Uganda is still restless following the election of February 18 that was controversially won by President Yoweri Museveni against the backdrop of massive irregularities. Museveni, in power for 30 years already, will be sworn in for another 5-year term on May 12. Beginning today, the opposition has announced popular protests. Uganda’s future remains uncertain.
Ugandan politics never seem to come to a happy closure. The February 18, 2016 elections ended but the politicking never stopped. As had been predicted, the incumbent Yoweri Museveni was declared a winner with 5,617,503 (60.75 %) and his next formidable rival Dr. Kizza Besigye of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) with 3,270,290 (35.37 %), followed by Amama Mbabazi with 132,574 (1.43%). Both local and international observers raised serious concerns about the credibility of the results given widespread irregularities. But the irregularities could not be relied. Not surprisingly, the opposition also rejected the results with one presidential aspirant Amama Mbabazi going to court. This also raised a question since the main contender Dr. Besigye was under house arrest, denied a chance to present his complaints. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the incumbent to the surprise of many, given that even the limited evidence (within the constraints of time) and the burden put on the petitioner to provide sufficient evidence that the electoral malpractices affected the election results in a substantial manner, the irregularities were rampant and widespread.
After the ruling that many had anticipated given the questionable independence of the judiciary, there followed an uneasy calm in the country. This was quickly followed by various forms of protest. Dr. Besigye’s FDC continued to call for an audit of the election results since, according to them, the announced results did not reflect the will of the electorate. The protests that FDC called for were all non-violent, including Tuesday prayers at the party headquarters and wearing “black” every Thursday as symbolic mourning for the death of democracy in Uganda. Slogans used include: “Free my Vote”; “I can’t breathe”, referring to Dr. Besigye’s continued detention at his home (later released after numerous protests even from the international community).
Museveni’s swearing in ceremony is scheduled for 12 May 2016 but the main opposition party FDC of Dr. Besigye has called for massive demonstration on 5 May 2016, and even announced that they will have Dr. Besigye sworn in as the duly elected president of Uganda! This sounds like courting trouble, but FDC seems to be poised for any eventualities. The government in turn has issued a ban on all forms of protest, including prayers deemed to have some political undertones (How one determines this, I have not idea). It is time to analyze this post-election Ugandan political contestation and suggest some scenarios for months and even years to come.
Prayer for politics and politics of prayer
For those who know Uganda a bit, religion is a dominant force in the public sphere. Ugandans like most African are “notoriously religions” as John S. Mbiti once said. So it came as no surprise that FDC resorted to invoking divine providence. The leading architect of this form of protest is a retired Anglican Bishop Rev. Zac Niringiye, the most vocal critic of the Museveni regime. Just to put this prayerful protest in context, in the past FDC tried “Walk to Work” after the 2011 contested elections that caused a lot of mayhem in the capital Kampala. The prayer option took the government off-guard since in a very religious country that boasts the Uganda Martyrs, you cannot prevent people from praying for national healing, democracy and free and fair elections. Every Tuesday, various pastors (mainly Anglican and Evangelical) take turns to lead prayers at FDC headquarters.
The political dimension of this form of prayer is insinuated in Dr. Besigye’s comments at one prayer service at his home in Kasangati: “You all know that my victory was snatched and it may take us long to win the struggle, but we cannot use violent means because we have all seen that the kind of revolution it brings is not always good.” He was addressing some activists and leading FDC officials. Before he was released from house detention, prayers would take place at his home, turning it into some kind of mega-church. Prayer has turned into politics by other means—albeit peaceful ones. Those who know the evolution of radical schools of theology are aware of liberation theology that incorporates struggle for political emancipation as a part and parcel of the mission of the Gospel that Jesus Christ taught. Dictatorial regimes such as that of apartheid South Africa and others in Latin America were removed by a combination of military, political and theological strategies. Famous church leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bishop Dom Helder Camara were acutely aware that faith and religion are dynamic forces that can bring about social and political transformation non-violently. There is always a tension on whether religion should play a public role and even influence politics in a given country, or it should remain confined to the private life of devotion, liturgy and simple acts of charity and service. There is a whole branch of theology known as political theology and Catholic social doctrine that explore these issues in greater depth.
The police and other security agencies have been battling with these new forms of protest but unsure of how go about them since it they are a new terrain. At one of the prayer sessions organized in Ntungamo District, the police had issued a warning preventing the prayer event but the prayer organizers defied the police order. The FDC leader for Ntungamo, Mr. George Karamira, called the order unfortunate argued thus: “The DPC (District Police Commander) called me very early in the morning that we must stop praying. I asked him if they will even go to our home and in our hearts to search for people praying or if they will stop all the activities and meeting we are conducting since we first pray. He said we had not sought police permission to conduct prayers at our offices. When I told my people, they refused.” This is the kind of dilemma that Uganda’s security personnel will continue to face amidst the political strategy of prayer for protest, since prayer is directed to God the Almighty, and prayer has no potential to disrupt public order and cause harm.
This prayer protest has attracted religious leaders of the main creeds in Uganda—Christian and Muslim alike. The government has taken this prayer protest lightly. Some NRM party functionaries have spoken and expressed discontent at the church’s involvement in the evolving post-election political dynamics. Mary Mutesi, NRM Campaign Task Force Deputy Spokesperson labeled those using the pulpit to criticize the government “counterfeit preachers”: “There’s too much abuse of the pulpit to the extent that many people are resorting to following counterfeit preachers,” she argued. “Why would a bishop in Kasese be more concerned about Besigye instead of his flock which is living in fear?” She advised: “Bishop Niringiye stepped aside when he chose to become an activist. Those who want to speak out should also step aside.”
Most Easter messages revolved around the call to free Dr. Kizza Besigey from incarceration at his home. Two of the prominent church leaders who called for the immediate release of Dr. Besigye are Catholic Bishop John Baptist Kaggwa of Masaka Diocese and Anglican Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Stanley Ntagali. Of course it is wrong to call on church leaders to first resign from their office before they can make public statements on issues of national importance. It is part of their prophetic role as religious leaders to speak out when things are not going well. Of course such public comments should be based on objective assessments of the situation and should not be sectarian or partisan. Issues of human rights violations, elections that are not considered free and fair, corruption, etc. pertain to the common good and should be addressed by anybody concerned about the good of the nation, including religious leaders. And comments on such issues should not be seen as interfering in the politics of the country by religious leaders. On this issue of criticism from church leaders President Museveni has own approach that he articulated some time back in 2014 while launching the National Population and Housing Census final results that were leased by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics: “I urge all bishops and the media to spend at least 30% abusing Museveni but 70% to talk about the future. I have survived 90% abuse.” The president seems to suggest that some form of criticism is fine as long as it does not go beyond 30%. He is aware of the value of constructive criticism—political wisdom.
From prayer to protest: Can we expect a showdown?
A lot is stake in the week leading up to the swearing in of President-elect Yoweri Museveni on 12 May 2016. About 30 heads of state have been invited to attend the ceremony. Regional leaders plus others from afar like Robert Mugabe are expected to grace the occasion. But FDC and other opposition sympathizers are vowing to spoil the party and have a protest on 5 May to contest the legitimacy of Museveni’s election. They have been gathering evidence, chief among them the court battle that was waged by Amama Mbabazi, who, even though he did not mange to overturn the results, provided some evidence that there were indeed numerous irregularities that had been confirmed by the EU and other local observers. Mbabazi argued that given the evidence he was able to provide, the Supreme Court should have done further investigation instead of giving the benefit of doubt to the respondent.
Most legal experts have punched holes in the judicial ruling arguing that the substantiality clause has a serious problem since it gives room for rigging as long as the rigging does not substantiality affect the results. Out of the 33 grounds raised to challenge the election results, Mbabazi won 6 and lost 27 basically on lack of sufficient evidence to prove the claims. This substantial effect on results is a nightmare to prove within just ten days after elections. Legal experts have used the analogy of stealing—one does not have to steal too much to prove that he is a thief. In law even an attempt to commit a crime is charged, even when the crime did not actually happen due to various circumstances. Many people wonder why this kind of reasoning cannot apply to electoral offences that actually took place. Recall that the lead petitioner Mbabazi was not the main contestant. So many wonder if Dr. Besigye had been free to give his evidence what would the Supreme Court ruling have been?
Mbabazi won on 6 grounds: 1. Court faulted the electoral commission for delays in delivering voting materials saying it was wrong, showed incompetence and gross inefficiency; 2. Court also found evidence that Mbabazi’s agents were denied information which they were entitled to; 3. Chief Justice Bart Katureebe said it was “inexcusable” that EC didn’t provide reasons on why results from 1,777 polling stations were left out by declaration day; 4. Court faulted security forces for arresting Mbabazi, saying he should have been allowed to go to Mbale during consultations; 5. Court said EC should have done more to brief candidates on mode of result transmission of election results; 6. African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) report showed that UBC TV failed to provide equal coverage to all candidates. The conclusion of the court ruling by Chief Justice Bart Katureebe was that: “There was non-compliance but court was not satisfied it affected the results in a substantial manner.” With this dissatisfaction, the Supreme Court had the power to do further investigation including further cross-examination and also audit of election results to remove any doubt. There are other complaints that the Supreme Court judges are NRM cadres—a suspicion confirmed by the fact that all the nine judges agreed to the ruling without any dissent while in the past (2006 elections) a similar ruling had a win for the incumbent with 3:2. The conclusion was the same to the effect that non-compliance did not affect the results in a substantial manner. This fact of voting by judges on the conclusion also suggests that the substantiality clause is subjective. The key question in the case of 2006 was: What difference did the one judge who tilted the vote make in terms of the substantiality clause? Did he have more evidence just before the voting? If the argument is based on quantitative evidence, then why should the judges have to vote? This aspect of subjective decision of the judges also raises issues in terms of judicial procedure. What such voting does is basically similar to asking people to cast a vote and then you ask a small team of other people to vote on whether the vote is valid.
To confirm the concern of the opposition, the EU Observer Team led by Eduard Kukan issued a final report on the elections and pointed out the need for electoral reforms to avoid the irregularities and offences that were noted. These reforms include: an independent, inclusive, transparent, electoral body; participation of civil society in the selection and scrutiny of the electoral commission officials; clear and detailed provision of collection and tallying of votes; publication of full election results on line by the Electoral Commission and broken down as per polling station; differentiation of the state from the incumbent party and the regulation of state resources during the electoral process. These are areas where irregularities were rampant, and the same areas that the opposition had called for reforms that were rejected by the dominant ruling NRM party.
Basically, the anger across the country is that legal technicalities and the cited non-compliance disenfranchised many voters. FDC’s call for an audit of election results is the main demand, short of which, they claim, the Electoral Commission is hiding something. The Electoral Commission on its part claims that the law does not provide for an audit of election results.
Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, re-elected Mayor of Kampala City
How is Kampala as a seat of opposition going to handle the anticipated peaceful protest on May 5? For beginners, Kampala, the sprawling densely populated urban landscape is situated in the heart of the ancient Buganda Kingdom (one the four kingdoms of Uganda that were allowed to operate as cultural institutions—some have a parliament and cabinet ministers). Kampala has over 1 million residents and still growing. Even though it is fairly cosmopolitan the majority are Baganda, the largest ethnic group in Uganda. Dr. Besigye is hugely popular in Kampala District where he won 65 % of the votes in the 18 February elections. Compare this with the 2011 election when he got 46.86 % with Museveni getting 46.08 %. His close political ally Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago won the mayoral elections this year with 75% of votes compared to 64 % of 2011. In political terms, Museveni should be worried about having such massive opposition support in his backyard. The two men are Museveni’s sworn political enemies who give him sleepless nights if not nightmares. One of Museveni’s political engineering tricks to check the power of the Mayor who is his chief opponent was to create the office of Executive Director of Kampala City held by Jennifer Musisi and also a Minister in charge of Kampala held by Hon. Tumwebaze—a very committed NRM youthful cadre. With these strategic moves, the Mayor of Kampala had his powers considerably reduced. It came as no surprise that Lord Mayor Lukwago served only half of his previous mayoral term, in what many observers think was government interference. Now he is back in office as elected Mayor of the mighty Kampala.
So Dr. Besigye and Lord Mayor Lukwago who increasingly look like political twins, have the capital city Kampala in their hands. But the security and especially the police and army are in the hands of the ruling NRM. As preparations for the swearing in ceremony of President Museveni for another five years gain momentum, security is the no one concern. Dr. Besigye with his FDC are hell-bent on using the high visibility of the event and numerous dignitaries to show the world that FDC, the main opposition party, was cheated of its victory. The government, on the other hand, with the Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura taking the lead, is planning to ensure that the celebrations go on peacefully and demonstrate to the whole world that Museveni is the duly and validly elected president of Uganda.
Kampala is also in the hands of another formidable FDC politician, re-elected woman MP for the city, Hon. Nabilah Naggayi. Makindye East, a rich suburb of Kampala, is also in the hands of the opposition, and so is Nakawa. Kampala Central is under an independent Hon. Muhammad Nsereko, re-elected as independent and is a vocal critic of NRM. FDC also took most of the slots for councilors of Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA). This heavy defeat of NRM (no single parliamentary seat of the 8) is revealing.
How will the two contending and irreconcilable narratives live side by side in the capital City Kampala come 5 May? This is what is called a classical dilemma facing the Museveni government. If the protest schedule goes on as planned it will show the massive support that Dr. Besigye enjoys in Kampala and in the rest of the country. If the government getting nervous overreacts and clamps down on the peaceful protest it can turn bloody and violent and thus jeopardize the May 12 swearing ceremony, including scaring away some prominent guests. You do not need to have a swearing in ceremony of a supposedly popularly elected president with heavily armed police, army, and water canon trucks all over the streets. The incident when President Good-luck Jonathan of Nigeria had his convoy pelted with stones during the swearing in ceremony of 2011 is still fresh in people’s minds.
Calling for the nationwide demonstrations on 5 May 2016 the FDC Secretary General Nandala Mafabi expressed the resolve thus: “We are going to hold a national demonstration on May 5 this year, demanding for an internationally supervised independent audit of the election,” said Mafabi. “We call upon all Ugandans to turn up for the demonstration in order to free our vote.” The FDC president Gen Mugisha Muntu, a former Army Commander under Museveni’s government, added his voice: “We demand the establishment of an independent audit of the 18 February 2016 elections. There are clear and glaring contradictions between what was declared by the electoral commission and what we have gathered across the country. This can only be resolved by an independent audit.”
Faced with this prospect of turmoil in the city, the Deputy Chief Judge Steven Kavuma recently issued an exparte (one-sided) ruling banning all protests and defiance campaigns given the impending swearing-in ceremony. In response, the FDC has powered cold water on the ban calling it unconstitutional. The fearless FDC Secretary for Mobilization Mrs. Ingrid Turinawe has said that the party will carry on with all its programs including the “Black Tuesday” prayers at their offices across the country. Invoking the famous Uganda Christian Martyrs who resisted the Buganda King Mwanga, she claimed that Najjanankumbi Head offices of FDC would turn into the “new Namugongo” (where the shrine of the Uganda Martyrs is built.) The resolve even to die for the political cause is articulated by Ingrid: “I will be a martyr,” she said. “Ready to die – killed on black Tuesday while praying in Najjanankumbi.” With such courage and resolve from a woman who has been stripped by the police during the 2011 protests, it is likely that FDC has drawn the battle lines for May 5, 2016. How the NRM will respond to this non-violent confrontation is anyone’s guess.
Uganda’s post-election period is still full of uncertainties. It is not over yet even after the Supreme Court declared Museveni the winner of the 18 February elections. The NRM government is hell-bent on crushing any defiance campaigns that will threaten the swearing-in of the declared winner of the recent elections. At the same time the main opposition party under Dr. Kizza Besigye is as stubborn as ever and has been holding defiance campaigns disguised as prayers for almost two months. It is not clear how the government can stop people from praying for peace, democracy and free and fair elections. Throughout history, no leader has ever won a battle against prayer. While the government has a right and a duty to promote law and order, it will be very difficult to convince anybody that peaceful prayer is disrupting peace and order.
It is too early to tell how things will unfold leading up to the swearing-in ceremony of Yoweri Museveni on May 12. What is clear is that both sides—FDC and the ruling party NRM - are facing off in a dramatic confrontation whose political strategic contours are yet to be clearly known. This goes to show that when elections are over in Uganda, do not be too quick to declare that all is done. No. Not yet. The trajectory is from the ballot, to the courts, then to the streets. And now the divine dimension has been added to the political equation. Ugandans are trying out what they love most—prayers for politics.
*Dr. Odomaro Mubangizi is Dean of Philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he teaches Philosophy and Theology. He is also Editor of Justice, Peace and Environment Bulletin. He can be contacted at: [email protected].
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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