France 24

Uganda: two months before presidential election, worrying mobilization of armed men in civilian clothes

Two months before the presidential election, concerns are growing in Uganda over the disproportionate use of force and the use of armed men in civilian clothes by the government. The human rights lawyer, Nicholas Opiyo, has deciphered for France 24 this renewed tension in the country.The video, filmed from a car whose terrified passengers can be heard, shows 45 seconds of terror. The scene takes place in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Kampala, the Ugandan capital. “They are shooting,” said a woman’s voice from inside the car. Through the windshield, we see men in jeans and T-shirts, automatic rifles in hand, brandishing their guns in the middle of the street. Panic increases when these armed men start shooting in the air for no reason, in the middle of the street. an atmosphere clouded by the smoke of tear gas. “What? Jesus!” The woman shouts in the video. “Mum, Mum, I’m very scared,” she moans as a man in a striped t-shirt suddenly starts shooting at man’s height. The video, posted on Twitter by the human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, is just one of the many images of violence circulating on social networks Thursday, November 19. That day, uniformed and plainclothes police officers shot at protesters protesting the arrest of Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine, killing at least 37. “In the past few days we have started to see some very unusual things in this country: people driving their cars, brandishing guns and randomly shooting anything they see on the street. These signs are extremely disturbing, “Nicholas Opiyo told France 24, during an interview on Friday. “We believe the government has formed paramilitary militias under the pretext of enforcing order.” The lawyer points out that the video was taken Thursday by a colleague who wished to remain anonymous. “We saw a lot of videos circulating online yesterday but I can certify that this one is real because I know the person who filmed,” he said. “Election times can be particularly tense in Uganda. , this time around, the violence began exceptionally early before the January ballot and with an intensity that fears the worst given the stakes it poses for President Yoweri Museveni. “” Tell Museveni that we are not slaves “After 34 years at the head of the country, Yoweri Museveni is a candidate for re-election. On November 2, the electoral commission opened the way for him to vote by validating his candidacy for the presidential election in January 2021. Since coming to power in 1986 following a military coup, the president of 76-year-old former rebel soldier turned head of state – has never lost an election in his political career, but today his power is in serious jeopardy by Bobi Wine, a 38-year-old musician converted to politics Known in Uganda as the “president of the ghetto” because of his humble origins, the young candidate has captured the attention of many voters and electrified his young electoral base by daring to call Yoweri Museveni to resign. Bobi Wine – true name Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu – was arrested earlier in the week and charged with violating Covid-19 restrictions. Following Thursday’s violence – the worst unrest in the country in a decade – the opponent was released on bail Friday and is due to appear in court again on December 18. Following his release, Bobi Wine – looking tired – refused to bow down. “Tell Museveni that we are not slaves and that we will not accept to be slaves,” he said. “We will be free.” Arrests and releases Since his election to Parliament in 2017, the opponent has developed a habit of reacting to his frequent arrests by reaffirming his opposition to the authorities. Following a period in prison, Bobi Wine had been cleared to travel to the United States to seek treatment for wounds inflicted while incarcerated, when members of the ruling party had hoped the intimidated young MP would stay in the United States. Their hopes were quickly dashed. Once treated, the one who likes to play the role of small pebble in Yoweri Museveni’s shoe, returned to Uganda, vowing not to be intimidated. “I am a free Ugandan with the right to move freely in my country,” he said on arrival. Bobi Wine’s latest arrest was the second in barely a month. On November 3, he was briefly detained following his candidacy for the presidential election. After being prevented from going to his offices, Bobi Wine was taken to his home, where he addressed his supporters, showing his torn suit jacket and as well as injuries to some of his associates, following their arrest. “What’s new is the public reaction.” But while Bobi Wine’s arrests are nothing new, the public reaction to this week’s has surprised human rights defenders. “Museveni is managed to stay in power through the use of violence, intimidation, corruption and bribes. All this is nothing new, “says Nicholas Opiyo. “What is new is the public reaction.” Bobi Wine’s arrest on Wednesday immediately sparked protests in Kampala, which then spread to other cities in the east African country. . On Wednesday evening, the Red Cross claimed to have taken care of dozens of wounded, including 11 people with gunshot wounds. Thursday evening, the situation deteriorated. Stores have had their windows smashed and looted. Young people also burned tires in the streets, demanding the release of the opponent. “Use the Covid to obtain political advantages” If he admits that the situation has become “very intense”, Nicholas Opiyo emphasizes that the use Disproportionate and indiscriminate force has exacerbated the level of violence in the country. “The brutality of the security agents has been confronted with the very great determination of indignant and determined people,” said the human rights specialist. In a country plagued by poverty and youth unemployment, the anger of the population s ‘is crystallized against the aging caste in power. While Bobi Wine has been arrested for failing to comply with coronavirus restrictions, members of Yoweri Museveni’s party, the National Resistance Movement, have been able to hold campaign rallies in recent weeks under the protection of law enforcement. “Coronavirus restrictions are used as an excuse to violently suppress the opposition and give the ruling party an advantage,” Nicholas Opiyo analyzes. “What they are doing is using the Covid to gain political advantage.” The use of armed men in civilian clothes on Thursday also terrified the population, increasing fears that insecurity could increase between now and the poll January 15. “This is not the first time that we have seen these men in the streets. Usually they collaborate with the security personnel in uniform,” says Nicholas Opiyo. “But since they are government employees, it is often difficult to hold them to account.” With these mysterious gunmen in t-shirts allowed to “control the streets” with impunity, human rights defenders in Uganda are wait for a particularly tense election campaign. 24 hours after posting the video and other footage of the armed men in civilian clothes to his Twitter account, Nicholas Opiyo admitted to worrying for his own safety and that of others human rights defenders and activists in the country. “I slept in my office last night because I learned that I had been followed. They are very unhappy that I am sharing this information. Two days ago, police officers stopped the car of civil society activists, took them out and beat them. Journalists were also beaten up. Any group that questions the authorities is brutalized “, laments the lawyer. “I don’t feel safe but I am here at home and I will not be leaving.” Adapted from English by Julia Dumont. To read the original article, click here.