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Museveni takes oath, declares war on dissent

BUSINESS
By | May 13th 2011

By Alex Kiprotich in Kampala

Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni took the oath of office for his fourth official term yesterday with a warning to opponents to toe his line.

The ceremony had a surreal backdrop as it took place even as supporters of his rival Kizza Besigye clashed with security forces.

As Museveni, who has been in office since 1986, took the oath at 12.15pm, it was not lost on the minds of the people who have been following the happenings in the country that his clampdown on the walk-to-work protests against the rising cost of living would be stepped up. "I, Yoweri Museveni, swear in the name of Almighty God that I will be faithful, swear allegiance to the people and to the Republic of Uganda and that I will preserve and protect the Constitution, so help me God," he said to a thunderous applause from thousands of supporters of his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) who thronged Kololo stadium.

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni receives instruments of power from Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki after taking his oath of office at the Kololo Airstrip grounds in Kampala, Thursday. Looking on is Museveni’s wife Janet. [PHOTO: REUTERS]

In his speech, Museveni did not mince words when he said the protests in Kampala and its environs would be crushed.

"The disruptive schemes in Kampala will be defeated. The landslide win I got should inform the elements that Ugandan people have matured and do not heed lies propagated by other people," he said to the shouts of "Besigye, Besigye" from the partisan crowd.

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Both the African Union and other independent observers roundly condemned the elections for not being free and fair. Museveni seemed to legitimise his actions against the opposition leaders who have endured heavy-handedness from the military and the police for mobilising people to engage in ‘walk-to-work’ protests aimed at forcing the Government to halt runaway inflation.

After reading out the names of dignitaries who attended the ceremony, Museveni said: "The presence of these leaders shows that Uganda and NRM, which always considers itself pan-Africanist, has a place and fosters unity among its neighbours and Africa in general."

Among Heads of State at the ceremony were Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki, who Museveni sensationally referred to as "our elder", Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan and Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete.

Others were Salva Kiir of South Sudan, Ethiopia’s PM Meles Zanawi and retired President Moi, who arrived to a rousing welcome.

On Tuesday, Museveni had announced that immediately the Ugandan Parliament starts sitting after he is sworn in, he would introduce a constitutional amendment that would allow him to lock up protestors for 180 days without bail.

The amendment, he said, would also target treason and economic sabotage. Museveni has argued that the protests led by Besigye were sabotaging the economy.

Besigye, who returned to the country after he was delayed by a day in Nairobi, was received by military officers who sandwiched his vehicle and diverted his motorcade from the initial planned route, which could have seen him address his supporters at the FDC offices in Kampala.

Military officers at Kisianji blocked the opposition leader one kilometre from Entebbe, where they exchanged words before his entourage was sandwiched by military trucks and diverted to a different road despite his protest. "I am proceeding to my offices near Naza along Entebbe road, why are you blocking me?" asked Besigye.

And as a crowd built up, he was forced to drive towards Natata road, but just a few kilometres from Kampala, he was again diverted towards the suburbs of Kibuye. The military was, however, forced to seek reinforcement as the crowd, which was swelling in numbers, overwhelmed them at Natata.

"We need more police officers because Besigye’s supporters are becoming uncontrollable," an officer told journalists.

Visitors to Kampala town arrived to a heavy presence of military personnel armed to the teeth, and some moving in open mounted trucks. At Kololo stadium where the swearing-in ceremony took place, one could not stretch without touching a police officer that equalled the number of people attending the function. Everybody getting into the stadium to witness the ceremony was frisked, and the security officers confiscated even ladies’ mirrors.

Views among Ugandans were diverse and varied. "He is our leader and security should be enhanced. And by the way, what is the problem with heavy police officers who don’t touch anyone so long as you don’t break the law?" said Nicholas Kanaabi when asked to comment.

History of Uganda

Mary Bahikaho said Museveni deserved to continue ruling the country, and dismissed those questioning his treatment of opposition leaders as not knowing the history of Uganda.

"Sevo (Museveni) should continue leading. He is our president and those criticising him are naÔve. They do not know how Uganda was before he came to power," she said, adding that the opposition was working with western powers to bring down Museveni because of Uganda’s recently discovered oil.

However, Paul Ssembijja differed with those supporting the President.

"He has outlived his usefulness and the way he is behaving now is exactly the way past dictators behaved before the might of the gun removed them from power. Ssembijja said it was ironical that Museveni, who has even authored a book highlighting the problems of African leaders, is now part of the problem by trying to crush the opposition.

"Why does he suppress Besigye. Doesn’t that tell you there is something he is fearful of and which will be exposed if he lets the opposition continue with the protests?" he said.

Besigye left Nairobi yesterday after he was delayed when Kenya Airways stopped him from boarding a morning flight to Uganda on Wednesday.

The airline’s officials had said they had information Ugandan authorities planned to deny them landing rights if Besigye was on the plane.

Kenya Airways later on Wednesday said that Besigye was allowed to fly, but the opposition leader chose to stay until yesterday morning.

There was heavy security at the Entebbe International Airport as the plane carrying Besigye landed.

Witnesses said policemen were keeping guard even inside the VIP Lounge at Entebbe International Airport.

The opposition leader, aged 55, had been violently arrested several times over the past one month.

A few weeks ago, policemen who wanted to stop him from leading a protest attacked him. They sprayed his eyes with chemicals, and Besigye had to be flown to Nairobi for treatment. He spent a week at the Nairobi Hospital and said he feared for his life, but would continue leading protests when he returned home.

Museveni and Besigye were comrades in the former’s bush war of the 1980s to oust Milton Obote from power. During that time, Besigye was Museveni’s personal doctor.

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