Uganda: Bobi Wine, Besigye Differ On Role of the West

Bobi Wine in a police van after his arrest in Luuka District on November 18, 2020.
7 February 2021

The actions and statements of Opposition leaders Kizza Besigye and Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, indicate a marked difference in how they view the role of foreign powers in the conduct of the struggle against President Museveni's government in which the two are involved.

The sharp differences between the approaches of the National Unity Platform (NUP) leader Kyagulanyi and former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party president Besigye, was evident on Thursday when Mr Kyagulanyi hosted the European Union (EU) Delegation to Uganda.

Commenting on the visit, Dr Besigye said: "Today I saw that the EU ambassadors are going to visit Mr Kyagulanyi. This is not time for visiting. Visiting and then what? There must be clear action ... It is not a time for public relations."

Dr Besigye was speaking at a press conference at his offices on Katonga Road in Kampala.

He noted that the EU had previously exhibited interest in the democratisation process by observing elections and making recommendations after the 2006, 2011 and 2016 elections, which it observed.

Some of the recommendations included establishment of an inclusive and transparent mechanism for appointment and removal of the Electoral Commission (EC), strengthening the EC's integrity by engaging civil society in their selection process; regulating campaign spending and introducing spending caps for candidates.

The EU, however, did not send observers for the 2021 General Election.

Late in November last year, the EU head of delegation to Uganda, Mr Attilio Pacifici, said the decision was precipitated by the outbreak of Covid-19, and failure by government to carry out any reforms in line with the recommendations that had been made over a 15-year period.

An EU source told Sunday Monitor that there was frustration with the government's inaction as far as implementing the recommendations was concerned.

"The EU has following every general election since 2006 been making recommendations, but nothing ever happens. What then would be the point in sending another observer mission when no progress has been made on recommendations from previous EU electoral missions?" an EU source asked.

Dr Besigye now thinks the EU should be doing much more.

"It is really time for action for everybody. We cannot just keep on talking," Dr Besigye said.

The Press Advisor to the EU delegation, Mr Emmanuel Gyezaho, declined to make a comment about Dr Besigye's comments.

On Thursday, Mr Pacifici tweeted: "Together with EU colleagues I met with NUPUg leaders today to exchange views and hear their concerns following the elections. We value and encourage dialogue with and between all political actors. I look forward to meetings also with other political parties in the near future."

Mr Pacifici issued the statement after the meeting with Mr Kyagulanyi and NUP party officials at the former presidential candidate's home in Magere, Wakiso District.

Mr Kyagulanyi's candidature was thought to enjoy wider support within the international community and appeared to attract more international attention than Dr Besigye's previous candidature, and Mr Kyagulanyi has consistently talked about the need to keep the international community informed and engaged as the pursuit for change in Uganda goes on.

Invited to comment on the role that Western diplomats can play is the quest for change in Uganda, Dr Besigye told NTV's On the Spot show on Thursday night that diplomats are accredited to the government and are here primarily to further the interests of their countries, which they can only do by ensuring good relations with the government in power.

For that reason, he said, the diplomats are not to be relied on in the push for the changes that Ugandans might desire but are against the will of the government in power.

Dr Besigye has during his long struggle against President Museveni's government had his experiences with the Western powers and has perhaps learnt through experience.

In the run-up to the 2011 elections, for instance, the change-seeking forces, then led by Dr Besigye and Uganda Peoples Congress' Olara Otunnu, had relied on pressure from the US government to force the government to concede to suggested electoral reforms.

The pressure from the US, however, was lifted after the July 2010 Kampala bombings, which left 74 people dead, with the US government shifting to collaborating with Mr Musevni's government to fight al-Shabaab militants in Somalia and almost making no more mention of reforms in Uganda.

In the prosecution of their war against Mr Museveni's government, however, both men have at different times appealed to institutions in the West.

During the recently concluded campaigns, for instance, Mr Kyagulanyi said he had invited the International Criminal Court to look into what he called crimes against humanity committed in Uganda, while Dr Besigye and his colleagues under the auspices of their 'people's government' had appealed to the same court years earlier over the killings in Kasese District following the attack on King Charles Wesley Mumbere's palace.

Human rights violations

Whereas Uganda is a signatory to several human rights charters, including the treaty for East African Community (EAC) on Human and Peoples' Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Dr Besigye said the EAC member states and the international community are doing nothing to address the human rights violations being committed in Uganda.

He said several young men are being rounded up from their homes, tortured and at times killed.

Whereas Dr Besigye did not make mention of the US government, it provides significant development and security assistance to Kampala.

The US has previously come under criticism for propping up Mr Museveni's regime even amid accusation of gross human rights abuses.

The spokesperson of the US Embassy in Kampala, Mr Anthony Kujawa, however, told Sunday Monitor that political violence, repression and intimidation have no place in democracy, adding that the US government will come down hard on any government officials implicated in any rights abuses.

In the recent past, the US government has indicted some individuals who served in top positions in Uganda, including former police chief Gen Kale Kayihura and judges.

The indicted are supposed to have their assets in the US and its allies frozen and are not to be permitted to travel to the country.

Lenders put on notice

During the same address, Dr Besigye lashed out at financial institutions for providing government with funds which he said are being utilised by the government to carry out gross human rights violations, including kidnaps, torture and murder of youth in diverse parts of the country.

"All the money that they are using to hunt down our people is borrowed. It is not Ugandans' money. From March up to now, they have borrowed about $1.7 billion (Shs6.2 trillion).

Euros 600 million (Shs2.6 trillion) from Stanbic Bank, $500 million (Shs1.8 trillion) from the [International Monetary Fund] IMF, $300 million (Shs1 trillion) from the World Bank and others from small entities. It is that money that is torturing us and yet we are the ones going to pay it," Dr Besigye said.

Lenders, he said, should be taking more responsibility lest Ugandans decline to pay them back in future.

"Now it is time that we also send a clear message to the lenders of the junta that giving loans like they are doing is the perfect description of odious debt and in history, there is a clear precedence that citizens have a clear right not to pay where the lender lends knowing that what the borrower is doing is not in the interest of their people," he said.

Mr Kujawa said future support to government will be pegged on conduct of Ugandan government officials.

"We have significant concerns about Uganda's recent elections, however, and the conduct of the Ugandan authorities during those elections is one factor that will be considered as we make determinations on future US assistance," Mr Kujawa warned.

Background

The 2021 elections

Talking about the recently concluded general election, Dr Besigye said it has been the worst that Uganda has seen, saying all the tools of controlling power, including money, force, gerrymandering of constituencies and control of the media and the EC were brought out.

"The 2021 elections excelled in demonstrating their tools of maintaining power. Every gun was out. How can you have an election where you have tanks and armoured vehicles all over the place?" Dr Besigye wondered.

He said whereas he quit filing election petitions, it was not wrong for Mr Kyagulanyi to petition court over the recent election results.

Citing the petition that was filed by Mr Amama Mbabazi following the 2016 General Elections, Dr Besigye said such petitions always yield some good.

In March 2016, while giving their ruling in the Mbabazi petition, the Supreme Court ordered the implementation of a raft of reforms, including, among others, extension of the period of filing and determination of presidential election petitions to 60 days to enable the concerned parties and court to adequately prepare and present their cases, and punishing of media houses that refuse to grant equal airtime to presidential candidates.

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