Kampala — The army, historically the fulcrum of political power in Uganda, has warned that it will not tolerate disturbances by any election loser, whether instigated by the ruling National Resistance Movement party or the Opposition.
Ugandans go to the polls in three weeks on February 18, to pick a president and 458 members of Parliament following the expansion of constituencies.
Gen Katumba Wamala, the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), warned yesterday that Uganda has come a long way from an unstable past and the military stands ready to protect these gains, the country's national and territorial integrity.
"I know there is a lot of excitement as we prepare for the elections. We (army), as [the] people in-charge of the security of this country, have seen turbulent times Uganda has gone through. We want to send a message: If the results are not in your favour, you have no right to destabilise the country because this country is bigger than individuals," said Gen Katumba.
The general made the remarks after launching Tarehe Sita, the week-long activities to commemorate the day, February 6, 1981, when the National Resistance Army rebels, precursor to the UPDF, began the war that brought President Museveni to power 30 years ago. Soldiers use the week to undertake activities to strengthen their relations with civilians.
At yesterday's launch, Gen Katumba said the army will ensure that no one tampers with the stability and peace in the country despite the post-election violence predicted by particularly the European Union election observers. "On that, as the army, we will not agree with that person and we shall work with other security agencies to ensure there is peace in the entire country," he said, adding: "If you or your candidate wins the elections, then celebrate in peace and if you lose it, accept and go back and mourn in peace at your place of convenience."
His comments come in the wake of cross-shoulder bellicose exchanges by rival camps, accusing each other of enlisting militia groups as the campaigns enter the home stretch.
Retired Col Kizza Besigye, a four-time presidential contender, has said from the beginning last November that his campaign is about "defiance, not compliance". The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party ticket on which he is running says it has recruited 10 people per village, christened Power Ten (P10), to secure its votes on polling day. On the other hand, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago unveiled a guard group, named Solida, after Maj Kakooza Mutale, a presidential aide whose Kalangala Action Plan informal group were indicted for perpetrating violence during the 2011 elections, announced he had a new militia at hand to ensure President Museveni retains his job.
Now Opposition leaders accuse police of turning hastily-drafted and trained crime preventers, whom the Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura says number 11 million, as an appendage of the ruling party to cause chaos at the elections. Prominent NRM and security officers have been quoted in local media hinting that Opposition actors will be shot if they dare cause problems.
Separately, former premier Amama Mbabazi has, on the campaign trail, repeated his fears that next month's elections could be rigged, without saying by whom, but said doing so would be a coup against people's will and would be met with equal response.
These public statements prompted Eduard Kukan, who heads the EU Election Observation team deployed this month, to raise concern that they had, among other things, received reports of "potential election violence". President Museveni later assured the team the polls will be free, fair and those scheming to rig or cause disturbance will be ably sorted.
Picking the cue from the Commander-in-Chief, Gen Katumba yesterday said: "When I hear people talking about wanting to take Uganda back, I want to take back a step and question their reasoning. We cannot want to go back where we came from, and I don't think anybody or any Ugandan, worth his name, and with a rightful mind, would want to see what we see in other countries."
Mr Crispy Kaheru, the coordinator of Citizens' Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), said security forces can perform professionally, but contradicting statements by police primarily mandated to secure the vote, worries.