing or possession of any clothing which resembles the army uniform, with a potential penalty of imprisonment for life.

Adding to Enanga’s commentary, Uganda’s military spokeswoman, Brig Flavia Byekwaso, said the “joint operation” was aimed at stopping the “illegal use of military and police stores and other military/police patented designs.”

Joel Ssenyonyi, a spokesperson for the NUP, said 20 party workers had been arrested and forms carrying hundreds of signatures necessary to support Wine’s presidential nomination were seized.

Though Wine is requesting international attention as the only way to stop human rights abuse in Uganda, there is a loud call for Uganda to establish true democracy. If true democracy has to thrive, opposition party leaders must be treated like normal people. Freedom of speech is legalized and thus, these people should have the liberty to choose their political opinions without the fear of being threatened, arrested, or detained unlawfully.

Sarah Namondo