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MUSEVENI’S VICTIMS: Seven groups of people Museveni has tormented most


1. The people of northern Uganda
For the past two and a half decades, since Yoweri Museveni seized power, the people of the north have experienced the worst of the worst suffering humanity has ever tasted on Ugandan soil. More than anyone else, the northerners, as Frantz Fanon would describe them, are the wretched of the earth.

Their wretchedness started the day they decided to fight President Museveni probably for no reason but because he was a southerner. The tribes of the north, since independence, had predominated and dominated both the military and politics and had come to regard State power as their exclusive right. As soon as the last of their sons was driven out of State House in 1986, ending their decade-long grip on power, the Acholi, the Luo and their cousins in the West Nile formed several armed groups and waged war against those who had disrupted their monopoly on leadership – the new government of Museveni. In a country that colonialism polarized along ethnic, regional and religious lines, this northern outburst wasn’t hard to understand.

First to fight was the Holy Spirit Movement led by Alice Auma Lakwena, a self-professed prophetess who said she was under divine assignment to stop evil. She, like anti-colonial warrior Kinjikitile Ngwale of Tanganyika, convinced her people that smearing their skins with holy water would shield them from the bullets of government forces.

With about 10,000 men armed with stones and sticks, and singing Catholic hymns, Alice Lakwena marched towards Kampala in 1987 to end Museveni’s rule. They managed to register some surprising victories before suffering an effective massacre in the forests of Busoga.

The remnants of Alice’s movement remobilized and formed the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) that would, for the next two decades, shape the misery of the people of the north. Inheriting the overwhelming tribal support that his cousin Alice had enjoyed, Joseph Kony staged a rebellion that stood the test of time. His objective, he said, was to capture power and rule according to Christian doctrines.

As it increasingly became clear that he would not capture any territory, not even his own home districts where he thought he enjoyed much support, Joseph Kony turned against his own people, accusing them of siding with the government.

From village to village Joseph Kony carried out massacre after massacre for over twenty years. He chopped off the lips of his tribesmen, forced boys as young as 14 to fight alongside his rebels and turned little girls into sex slaves. But Kony’s atrocities were just part of the misery of the Acholi and the Luo. These communities suffered similar, or even worse, atrocities at the hands of Museveni’s forces.

To deny the LRA breeding ground, Museveni’s forces decided to push the people into Internally Displaced Peoples Camps where life was nasty, brutish and short, as Thomas Hobbes would have described it. Children, pregnant women, the elderly and the sick starved and died in alarming numbers.

To force the people into such deadly conditions, Museveni’s forces, as Mahmood Mamdani puts it in Saviors and Survivors, embarked on ethnically targeted civilian massacres and other atrocities. “It took a (Ugandan) government-directed campaign of murder, intimidation, bombing and burning of whole villages to drive the rural population into I.D.P. camps,” observes Mamdani.

Apart from killing and burning villages to force people into camps, Museveni’s forces – taking advantage of the unbridled corruption that the president has nurtured – deliberately prolonged the LRA insurgency to keep on stealing funds allocated to ending the war.

Top UPDF officials exploited the instability in the north to inflate army registers with nonexistent soldiers and pocketed their salaries. By prolonging the war, Museveni’s corrupt military officials prolonged the suffering of the people of the north.

2. The people of eastern Congo
The suffering experienced by the people of northern Uganda, grave and prolonged as it may be, is dwarfed by the brutality that the Congolese have been subjected to since the outbreak of the First Congo War in 1996. Much, though by no means all or even most, of this brutality has allegedly been orchestrated by President Museveni.

Mr. Museveni helped Rwanda to train, organize and arm Laurent Kabila’s AFDL rebels who, alongside Paul Kagame’s RPF forces, massacred tens of thousands of Hutu civilians – mostly children, women, the sick and elderly – in eastern Congo. It has since been understood that the massacre of Hutus in Africa’s third largest country in the mid-1990s amounted to genocide.

Yet this was the start, not the end, of Museveni’s reported atrocities on innocent Congolese civilians. In the name of pursuing ADF rebels allegedly regrouping in the forests of Congo, Museveni – without the knowledge of the relevant State organs – unleashed Ugandan troops into what was then, in the 1990s, called Zaire. But as soon as they set foot in the country, Museveni’s forces started fighting one Congolese government after the other, massacred innocent civilians, plundered gold, timber, coltan and diamonds and trained, organized and armed paramilitary bandits that continue to butcher and torture.

All United Nations reports that have documented the conduct of Ugandan troops, the UPDF, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are full of horrific accounts. One such report, the August 2010 Report of the Mapping Exercise documenting the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed between March 1993 and June 2003, says of the UPDF:

In the town of Beni, UPDF soldiers instituted a reign of terror for several years with complete impunity. They carried out summary executions of civilians, arbitrarily detained large numbers of people and subjected them to torture and various other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments. They also introduced a particularly cruel form of detention, putting the detainees in holes dug two or three metres deep into the ground, where they were forced to live exposed to bad weather, with no sanitation and on muddy ground.

As if to ensure that such atrocities continue indefinitely, the UPDF formed and equipped several militias, inducing the MLC and RCD-ML, which continued to starve and kill innocent civilians even after Ugandan troops had left the war-torn country. An estimated five million people have so far died and countless have been raped, maimed and displaced as a result of the activities of Museveni’s forces and all those who orchestrated violence and suffering in the Congo.

To say that Museveni – the commander in chief – was not aware of these relentless massacres perpetrated by his forces is ridiculous. Being a dictator, Museveni exerts total control over the military and monitors every detail of its operations.

Besides, as head of government, Museveni takes full responsibility of the actions of government forces. His failure to punish the UPDF commanders who directed the murderous operations and his insistence that no crimes of the sort were committed point to his possible involvement.

3. Opposition politicians
Like all tyrants all over the world, President Museveni reacts with extreme cruelty to anyone posing a challenge to his scheme of perpetual presidency. Though Mr. Museveni massively uses bribery to silence opponents, he hardly hesitates to unleash brutality where money cannot work.

The first organized group to taste Museveni’s systematic cruelty was the Justice Forum party, commonly known as Jeema, in the late 1990s. There is no doubt the Justice Forum today is too weak to individually pose any threat to Museveni. But it did pose a serious threat in its maiden years, especially in 1996, when it emerged and instantly fronted Muhammad Mayanja Kibirge to compete against Museveni in the presidential election.

Whereas Mr. Kibirige got no more than a handful of votes, he enjoyed noticeable support among the minority Muslim population and, indeed, many mosques and mosque committees served as his campaign structures. Jeema portrayed itself as a vanguard that had emerged to mobilize, unite and lead Muslims to State power. Indeed, Jeema constituted the first organized Muslim march toward State House since the fall of President Amin in 1979. This alarmed Museveni.

Museveni thus found it clever to suppress the party in its embryonic years in order to avoid confronting a much more organized Muslim political movement in the future. In the name of fighting the ADF rebellion, Museveni’s government summarily slaughtered many politicized Muslims, especially Jeema members and supporters, and detained thousands of them in secret torture chambers locally known as safe houses.

This forgotten terror, as I have agued elsewhere in What Went Wrong at Jeema, left a festering wound on the party whose remnant members virtually gave up mobilization and decided to spend the rest of their time distancing the organization from its traditional constituency – the Muslims – and from its engine – the mosque. It is of recent that Jeema has started emerging from this blackout.

Other opposition parties, especially the Democratic Party and Uganda Peoples Congress, suffered severe repression under Museveni’s single-party dictatorship. But none of them tasted the kind of brutality that partly set the Justice Forum en route to its current state of hopelessness. The only party that has come near to such brutality is the Forum for Democratic Change, or FDC, whose leader has frequented jail on fabricated charges of rape and treason and, recently, of taking part in the walk-to-work protests.

As he increasingly attracted enormous crowds in the 2001 presidential election campaigns, Dr. Besigye came under ruthless State oppression. His supporters were beaten, maimed and killed by the Kalangala Action Plan, a pro-Museveni militia led by Maj. Kakooza Mutale. After the election, he was put under house arrest and persecuted until he fled to South Africa.

As soon as he returned home months to the 2006 general election, he was thrown into jail at the height of his presidential campaigns. Tens of his leading campaign strategists were also rotting in jail on charges of belonging to a rebel group that does not exist. On one occasion, armed men stormed the high court and rearrested these young men shortly after they had been granted bail.

Such brutality subsided between 2006 and 2011 as Besigye’s street appeal hit its lowest. But as soon as the retired colonel regained his appeal, thanks to his popular walk-to-work protests against prohibitive food and fuel prices, his tormentors also regained their zeal.

In an unbelievable exhibition of extreme barbarism, State agents, on April 28, smashed the windows of Besigye’s vehicle using hammers and butts of guns, sprayed liquid pepper and teargas in his eyes and then dragged him out, punched and kicked him, ripped his clothes and eventually bundled him headlong under the seats of a pick-up truck.

Besides unleashing outright violence, Museveni deals harshly with upcountry radio stations that host Besigye and intimidates companies that offer campaign-related services to opposition parties.

One such company is YO! Uganda, which was contracted by the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI) to offer SMS services to both the ruling and opposition parties. As the SMS facility proved efficient in mobilization, Museveni’s government threatened hostile action against the company if it continued offering such services to any opposition party.

Museveni, as one IRI official put it, has made life for the opposition not just difficult, but impossible.

4. The Muslims
President Yoweri Museveni took the century-old official oppression of Muslims in Uganda to a different level: he allegedly started killing them routinely and systematically subjecting them to untold torture.

The first documentation of Museveni’s reported brutality against Muslims is, Is the 1979 Muslim Blood-bath in Bushenyi History? A Review of the Genocide that was Called Liberation. In this small book Makerere University Professor Abasi Kiyimba details shocking accounts of how 64 Muslim women, children and helpless villagers were slaughtered in Ankole for no reason but because a Muslim – Idi Amin Dada – had ruled this country. As soon as Amin fell in 1979, the Muslims of Bushenyi paid the price.

“On the morning of Tuesday 26th June, 1979,” writes Kiyimba, “a mob of Christians armed with spears, knives and ropes, started rounding up Muslims and tying their hands behind their backs. They said that they were doing it on the orders of Yoweri Museveni the then minister of defence.”

Kiyimba goes on to explain how alleged Museveni’s agents accomplished their mission:

They gathered the Muslims in the home of Abdallah Segululigamba from where they marched them to Rwizi river to be executed one after the other. At the river Muslims were butchered in the most horrifying manner. There was one whose head was cut into three pieces before being finally thrown into the river. Other cases included those whose hands or legs were cut off, then thrown into the river to drown. The Imam Abdallah Segululigamba was mercilessly hacked in the middle with a machete and thrown into the river. The most memorable of these cases of cruelty is the 27 year old Madiya Natende who was seven months pregnant. Her stomach was slashed open with a machete and the fetus crudely ripped out.

But that was not all. Over 400 Muslims were detained without trial and “forced to ransom themselves by paying dearly in form of money, cows, goats, sheep, bicycles, radios and other items” while many others were driven out of their homes. Three decades after the tragedy, they still live as refuges – in Kyazanga – in their own country.

The operation that also left mosques burnt, Muslim land seized and banana plantations slashed was, according to investigators, executed in a planned, systematic and methodical manner and targeted Muslims as such – a collection of characteristics typical of genocide.

Museveni’s work of tormenting Muslims became easier once he seized power a quarter-century ago. The torment heightened at the height of the ADF rebellion in the mid 1990s as his government summarily executed countless Muslims and tortured others in incommunicado detention centers known as safe houses. These atrocities, according to the Human Rights Watch, are far from over.

In its 2009 report titled, Open Secret: Illegal Detention and Torture by the Joint Anti-terrorism Task Force in Uganda, Human Rights Watch documents 106 people detained in such torture chambers and concludes, “Of the 106 named individuals detained by JATT documented by Human Rights Watch, all but two were Muslim.”

A Muslim fisherman tells Human Rights Watch about his ordeal:

They asked me, “What do you people do in that mosque? Why do you pray there and what are you planning? Are there certain things that you are trying to organize? … They said, “So you have refused to tell us what we need to know.” Then they took off my Muslim cap and took off all my clothes so I was just in my underpants. They told me to lie down on the floor and then they began beating me. They were saying to me, “Are you sure you aren’t ADF? Are you sure you have no bombs?” They beat me very badly; every part of me and blood was coming out of me all over.

Such torture, quite often, has claimed the lives of the victims, as the report highlights:

JATT arrested Saidi Lutaaya around November 22, 2007, from the Old Taxi Park in Kampala where he worked as a hawker… Two days later, the Voice of Africa radio program broadcast that the body of Saidi Lutaaya was at the mortuary at Mulago hospital in Kampala…Nurses informed family that Lutaaya had been brought to the hospital early in the morning by soldiers. One said that the man had ‘a hole in his foot and the bone of his lower leg was out, and that he was hit in the head with a hammer, blood was oozing out of his body.’

5. Journalists
Media practitioners in Uganda today have more freedom than their pre-Museveni predecessors or many of their contemporaries in repressive States like Rwanda and the Gambia. This freedom, noteworthy and praiseworthy as it may be, is too little to protect journalists from State-inspired job losses, intimidation and incarceration.

Whereas it is much easier today to expose a corrupt government official with less fear of reprisal, it remains extremely dangerous to criticize the president and his friends, family and relatives. Journalists who dared in the recent past have lost their jobs, gone to jail or faced charges.

Before Andrew Mwenda succumbed to bribery and sided with tyranny, he paid dearly for criticising President Museveni. Such criticism forced the journalist-turned-propagandist to resign from the Daily Monitor and KFM radio in 2007. Mr. Museveni had repeatedly asked the chief shareholder in the media company to sack the then outspoken journalist for being the most passionate and the most extreme in his criticism of the government.

In 2009, following the outbreak (and the brutal suppression) of pro-Kabaka riots in parts of Buganda, several radio stations, including Radio One, Ssuubi and Sapientia, sacked some of their best presenters deemed critical of Museveni’s rule. These radio stations were closed for up to four months for allegedly inciting violence and only reopened after swearing their strongest oaths that they would refrain from airing even the slightest criticism of the regime. Another radio station, CBS, was closed for a year.

The closure of the four radio stations had far-reaching implications on freedom of expression. It taught media entrepreneurs that they would only safeguard their business interests by sacking critical reporters and presenters. It also taught reporters and presenters that they would keep their jobs only if they refrained from criticising the high and mighty.

The self-censorship that ensued, far from enabling scribes to develop their careers, breeds the kind of mediocrity that reigns at the State-run UBC Television and that started biting hard at the New Vision since the forced resignation of William Pike four years ago. Self-censorship undermines objectivity. It also denies Ugandans one of their fundamental rights – access to information.

By blackmailing media proprietors, Museveni’s government has succeeded in bringing the media, including the so-called independent media, within its orbit. This remains the frustrating fact even when some draconian legal obstacles, such as the offense of sedition, are being phased out.

The remaining legal obstacles, including the notorious anti-terrorism law that proclaims heavy punishments for publishing "news or materials that promote terrorism", may not survive for long given the clarity of their ambiguity. The anticipated press and journalists (amendment) bill 2010 and its deplorable provisions will equally find it hard to pass.

The most viable weapon Museveni devised to coerce the media remains blackmail. Museveni’s blackmail has seen dismissal of analytical reporters, presenters and editors and rooted fear in the hearts of remnants.

6. The Uganda Police
The last time members of the Uganda Police were treated humanely was during the presidency of Idi Amin Dada. Today they sleep like ducks in houses meant for ten times less their number. The meager salaries they get explains why they have consistently ranked among the country's most corrupt institutions.

7. The Youth
The youth are the worst victims of the unbridled corruption that President Museveni has nurtured for decades. A disturbing number of young men and women – educated or otherwise – remains unemployed because the money meant for establishing infrastructure, which in turn stimulates job creation, is swindled by a handful of individuals.

Under Museveni the quality of education has reached its worst in Uganda’s history. Primary school graduates cannot correctly write down anything except their names. While a university graduate of computer science or information technology cannot install anti-virus software on a PC. This quality of education only worsens joblessness.

Begging, as a result, has become an economic activity, a fulltime occupation of many young people. This begging may, in the course of time, give way to robbery and even armed rebellion, inviting death, destruction and tragedy to the country.

The government, of course, is not entirely to blame. Many young graduates despise some jobs and want to live beyond their means – spending extravagantly instead of using the little resources they may have to lift themselves, bit by bit, out poverty. But in no way does this foolishness remove the fact that Museveni’s government has failed, totally failed, to create jobs for them.

The government, instead, prefers to buy expensive fighter jets even though the country faces no imminent or even distant military threat. Terrorism, which is often cited as an existing threat, is blown out of proportion to attract American funding, stifle opposition political activities, and for other selfish motives. But even if terrorism was to be considered a threat enough, the government does not need the Su-30MKK fighter to hunt down a young man sneaking to plant an explosive in a bar.

The awful unemployment starving young people is certainly a product of Museveni’s making. His promotion of corruption, his negligence of the education sector and his failure to prioritize wisely reflect his leadership ineptness that has subjected Ugandans, especially the youth, to the torment of unemployment and poverty.

This story was first published in the print version of The Campus Journal in 2011.


0 #1 Kalyango Ssenkumba 2012-06-27 10:07
The author must be a member of Justice Forum to even suggest that Jeema has come any near as one of the parties that have been really harassed is laughable. What has JEEMA ever did on the political front?? Well, this is a YAHYA SSEREMBA writing and I expect very little from him when he is writing about Jeema. Good ideas to write but it has been utterly abused, to say the least. Ciao