Fahamu (Oxford)

31 July 2009

Uganda: Institutions - Used, Misused And Abused

opinion

Following his ordeal both at the hands of the Ugandan police and in a local mental health hospital, human rights activist Vincent Nuwagaba shares with Pambazuka News why Uganda's dysfunctional institutions must be reformed. Institutions that are 'meant to protect and preserve life' have been turned into 'a killing machinery' says Nuwagaba. Charging President Museveni with deliberately destroying the country's institutions to serve his own interests and increase his power, Nuwagaba says regime change is needed before reforms can be made. 'It is high time we realised that we are citizens and not subjects,' says Nuwagaba, 'and hence demand to be governed in a humane, convivial and dignified manner.'

The Uganda Police Force is provided for in the constitution from Articles 211 to 214. Article 211(3) says that the police force shall be nationalistic, patriotic, professional, disciplined, competent and productive; and its members shall be citizens of Uganda of good character. Article 212 provides for functions of the police force and they include the following:

a) To protect life and property

b) To preserve law and order

c) To prevent and detect crime

d) To cooperate with civilian authority and other security organs established under the constitution and with the population generally.

Butabika Hospital on the other hand was established to cater for the mental health of Ugandans. Mental hospitals are supposed to be places wherein people who could have undergone depressions, anxieties, frustrations and stress should be attended to. In fact, counselling should be one of the most important roles played by the mental health hospitals.

Contrary to what the Uganda olice Force and mental hospitals are mandated to be doing, they have been abused by politicians to fight their battles with their real or perceived political opponents. I personally have been a victim of these desecrated institutions: the Uganda Police Force and mental hospitals. These institutions now abet crime, instigate crime, orchestrate crime and perpetuate crime. If they were vehicles one would say they are fuelled by criminality and lubricated by criminality. The police force is unpatriotic, unprofessional, undisciplined, and incompetent and instead of being productive it is highly destructive. Sadly, this is notwithstanding the fact that it is headed by a lawyer -and a bright lawyer at that - who has a master's degree in law. I have no illusions whatsoever that our institutions have been desecrated and rendered utterly dysfunctional ironically by the people who are obsessed with flaunting their achievements time and time again even when those achievements are rarely seen.

Personally, I was dumped in the Central Police Station dungeon on 11 April 2008 for a charge that to date has never been disclosed to me, my levels of education notwithstanding. The police officers under the officer in charge of the station, Mr Johnson Bahimbise, wanted me to die in the cells and thereafter dump my body wherever they wanted. This I say because they detained me incommunicado, I was excessively tortured by pouring too much water on me and I later learnt they wanted to induce pneumonia in me; I was kept in an acidic room where my friends Thomas Tayebwa and Bruce Kabaasa Balaba who came to rescue me found me; I was denied meals for I was told that they would poison me and I was not allowed to get meals outside. To make matters worse, a celebrated law professor John-Jean Barya (PhD) was blocked from accessing me when he learnt that I was incarcerated in the Central Police Station torture dungeon. After the police failed to realise their mission of having me dead from the cells, they conspired with the medical staff of Butabika Mental Hospital where I was dragged as a mentally ill patient and subjected to lethal drugs. The first time I spent nine days in the mental hospital but when I went to follow up my property (they stole my money worth US$500 and 120,000 Uganda shillings at the first time, they stole my laptop computer and 540,000 Uganda shillings, the second time, my shoes, watch and a few other stuff).

The ordeal I went through almost claimed my life and I have told people that I stopped on the verge of the grave because of the drugs I was subjected to. Those who saw me from 27 June to 2 July at home in Bitereko subcounty, Bushenyi district and at Ishaka Adventist Hospital have a tale to tell. In the hospital, they were treating the effects of the drugs I was subjected to in a mental hospital. It is vital to note that drugs are poisonous if they are wrongly administered to a normal person. I am not sure whether they never injected in me slow killing drugs and I would call on all philanthropists of goodwill to help me undergo a thorough medical examination in a first class hospital outside Uganda. To date, I have never known who was behind my ordeal yet high profile political figures were named by my captors. Those named have never come out openly to deny they had a hand in my plight. It is only the president who in his email said that it is 'naive, immature and sheer malice' for me to think that he personally had a hand in my plight. I still suffer the psychological effects of that ordeal for my fiancée then abandoned me and to date whenever she sees me she runs away from me. Of course this in a way would have greatly affected my self-esteem if I was not hardened.

I have discovered two more cases that are more or less similar to mine. Ms Stephanie Mutonyi, a registered nurse who founded the Uganda Medical Workers' Union was arrested from Mulago Hospital in December 2008. She was injected with a drug which to date she doesn't know and thereafter dragged to Butabika Mental Hospital. Ms Mutonyi told me she spent nineteen days in the mental hospital while being sedated. She feels her problem was being critical of Mr Sam Lyomoki, workers' member of parliament, general secretary Uganda Medical Workers' Union, and secretary general of Central Organisation of Free Trade Unions (COFTU) all of which are positions that are supposed to be held on a full time basis and earn the holder three salaries. Mutonyi still suffers the after effects of that experience psychologically, mentally and economically.

The case of Gaudance Tushabomwe also deserves mention. Ms Tushabomwe, a student of Makerere University taking a Bachelor of Commerce degree, reportedly deposited her money worth 25 million and 14,000 Ugandan shillings with a sham organisation called Caring for Orphans, Widows and the Elderly (COWE). Apparently, Tushabomwe alleges that COWE was an organisation linked to the first family. Since I have not carried out ample research to prove otherwise, I would not easily dismiss such an allegation as false. My deep concern is why and how Tushabomwe ended in a mental hospital wherein she is being subjected to drugs that may end up claiming her life. She is deeply concerned that she is regarded as a political threat and that because of the drugs being administered to her she may lose her life.

As I went to investigate Tushabomwe's case as a human rights monitor at Butabika Hospital, I was captured and beaten up gravely by hospital guards citing orders from above. I was told that since I sued Dr Tom Onen and wrote about Mr Jjuko and Dr Nakku, hospital staff members, I was not allowed to step in the hospital premises. This sounds ironical. At first they were so keen at arresting me and administering drugs on me as a mental patient. Now I have been declared persona non grata in the hospital. I would be very happy if these people kept their hands off me. But, I am deeply concerned about the other innocent citizens that are undergoing an ordeal similar to mine. Accordingly, I feel duty bound to continue carrying out research in this institutions and documenting the findings. This will ultimately curb the funny practice of labelling real or perceived political opponents persons of unsound mind, which in my view is the worst form of Machiavellian politics.

The effects of the above institutional abuse are so grave that all Ugandans, Africans and peace loving members of the human family must stand up and strenuously, vehemently, rigorously, judiciously and explicitly condemn such a practice. The effects include permanent psychological trauma, family breakdown, economic breakdown, social stigma, sexual dysfunctions, incessant nightmares and insomnia, among others.

The refusal of journalists from entering the Butabika Hospital premises also complicates the already complicated problem. One wonders if nothing weird is being done in these hospitals, why are journalists blocked from covering what takes place therein? When I was discharged from Butabika on 24 June 2008, I was asked by the In-charge of Kireka Ward where I was detained not to write about them. I immediately remembered the rhetorical question that Fr Larry Kanyike always asked, 'If you are not a criminal, why do you fear the police?' I feel it is also important that readers know that I saw, with my naked eye, Reuben Wamala being pulled with a sheet of cloth around his neck - which broke his neck - and I saw blood oozing through his nostrils. This happened on Saturday 21 June 2008. The following day, on 22 June 2008, Wamala was found dead in a secluded room. Thus, we need to ask ourselves the question: Are Butabika Hospital staff killers or healers?

President Museveni, while ordering the arrest of police officers and the High Court registrar who reportedly led to the demolition of people's houses said, 'For us we went to the bush to fight for people and not to kill them. So anybody who tries to destroy people's peace will be arrested and prosecuted'. That statement will make sense if the president made sure that whoever has been complained about in life threatening cases is brought o book. Accordingly, I await the day when Mr Johnson Bahimbise and his juniors together with Butabika Staff will be brought to book in regard to my case, where they virtually succeeded in exterminating me.

Whereas it is a good gesture for the president to intervene in situations where the local populace is threatened, it is my conviction that it shouldn't have been the president at the scene if we had strong institutions. That the president is the one to solve any small problem in any part of the country is a pointer that institutions have been rendered dysfunctional and we have one individual (the president) who is stronger than all institutions and to me he seems to be stronger than the state.

Of course, the president has deliberately led to the killing of these institutions. By doing that, there are many Ugandans who would always want him as the only solution. Therefore it is not uncommon to hear that it is only Museveni who has the capacity to handle the difficult task of leading Uganda. In fact, he himself has maintained that he is the most experienced and qualified person to handle the hard task of sacrificing to lead this country.

What all of us need to bear in mind though is that all the institutions have been rendered dysfunctional in order to serve the interests of President Museveni - Ugandans compare the president with all other institutions and say, the president is the answer. With the overt abuse of institutions, it is clear that the two critical institutions, namely the Uganda Police Force and mental health hospitals - institutions that ideally are meant to protect and preserve life - have been turned into a killing machinery. In fact the would-be healers are now open, impenitent and unapologetic killers!

Ugandans will only overcome such a tragedy through change of regime. It is high time we realised that we are citizens and not subjects and hence demand to be governed in a humane, convivial and dignified manner. All of us must demand unlimited entry of journalists to all state institutions lest they be used as killing machineries. It is my considered view that any regime that presides over dysfunctional institutions or abuses institutions to serve petty political interests of power retention must be wholly condemned and shown the exit by the citizens. For God and my country!

* Vincent Nuwagaba is a human rights activist and can be reached on vnuwagaba@gmail.com or on +256 772 843 552.

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