Tired dictator Gen. Yoweri Museveni. Photo: Facebook.
Uganda’s leading politicians have welcomed the U.S. statement dismissing the Jan. 14 Ugandan election and imposing sanctions on dictator Gen. Yoweri Museveni’s regime officials. Some of the opposition leaders called for more action including curbing funding to the regime by the United States and direct sanctions on Gen. Museveni himself.
“This electoral process was neither free nor fair,” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said, in the most blunt statement delivered by the U.S. to date in response to the bloody election in which hundreds of people were killed by the regime forces.
“Opposition candidates were routinely harassed, arrested, and held illegally without charge,” Secretary Blinken said. “Ugandan security forces were responsible for the deaths and injuries of dozens of innocent bystanders and opposition supporters, as well as violence against journalists that occurred before, during, and after the elections.”
“The U.S. Government will continue to evaluate additional actions against individuals complicit in undermining democracy and human rights in Uganda, as well as their immediate family members,” Secretary Blinken added. In Uganda, in addition to dictator Museveni himself, his own son Gen. Muhoozi Kaenerugaba heads the notorious Special Forces Command (SFC) which has been implicated in many of the human rights abuses against civilians.
“The people of Uganda appreciate U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s announcement of visa restrictions on Ugandan officials who interfered with the recent elections,” Robert Kyagulanyi, a.k.a. Bobi Wine, the presumptive winner of the Jan. 14 election said in a statement he released in response to the U.S. decision.
“The statement by the United States is an important recognition that the recent elections were neither free nor fair. It sends an unequivocal message that although Gen. Museveni boasts of controlling all Ugandan institutions that would call him to account, the world is watching and beginning to act,” he added.
Kyagulanyi is widely believed to have won the presidential election. The Election Commission, whose members are all hand-picked by dictator Museveni, claimed he won by 59% to 35% for Bobi Wine, without providing a breakdown of the numbers. Bobi Wine has demanded for an independent forensic audit.
“The victims of the worst human rights violations which we have witnessed, including families of hundreds of Ugandans murdered on Gen. Museveni’s orders; thousands of victims of abductions and torture, as well as those who are still under illegal detention have received this news with gratitude,” Bobi Wine added. “It is our hope that other nations of the world will follow suit and support the people of Uganda in our quest for freedom and democracy.”
The EU Parliament also previously voted on Feb. 11 in favor of sanctions against the Museveni regime.
Dr. Kizza Besigye, who previously contested the presidential election four times against Gen. Museveni—between 2001 and 2016—and is widely believed to have won at least three of those elections said the statement was an improvement over past U.S. comments but that more action was needed.
“Any action beyond the usual diplomatic rhetoric of ‘having frank discussion’; ‘expressing concern’; ‘condemning’ etcetera; is a welcome step in the right direction,” Dr. Besigye said. “However, the military or police officers, paramilitary and militia personnel, security operatives or administrative officers like Resident District Commissioners who’ve been engaged in human rights abuses do so because of the immediate big rewards from Gen. Museveni and his cronies. They also act in the comfort that they’re protected from accountability. They act with impunity. Therefore, the imposition of travel visa bans by the U.S. government are not going to cause a marked change of behavior for those under orders to violate people’s rights.”
“Moreover, due to the inconsistent application of such measures by the U.S. and other ‘Western Democracies’ generally, the Museveni regime is quick to explain such actions as unprincipled arm-twisting for their other illegitimate interests,” Dr. Besigye added. “Sanctions will not become effective until they effectively pose a threat to Mr. Museveni’s hold on power. One such measure would be to reduce the oil they provide for him to lubricate his patronage machinery.”
By “oil” Dr. Besigye was referring to the nearly $1 billion in annual financial support that the U.S. provides to the Museveni regime which, Dr. Besigye pointed out, is nearly 10% of the national budget of $11 billion. Additionally, in the past year, the World Bank and IMF—both of whose major shareholder is the U.S.—provided the Museveni regime with nearly $1 billion, he noted.
“I welcome the visa restrictions imposed on individuals in the General Museveni administration,” said Patrick Oboi Amuriat, a presidential candidate in the Jan. 14 election under the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party banner. “The reasons given for this include the mismanagement of the elections and blatant abuse of human rights during and after the process. It would be most fulfilling if all individuals found to have inflicted pain of whatever nature were named, shamed and restricted. This would give organizations like FDC which was directly affected by the excesses of individuals in the regime the opportunity to highlight even those left out of the State department list of affected individuals.”
Amuriat wants the sanctions to target the dictator himself. “Mr. Museveni being the chief perpetrator, even if he is head of state, should be affected by these sanctions,” he said. “I also believe that the Museveni regime should be denied funding in areas where the U.S. intervention helped facilitate what were turned into instruments to coerce citizens.”
Amuriat was one of the candidate whose campaign was disrupted several time, and he was arrested and manhandled by regime security forces.
Doreen Nyanjura, the deputy mayor of Kampala welcomed the U.S. action but stresses that real change will only come about when Ugandans at home play their active role. “We welcome such developments. It has actually been late for such restrictions against Ugandan operatives who have taken the law in their hands,” Nyanjura said. “I actually think that Museveni himself should be given a travel ban from all nations since he is the commander in chief of this abuse. I however continue rallying Ugandans that change will come from within we can’t depend on the foreigners for our freedom without our own input.”
Nyanjura’s boss, the powerful mayor of Kampala, Erias Lukwago, is currently receiving treatment in a Kenyan hospital for an undisclosed ailment.
Columnist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was a victim of torture by the Museveni regime. He can be reached via [email protected]