21 September 2017

Uganda: Govt to US - We Won't Let Misguided Opposition Intimidate MPs

Photo: Abubaker Lubowa/Daily Monitor
Police arrest DP president Norbert Mao at Parliament over anti-age limit protests on Thursday.

Kampala — The government on Thursday responded with derision to criticism by the US ambassador to Uganda Deborah Malac on arrests of opponents of the proposal to remove the presidential age limit and Wednesday's raid on the offices of two NGOs.

Mr Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of Media Centre, the government information clearing house, said that while they "value diplomatic relations with all the countries of the world, Uganda is not very keen to take unqualified lectures from foreign agents."

"The government through its law enforcement agencies cannot sit back as misguided people especially opposition politicians and civil society leaders intimidate elected Members of Parliament and the wider public simply because they don't hold the same views as theirs on any matter," Mr Opondo, noted in a statement.

The US embassy in Kampala, on Thursday morning, issued statement in which Ambassador Malac decried the security crackdown and raids on the NGOs, which she said risked "tarnishing" Uganda's image globally.

"Infringements on protected rights under Uganda's Constitution will impede the country's development. We call on the government of Uganda to guarantee all its citizens freedom of speech, expression, and assembly, without fear of intimidation," the embassy statement further indicated.

In defence of Wednesday's action, police said they needed to search the offices of ActionAid and the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, both situated in Kampala city suburbs, to search for evidence of possible illicit financial transactions.

The offices of the NGOs remain closed, the staff locked out and detectives are continuing with the office-to-office searches.

Mr Opondo, in the statement issued by Media Centre, further stated that "government will spare no effort in promptly dealing with and neutralizing criminal minded people including political leaders who think they enjoy the misguided protection from some foreign missions."

"Only Ugandans through their government and elected representatives know and shall decide how best they want to be governed and by whom."

Early this week, police summoned MPs Muhammad Nsereko, Theodore Ssekikubo, Barnabas Tinkasimire and Allan Ssewanyana, to record statements on charges of allegedly incitement on age limit debate.

Security forces on Thursday rounded up several activists and opposition politicians opposed to the ongoing machinations by the ruling NRM party to amend the Constitution to remover Article 102 (b) which bars President Museveni, in power for 31 years now, from running again in 2021. He will be 76 then.

Mr Opondo said that while the government "notes with concern" the issues raised by Ambassador Malac, "it is our considered view that they are misplaced because those so far summoned or held as a preventive measure are well-known to have been making statements over the last couple of months on various public media threatening violence over what should otherwise be a civil and democratic process."

TEXT OF THE GOVERNMENT STATEMENT

Early today the US Ambassador to Uganda Ms. Deborah Malac hastily issued a media statement expressing her concerns over freedom of Expression in Uganda, with regard the alleged arrests, and, or police search of offices of some Non-Governmental Organisation that have been linked to receiving financial support from foreign sources with the intention committing illegal activities in Uganda.

Firstly, these under the laws of Uganda, and in accordance with international protocols, it is illegal to receive money from undisclosed sources as those sources could be part of terrorism networks around the world, and also the need to disrupt money laundering.

While the Government of Uganda notes her concern, it is our considered view that they are misplaced because those so far summoned or held as a preventive measure are well-known to have been making statements over the last couple of months on various public media (Radios, TVs, and social media) threatening violence over what should otherwise be a civil and democratic process and debate in the parliament of Uganda. Some of those summoned by police have made recorded statement and posted them on the media threatening to kill those they disagree with together with members of their families which cannot be tolerated. We therefore ask for patience as law enforcement conducts its investigations.

The government of Uganda through its law enforcement agencies cannot sit back as misguided people especially opposition politicians and civil society leaders intimidate elected Members of Parliament and the wider public simply because they don't hold the same views as theirs on any matter. The on-going debate in parliament and within the country with regard to possible constitutional amendments, and electoral reforms must be conducted by all sides to the debate in a civil, cordial and peaceful way however contentious the issues may be in an effort to build consensus.

Should consensus fail, then the matter shall be decided by parliament as the elected legitimate body as the constitution provides. The government of Uganda wishes to reiterate its firm commitment to observe and protect the enjoyment of all their rights and freedoms to peacefully assemble in order to, express, associate, and petition government on any matter without threatening the lives or property of others including those of the people with whom they may disagree.

And in doing so the Government of Uganda will spare no effort in promptly dealing with and neutralizing criminal minded people including political leaders who think they enjoy the misguided protection from some foreign missions. Only Ugandans through their government and elected representatives know and shall decide how best they want to be governed and by whom. While we value diplomatic relations with all the countries of the world, Uganda is not very keen to take unqualified lectures from foreign agents.

OFWONO OPONDO P'ODEL

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

UGANDA MEDIA CENTRE

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