Sobriety must prevail to stop Uganda plunging into anarchy

Uganda risks going the way Kenya did after the contested 2007 presidential election results. A contest of wills between President Yoweri Museveni and Member of Parliament for Kyadondo East constituency Robert Kyagulanyi during a by-election in Arua town has turned ugly.

It all started when the driver of the MP, popularly known as Bobi Wine, was shot dead. With one thing leading to another, President Museveni’s motorcade was stoned, an action the government blamed on Kyagulanyi, who has been critical of Museveni’s administration.

Consequently, he was arrested. Initially, the government said it would court martial him for treason, but later changed the charge to illegal possession of guns.

Uganda boasts of being a democratic republic; one governed by a constitution that guarantees respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens. However, there are pointers to mischief in Kyagulanyi’s arrest.

First, it was reported that he received a serious beating from Ugandan soldiers, but Museveni is on record denying the torture and instead calling Kyagulanyi an indisciplined child.

Second, the expectation was that as a civilian, Kyagulanyi, if indeed he broke any law, would be charged in a civilian court as is the practice the world over. But he was charged in a military court instead. Speculation has been rife that Kyagulanyi was tortured to a point where he could neither stand nor walk on his own.

Despite assurances from the government that the MP was fine, contrary statements from his lawyers and the government’s refusal to produce him in public aggravated tension, finally plunging Kampala into chaos. For days, there have been running battles between the police and civilians. Fatalities have been reported.

Journalists covering the unfortunate events were detained and beaten up by the police. For infringing on media freedom, a belated apology by the police over the incident is not reassuring.

The escalation of chaos and bloodshed should be avoided, and this can be done by releasing the detained legislator.

As Museveni rightly observed in the early 1980s, “Freedom of speech is a right of the people and not a favour from the government” and “A government that subjects its citizens to humiliation and desperate solutions is not worth the name and should hence be removed. It was the violation of this cardinal principle by Idi Amin that forced Ugandans to take up arms to liberate their motherland.”

Museveni should follow his own counsel. Holding divergent views is not a treasonable act.

An individual’s desire to rule in perpetuity should not be allowed to ruin a country that has just begun to enjoy tranquility after decades of unstable governments and coups.