Stifling democracy – the Museveni way!Posted: 6 April, 2016
Author: Solomon Joojo Cobbinah
Ghanaian Journalist and Human Rights Activist
The Uganda Police Force is perhaps the most proactive in the entire world. They actively swing into action and arrest people they suspect are hatching plans to commit a crime. However, it seems the Police largely targets politicians, who are deemed to be “threats” to President Yoweri Museveni who has been in power for 30 years.
More than a month after Uganda’s February 2016 Presidential and Parliamentary Election, opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye, flagbearer of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) continues to be under what the Police describes as “preventive arrest”. Preventive arrest is meant to stop him from leading protests against a declaration from Uganda’s Electoral Commission that President Museveni won the 2016 Presidential Election. Dr Besigye’s arrest on the Election Day restrained him from legally challenging an election he deemed fraudulent.
The Police have vehemently defended their action quoting Article 212(c) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (Constitution) which states that the Police have a function to ‘prevent and detect crime’. To further drive home their defense, the Police cited Section 24 of the Police Act which instructs the Police to detain anyone suspected of habouring plans to commit an offence or engage in acts that would cause harm to him, other persons or property.
However, the police have failed to consider Article 23(4) (b) of the Constitution which states that “an arrested or detained person should be… brought before court as soon as possible but not later than forty-eight hours from the time of his or her arrest”. The above Article should curb arbitrariness of police arrests and put an end to the police holding suspects without presenting them to court.
Evolving trend of preventive arrest in Uganda
Preventive arrest has become a trend that is used to stifle dissenting voices in Uganda. For example in 2011, Dr Besigye was held under the preventive arrest provision after he dared challenge the 2011 Presidential Election results and subsequently released without any criminal charge. In 2012, opposition Kampala Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago was also held under preventive arrest to stop him from organising political gatherings to coincide with Uganda’s 50 years of independence celebrations. Fast forward to 2016, Dr Besigye is only allowed to move around his compound and only entertain guests thoroughly screened and approved by the Police stationed outside his residential gate. The Police also prevented John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, a former Prime Minister of Uganda in Museveni‘s regime, from canvassing for support to challenge President Museveni in party primaries. He became frustrated and decided to contest the presidential election on an independent ticket. These arrests appear to be an albatross hanging tightly around the necks of opposition politicians, stifling dissenting views and strangling democracy in Uganda. It generates a trend that is very dangerous for Uganda’s democracy.
Police’s use of preventive arrests clearly amounts to detention without trial because out of many incidences cited above, the police have failed to produce suspects before court. Legally, Dr Kizza Besigye has been trying to use the court to fight for his freedom but that has also yielded little results. Dr Besigye through his lawyers filed a case before the Magistrate Court to challenge his preventive arrest, shockingly on the Day of Judgment the Kampala High Court Criminal division recalled his file. The Directorate of Public Prosecutions stated that it is within their right to recall and seek review from the High Court. Until the High Court review is complete Dr Besigye’s right to personal liberty will remain abused thereby making the judiciary implicit in denying him freedom of movement.
In a rather ridiculous move, the Police arrested two people in Rukungiri district of Western Uganda for heeding to a campaign to close their shops. The people of Rukungiri had decided to close their shops to protest of Dr Besigye’s preventive arrest and were rounded up and accused of closing shops and misusing social media.
It would be easier for Government of Uganda to announce that the country is a one party state than to pretend that citizens have rights and that the country is democratic. If enacted laws cannot be enforced then it is not worth the paper that it was written on. What also makes Uganda’s case a sad one is that state institutions supposed to be independent appear fused into the executive arm of government. Is there any other solution for Ugandans when even peaceful demonstration leads to police brutalities?
Why are western democracies silent on Uganda’s situation especially when international and domestic election observers raised serious issues with the electoral process and also raised issues with the arrest of Dr Besigye? Perhaps African leaders may save the day by calling President Museveni to order, but which African leader will do that? That is perhaps wishful thinking. Will next door neighbour President Kagame call Museveni to order when he just changed the constitution to extended his rule to a third term or; do we expect President Zuma who is now worried about how to pay up money spent on non-security renovations to his Nkandla homestead in South Africa? Well, may be President Mugabe who has remained in power since 1980 would come to the rescue, or Yahya Jammeh who is ruling Gambia with a clenched fist!
Concluding the article is a difficult one. Perhaps the Dr Besigye could seek remedies from regional and international courts. But the solution to democracy in Uganda will be Ugandans and not the world.
About the Author:
Solomon Joojo Cobbinah is a Ghanaian Journalist and Human Rights Activist. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies from the Ghana Institute of Journalism and University of Ghana. He also holds MPhil in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa from the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa.