27 February 2013

Uganda: Was Mukula Politically Persecuted?


As Soroti Municipality MP Mike Mukula cools his heels in Luzira prison, Uganda awaits the judgment for the appeal against his conviction, sometime in March.

When I first learnt of Mukula's conviction and eventual incarceration, the question that raced across my mind was whether it was political persecution or justice being dispensed.

Although some individuals may not have been convinced with the verdict, one thing remains certain - we are obliged to respect the courts of law. I believe, though, that the general public was pleased with the turn of events because of the unprecedented level of corruption which has made the future of our country bleak.

Secondly, the stolen money, for which Mukula was convicted, must have led to the loss of many lives, since it was meant to help immunize children against killer diseases. To the public, the verdict was most probably welcome. The state will brag that its institutions can bite. I will, however, skirt the legal field and dwell on the political.

Over the years, we have seen a number of similar cases that have ended with court dismissals, not because the accused were actually found innocent, but due to legal technicalities. Many such cases have either been deliberately messed up so as to let the offenders off the hook, or the accused have exploited the inefficiency in government departments to prove their case.

For this reason, there have been numerous complaints about the net that only traps small fish, leaving the big ones to freely swim the lucrative waters. I am, therefore, compelled to look at Mukula's case through political lenses. In 2003, there were diverse political opinions amongst members of the ruling party on whether or not the country should go multi-party.

The moderates who advocated for lifting of the ban on political parties were, among others, Jaberi Bidandi-Ssali, Eriya Kategaya, Amanya Mushega and Miria Matembe. As the debate gained momentum, the issue of amending article 105 on presidential term-limits was introduced. Consequently, President Museveni was forced to convene a crisis meeting at Kyankwanzi, which, to me, remains NRM's hottest retreat ever. Mike Mukula and the late Patrick Bageya asked the president to allow the moderates express their views.

Though they were given the opportunity, it seemed not to have pleased the convener, basing on the way Bageya was later seriously de-campaigned and Mukula's name missed out on the next cabinet appointments list. Of course all the other big names mentioned were thrown out. Though it could have been a coincidence, the relationship of all these people with the big man remained frosty and many were actually isolated.

Additionally, Mukula's case was not helped by the WikiLeaks revelations in which he apparently mentioned that the president was grooming his son to take over from him. Things were made worse by his declared ambition to run for president, his relationship with Kenyan PM, Raila Odinga and his perceived subversive meetings with Eastern leaders.

He could have used the above as strategies to shield himself from his 'sins', but there is a saying: "the day I lost my sheep is the day your dog passed dung with wool in it." In other words, can you really convince me you are innocent?

Many individuals have been politically persecuted and others taken to courts for either trying to fit in the president's shoes or for holding independent opinions. Col Fred Bogere, who abstained while Parliament was voting on lifting of presidential term-limits, for fear of appearing partisan, is one such example. Dr Kizza Besigye's survival by a whisker of a court martial, a treason case and ultimately a rape case, is yet another.

Also fresh in our minds are VP Prof Gilbert Bukenya and Brig Henry Tumukunde cases. Tumukunde pleaded that the court martial trying him gives its verdict expeditiously, arguing that his case started while his son was in senior one and has now completed his university education, and the court is yet to make a ruling. My suspicion, therefore, is that selective prosecution may indeed have led to Mukula's incarceration, though it may not have been instigated by the president himself.

But political persecution aside, his prosecution was definitely a step in the right direction, though the lost money is yet to be recovered.

The author is the Spokesperson for People's Progressive Party

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