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The villainous trinity of Uganda’s 2021 polls: Police, Electoral Commission, Ministry of Health

Guest Writer

The villainous trinity of Uganda’s 2021 polls: Police, Electoral Commission, Ministry of Health

IGP Okoth Ochola

The Inspector General of Police (IGP) Martin Okoth Ochola is tough-looking, tough-talking, but perhaps a tired man.

After nearly three years in the force’s driving seat maybe he wants to stay home and rest.

On November 18, 2020, before the arrest of the National Unity Platform (NUP)’s presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Sssentamu, also known as Bobi Wine, apparently for flouting Covid-19 guidelines, Ochola issued a strong statement warning: “those who shall defy the Electoral Commission guidelines with their sinister plans aimed at disrupting the Electoral process will definitely suffer consequences”. He said they had adopted a “tough approach” through which they would “identify ring leaders for apprehension in the face of crime”. After that he seems to have gone to bed and no one seems to know when he will wake up.

Close to 60 people were killed during riots sparked that day by the arrest of Kyagulanyi, according to official reports.

Other reports indicate that more people could have been killed than what the official reports portray.

In a country where there is hardly any accountability for missing persons it is difficult to confirm or deny those reports.

Kyagulanyi was on November 20 formally charged with flouting Covid regulations. He was granted bail of UGX 1m and told by the judge to avoid processions and limit his rallies to 200. Kyagulanyi, however, has continued to receive massive crowds along the roads and at venues of his rallies. We have, on several occasions, seen armed State agents fire teargas canisters and bullets in those crowds eager to hear from him, killing and injuring a number of them.

The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC)’s Patrick Oboi Amuriat (casually called POA) is the second presidential candidate armed forces are enthusiastic to pursue. They have jumped at any opportunity to assault him since November 3 when they delivered him barefoot to Justice Simon Byabakama, the head of the Electoral Commission (EC), for nomination. They hardly allow the “villager” to hold any rally. They disband his supporters with bullets and teargas in many places he goes to.

If Ochola was serious about enforcing Covid-19 regulations then my candidate, Kyagulanyi, would now be in jail for continuing to address crowds even when it is clear that they multiply the 200 people limit by a thousand and more times; If Ochola was serious about Covid regulations then POA, too, would have been in jail for failing to control the number of people he has to address in a specific area. And although candidate Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Kaguta Museveni’s rallies are attended by only invited people (strictly with Covid-19 certificates I guess due to his own fear of contracting the virus), we see him wave to huge crowds which do not observe Covid Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) but no one shoots at them. And where is Ochola as all this goes on? Maybe we soon will get to know.

Simon Byabakama

This is Simon Byabakama’s first general election to oversee and it comes during the Covid-19 pandemic. In his revised roadmap issued in June, following three months of lockdown, Byabakama said rallies would not be allowed and campaigns would mainly be done digitally. He said to facilitate the “safe participation by all stakeholders” the commission had adopted SOPs as guided by the Ministry of Health (practice social distancing, wearing of face masks in public and regular washing of hands). Beyond that, Byabakama is aware of the EC mandate and that is to “organise, conduct and supervise regular, free and fair elections and referenda, among other functions.”

To fulfil that mandate, the EC’s Mission guides that the commission should be professional, fair and impartial.
On November 3 Amuriat was delivered barefoot before Byabakama by armed men for nomination. Byamukama should have seen that there was a problem – maybe he saw it but to him, it was normal.

Kyagulanyi, on the other hand, was on the same day, immediately after nomination, brutally arrested by armed agents of the state. NUP spokesperson Joel Ssenyonyi was among those injured in that day’s melee.

From then on the two presidential aspirants and their supporters would add to their menu a daily assortment of assaults from armed forces of the state.

This eventually boiled into fatal riots on November 18 after the violent arrest of Kyagulanyi in Luuka district. I was in Gulu then. As Kyagulanyi was being detained in Jinja, Amuryat was also being detained in Gulu. Although the latter was released that same day, he and others called off their campaigns in solidarity with Kyagulanyi.

The EC’s statement on the arrest of Kyagulanyi was far from impartial. It appealed to the public to “refrain from acts of lawlessness,” warned candidates against violating election guidelines, but was silent on the brutal and violent conduct of State’s armed forces towards some presidential candidates and the public.

Violence against the two candidates continued and on December 1, Kyagulanyi was forced to suspend his campaigns following a standoff with the armed forces. His vehicles were shot at.

Several people were injured, including the leader of the security team provided to Kyagulanyi by the EC. Despite presenting pictorial evidence to the EC the following day on the violent interruption of his campaign schedule, nothing shows that the EC took any step to stop the trend. And where is Mr. Byabakama? Maybe he is sitting somewhere and watching his movie Polls 2021, only coming out occasionally to refill his cup of coffee.

Jane Ruth Acheng

Jane Ruth Acheng, the Minister of Health, was Uganda’s heroine on Covid-19 before a single case of the pandemic was registered in Uganda. Whatever she said people followed. They saw her as an able leader in the face of an advancing pandemic. While some of us were warning against Uganda’s “copy and paste” approach to control the spread of Covid- 19, others were heaping praises on her – with some suggesting she was fit to be Uganda’s next president.

Then the Covid mess unfolded during lockdown. While Ugandans were forced to stay home, as killer LDUs patrolled the streets, many of those in charge of managing the pandemic went on a looting spree.

By the time the lockdown was eased in June, the healthcare system did not show any viable preparation to manage in case Covid cases became many.
When in July pictures of a mask-less Acheng standing in a crowd in Lira district made rounds on social media, it became clear to many Ugandans that the situation was unclear.

When we had zero cases of Covid Acheng was all over the media with her boss, the President, showing commitment to control the pandemic. Today, when we are recording the highest rate of infections and deaths from Covid-19, Acheng, the Minister of Health, the provider of the guidelines over which some presidential candidates are being brutalised, is nowhere to be seen or heard by the nation. She should be in some corner in northern Uganda looking for votes to represent in Parliament Women of Lira district.

Going by the current situation you can say that the Electoral Commission, the Uganda Police Force, and the Ministry of Health are not in charge of this election. But if they are not then who is?

The writer is a Science Journalist and the Head of Research at the National Unity Platform (NUP)



William Odinga Balikuddembe, a Science journalist/Head of Research at the National Unity Platform (NUP)

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