Bobi Wine, presumed winner of the January 14 election. Photo: Facebook
After the January 14, 2021 Ugandan presidential elections, Simon Byabakama the chairman of the Electoral Commission, released the results under the cover of darkness. An internet black-out had been ordered on January 12 by the government of one candidate, the current dictator Gen. Yoweri Museveni Tibuhaburwa, to whom he was allotted 58 percent of the votes cast.
Byabakama, head of the Commission hand-picked by Gen. Museveni himself, awarded the main challenger, candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, a.k.a. Bobi Wine, candidate of the National Unity Platform (NUP) 35 percent of the votes cast. No explanations were given on the mode of transfer of votes or communications from the polling to the tallying centers, even though the internet system had been shutdown. The process of the transfer and counting of votes was not transparent. Based on, amongst others, these irregularities, Kyagulanyi rejected the announced results and subsequently petitioned the Supreme Court seeking nullification of Gen. Museveni Tibuhaburwa’s fraudulent election “victory” citing several grounds in support of the petition.
The allegations made by Bobi Wine in the election petition are overwhelmingly supported by publicly available statements including Gen. Museveni Tibuhaburwa’s admission that he deployed members of the Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF) and Uganda Police Force (UPF) throughout the country for purposes of use during the election period. Thus, Bobi Wine’s submission was credible and admissible when he alleged that the officers of the UPDF and UPF, contrary to Section 70 of the Presidential Elections Act, were unlawfully deployed by, or with the knowledge of, Gen. Museveni to unlawfully block and disrupt the campaign of the National Unity Platform (NUP) candidate.
Candidate Kyagulanyi further submitted that candidate Gen. Museveni Tibuhaburwa, offered bribes to voters in violation of Section 64 of the Presidential Election Act. This information is publicly sourced and President Museveni on several occasions on local and national TV stations admitted offering bribes to potential voters including to some Church leaders and his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party functionaries. Affidavits in support of these allegations on matters of public knowledge were rejected by the Supreme Court, which was not surprising, since all the judges are also hand-picked by Gen. Museveni.
Last but not least, candidate Kyagulanyi correctly submitted that the Electoral Commission, whose chairman, Justice Byabakama is a Gen. Museveni appointee, compromised its independence when it subjected its functions to the direction of candidate Museveni, state agencies, and security organs in violation of the 1995 Constitution. During the campaign period, under the guise of implementing the social operating procedure (SOP) created to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, Justice Byabakama regularly met and consulted with candidate Gen. Museveni Tibuhaburwa on issues relating to Presidential elections with a view to undermining the candidature of Kyagulanyi. Museveni himself—not the minister of health or health officials—directs the SOP. Chairman Byabakama did not consult other candidates, including Kyaluganyi, during the same period.
The Supreme Court, presided by Chief Justice Alphonse Owiny-Dollo, declined to admit additional evidence in support of Kyagulanyi’s petition including an application to amend the petition alleging that candidate Gen. Museveni Tibuhaburwa was not, as required by the Presidential Elections Act, Electoral Commission Act and the 1995 Constitution, legally nominated as a candidate of his party and therefore unqualified to have contested the January 14, 2021 elections. Notwithstanding the provision of Article 126(2) (e) of the 1995 Constitution which stipulates that “substantive justice shall be administered without undue regard to technicalities”, Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo denied candidate Kyagulanyi substantive justice based on technicalities by excluding relevant and material evidence.
Kyagulanyi was correctly dissatisfied with the decisions of the Supreme Court, particularly because the apex court is a court of first and last resort. Once the Supreme Court makes a decision, there shall be no appeal from that decision.
For this reason, the Supreme Court, even if not required by law but necessary for the public good, had a duty to provide a detailed, coherent opinion outlining its reasons for rejecting the application to not allow the applicant to file additional evidence. In failing to provide a reasoned opinion, the Petitioner correctly viewed the conduct of the Supreme Court in summary dismissal of his application without providing written opinion as evidence of bias against him and in favor of Gen. Museveni Tibuhburwa.
Kyagulanyi’s decisions, based on the facts as presented before the Court, and the actions of the justices, was credible and reasonable. He opted to withdraw his application from the Court: a Court that has consistently in the past three presidential election petition cycles blatantly demonstrated bias, in both appearance and practice, in favor of Gen. Museveni. Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to have been done. The Supreme Court, presided over by Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo, failed this test. Kyagulanyi was not willing to place his neck, willingly, before the guillotine. The executioners, Museveni, Byabakama, and Owiny-Dollo eagerly awaited.
The withdrawal of Kyagulanyi’s application for nullification of Gen. Museveni’s rigged elections is important at two levels. First, at the political level, it confirms the extent to which Gen. Museveni personally has captured the judiciary including the highest court in the land. The withdrawal of the petition, viewed in the context of the conduct of the Electoral Commission, the security organs, and NRM functionaries, exposes the depth, scope, and breadth of Gen. Museveni’s total and complete control of Ugandan society and destruction of institutions. Democracy cannot function in a society totally dominated and controlled by one man and his acolytes.
It is therefore not surprising that without due regard to the laws, decorum and self-dignity, the Chief Justice tramples over the rules of procedure and evidence without considering the damage it does to the reputation of the Court and that of some of the eminent judges who sit on it.
The casual conduct of the Supreme Court, and the carelessness with which Kyagulanyi’s petition was handled, suggests that the Court was not ready to face the multitude of evidence. For instance, based on Gen. Museveni’s orders or approvals, members of the UPF and the UPDF unlawfully arrested, kidnapped, murdered, and disappeared members of the NUP. Such evidence, once admitted before the Court, would make it problematic for Kyagulanyi’s petition to be dismissed by Justice Owiny-Dollo and his colleagues, which is what Museveni wants done, to confirm his alleged “victory.” Hence the Court’s rejection of additional affidavits and a motion to amend the petition. Justice Owiny-Dollo took the cowardly exit.
Second, the withdrawal of the petition denies dictator Museveni the legal cover which he yearns for to present to the Western world, that he is a duly elected president through a free, fair and transparent democratic process.
The European Union (EU) has essentially rejected the so-called election. After a plenary debate, the EU Parliament voted 695 to 15 to condemn the electoral violence, and in a statement on February 11, 2021, said the “results of the election were hard to verify because the Elections Commission did not follow the prescribed tallying process…” and that the run-up to the elections “was marred by violence, with opposition candidates, civil society organizations (CSOs), human rights defenders, electoral experts and journalists facing systematic oppression and intimidation when exercising their legitimate rights…” The statement also said that “…the excessive use of force by law enforcement and security agencies seriously tarnished the electoral process…” The EU Parliament recommended that member states impose sanctions.
Separately, the United States is considering its own measures. Tibor Nagy, the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in the last administration called the vote “fundamentally flawed.”
Gen. Museveni, like his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un—whose regime Museveni had been developing close relations with—runs a corrupt and a primitive form of structural dictatorship. Gen. Museveni fragmented the political opposition, bought or bribed most of the political leaders, including some Church leaders. Some of these clergy shamelessly urged Gen. Museveni to cancel the elections under the cover of the covid-19 pandemic, and to rule without elections.
Now Kyagulanyi’s decision to withdraw the electoral petition denies dictator Museveni the rubber stamp to launder his tainted image and soiled legacy.
President Museveni still needs to tell the world that he won the elections, that he is popular and dearly loved by Ugandans.
It is not surprising therefore that, out of the blue, a Willy Mayambala, a former straw presidential candidate in the January 14 elections—a candidate who received 0.15% approximately 14,000 votes— now seeks to be substituted so as to continue with Kyagulanyi’s petition until manufactured judgement is “delivered.” The Supreme Court is then expected to dismiss the petition and declare that Museveni is a duly elected president and therefore recoup lost credibility. The cynicism is contemptible.
In law, Mayambala, even if he is being used by Gen. Museveni’s surrogates, has a right to seek to take over Bobi Wine’s petition before the Supreme Court. Section 61(2) of the Presidential Election Act provides that on the hearing of the application for withdrawal, any candidate who might have been a petitioner in respect to the election to which the petitioner refers, may apply to be substituted as a petitioner for the petitioner who desires to withdraw (Emphasis added).
However, apart from seeking personal popularity, or performing some form of service to Gen. Museveni and his supporters, Mayambala does not appear to have the necessary evidence, capacity and resources to continue with the petition from where Bobi Wine withdrew. In any event, Article 59(4) of the Presidential Act of 2005, states that where a petition having been filled, is withdrawn by the petitioner, the candidate declared elected shall conclusively be taken to have been duly elected as President.
Whether the Supreme Court allows Mayambala to act as a substitute for Bobi Wine and to proceed with the petition, is a moot point because Gen. Museveni shall be declared a duly elected president. Mayambala, on the other hand, is a tiny cog in the NRM wheel, and shall be dumped after his usefulness has expired like many other former regime functionaries before him. The NRM which is nothing but a criminal organization shall continue to disintegrate as its former founding members—the so-called “historicals”—increasingly become disenchanted with the totalitarianism and exit the party that has ruled Uganda since 1986. They would then be in a position to narrate to the public the various crimes they committed against the civilian population since the NRM’s founding in 1981. Those who doubt the atrocities committed by the NRM and its army the National Resistance Army (NRA) may wish to listen to Col. Samson Mande, Lt. Gen. David Tinyenfunza a.k.a. Sejusa, and many more.
As to the future, Ugandans need to address the fragmentation of the political opposition groups. Significantly, NUP, as a party of young people, and still untainted with the influx of former NRM renegades, must guide and protect its reputation. Otherwise it will be infiltrated by the security and NRM agents, and become another version of Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), or the Democratic Party (DP), two formerly venerable parties, now mere shells, and vassals of Gen. Museveni.
To address the immediate crisis, a policy of smart and targeted boycott of businesses, such as transport systems, and supply chains of goods—particularly food and services—to the NRM regime and party functionaries must be launched. Dictator Museveni Tibuhaburwa, his friends, allies and colleagues must be targeted for boycott. The NRM functionaries, the UPDF, UPF, and security agencies that torture, rob, abduct, and cause the disappearance of citizens, must be targeted. Their businesses, companies, clubs, and associations must be boycotted.
In sum, serious consideration should be given to identifying, targeting, and boycotting businesses, shops, and activities of the top NRM cadres and politicians who support the dictatorship. When those who support Museveni fail to do business in Kampala and elsewhere because of their support for the regime, they will think twice before they risk all.
Smart and strategic boycott of Museveni’s family businesses, and those of his allies and friends, is a sure way of breaking down the regime. This is far more effective than participating in rigged elections or filing election petitions before compromised judges.
By withdrawing his petition, Bobi Wine has fired another shot in the struggle to liberate Uganda from Gen. Museveni’s tyranny.
Dr. Obote Odora is a consultant.