By fr Anthony Musaala
The arrest and release of some opposition leaders, on the pretext of breaking anti-Covid rules, has created more uncertainty and anxiety about next month’s elections in Uganda.
The national mood is increasingly polarized and fearful, and for many ordinary citizens, it will be with trepidation that one goes out to cast one’s vote.
The continuing harassment of opposition leaders during campaigns seems pointless, since none have been intimidated.
The arrest of the vociferous Robert Kyagulanyi who wants to unseat President Museveni, triggered two days of unrest nationwide, in which angry rioters burnt tyres on the roads, dumped rubbish everywhere,stoned vehicles and attacked some passers-by.
Security forces responded with copious tear gas, beatings, and shooting live rounds, which left forty nine people dead, and hundreds injured, in just two days.
The security minister justified the killings and injuries as inevitable in the quelling of riots. Police continued to make statements ‘explaining’ their actions, without apologies for life lost, or for the obvious excessive use of force.
Religious leaders and human rights groups and have expressed concern about declining respect for the human rights of citizens by security forces primed by the state.
COVID RULES QUANDARY
Kyagulanyi’s arrest was due to his alleged infringement of COVID rules.
These rules which were meant to save citizens lives, are being enforced absurdly with brute force, with tear gas and live rounds if crowds gather during campaigns, resulting in deaths and injuries.
Furthermore they are applied selectively to the opposition candidates.
The COVID laws were obviously breached from the start, by the NRM candidates during their primaries. No police action was taken, yet opposition candidates are blocked and arrested in almost every location.
It is this unequal application of the rules which made Kyagulanyi and Amuriat choose to ignore them, and why they subsequently got arrested.
Kyagulanyi’s release poses more dilemmas for the regime.
If the police block him again there will be more disorder, tear gas, more deaths, and even Kyagulanyi’s re- arrest, followed by yet more riots.
The government has therefore painted itself into nice a corner.
What is worrying is that the regime seems to have crossed a red line into a new zone of near total oppression of the opposition and the use of brutality with impunity.
The explications by the president of ‘ideology’ which now include supposedly scientific but draconian anti-Covid laws, seem hollow and duplicitous.
The ideology appears more and more as nascently fascist and anti-people, yet it is consumed by unsuspecting poverty-stricken masses who want cash for ‘wealth-creation’, and also by some elites who should no better, but for whom the president is almost a cult-figure.
Why give credence to a leadership which suffers a deepening ‘messiah complex’ and which will stop at nothing to perpetuate itself, just so that one and one’s clique may enjoy some wealth ?
There are few options left for this regime, since it seems to have nailed the last nail in its own coffin.
One option would be to let campaign rallies be, and not to senselessly tear-gas, kill and maim citizens in the name of prevent After all, there is no sudden rise in Covid cases where rallies have taken place .
This option would let off the hook NRM candidates who breached Covid rules during their primaries. Otherwise, justice requires that they too should be arrested and prosecuted.
The other option would be a drastic one – to cancel the elections altogether, until a more suitable time.This might save the nation from a descent into violent conflicts for an unknown period after elections
The president was advised to take this path eight months ago when COVID began, but insisted on ‘scientific campaigns’, which are obviously not working.
The fear for him at that time was that if he accepted, he would be required to hand over power to some one else, in the interim period before fresh elections.
So since Ugandans must now vote, they should consider if they want a regime which continues to brutalize citizens, while deceptively declaring ‘peace’ and ‘steady progress’?
Possibly not, and so there is more than a good chance that the incumbent may be voted out, massively by Robert Kyagulanyi – a political novice. This would be a terrible humiliation and likely not to be accepted.
This might happen because no matter what good the regime has done, its continued and outrageous attacks on human dignity and citizens rights, disturbs anyone with even half a conscience.
From the Christian point of view, the regime scores zero. It is no longer ‘pro-life’ in any sense of the word, since these brutal actions are deeply embedded in its operations and keep on recurring. It has become immoral, and it would be immoral to associate with it.
The regimes trumpeted successes cannot make up for all the lives lost and maimed, and with the possibility of more to come. We cannot weigh diamonds with stones.
Such inhumanity cannot ever be the foundation of good governance in a society whose motto is ‘For God and my country’,nor can’t be the basis for promoting the common good, and we deceive ourselves if we think so.
Uganda’s middle classes and ‘the educated’ who are more economically secure, and who have benefited more from the regime, want stability, and may not want change, or to vote for one who is unknown.
This however may be shortsighted and selfish.
The plight of the majority of Ugandans who have fewer opportunities to climb out of poverty, and who suffer the police brutality the most, mean that they want change, and since they are the majority will eventually get it.
If in a new dispensation, everyone is included in the economy, and basic human rights are respected by the state, this will secure everyone’s future. If not, we may be in for more upheavals.
If the majority vote massively for a change of leadership on January 14th 2021 and the ballot is stolen, again there will be trouble.
So one way or another we must prepare for some dark days ahead.
We pray against this, but must act as best as we can to prevent it. It is not enough to invoke peace without addressing the underlying causes of its disruption, which is the neglect of justice and equity by leaders, or indeed by ourselves.
We pray for the courage to do what is right at this time and to save our nation from chaos, whether we are voters or prospective leaders.