Uganda: How fear dictated govt reaction

In 1985, Yoweri Museveni, then leader of the rebel outfit, National Resistance Army (NRA), put only one key condition he knew the then military government of the Okello’s could not keep, guarantee that no Ugandan would be killed within 24 hours after their negotiations or he would continue fighting. Mr Museveni’s final push to taker power in January 1986 was largely propelled by a nationally spread fear factor for life and property.By Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi, Daily Monitor, 6 January 2013

Twenty seven years later, fear for life, has returned to haunt Museveni and according to sources close to the Presidency, the fear factor played a central role in government’s panicky reaction to the sudden passing of Butaleja woman MP Cerinah Nebanda.

The handling of the aftermath of Nebanda’s death has now driven the biggest wedge between the Executive and Parliament deeper than the alleged oil bribes scandal that exploded at the end of 2011.

“The President has been driven by concern that fear will spread among the population that you cannot leave your home in the morning and return safely in the evening,” a senior official in the ruling party said.

NRM supporter and former head of Political Intelligence at the Internal Security Organisation Charles Rwomushana, says: “we have always known a hopeful Museveni, even as he writes in the Mustered Seed (an Autobiography Museveni wrote over a decade ago), even when all his colleagues were killed in battle or he had been left alone, he remained hopeful, now you are seeing a desperate Museveni.”

Mr Rwomushana told Kfm Hot Seat on Wednesday, that political uncertainty and the fear that MPs’ comments during a special session to mourn Nebanda, literary accusing the regime of being murderers must have sent Mr Museveni into overdrive.

“Museveni succeeded in branding the government of Amin as murderous, the Obote government was known as one that kills opponents, to accuse Museveni of the same will bring out a Museveni you have never seen,” argues Mr Rwomushana.

Indeed these fears were not unfounded, sources familiar with the politics of Nebanda’s death, one person who strongly believed the poison theory was the MPs family and demonstrated their anger and suspicions at every level. Two well-placed sources say, the President was repeatedly shocked when the family showed so much distrust for the government at the requiem mass and at the burial and tended to side with those who questioned the government version.

Another source said, while the President chose not to attend the burial he kept in close touch with the events and has reviewed footage of Moses Ali’s humiliation several times.

Entangled with the story

Within minutes of MP Nebanda being declared dead at Mukwaya General Hospital Nsambya, Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura had arrived with instructions to take the lead in the investigations. Rumours were, that President Museveni had personally informed him about the MP’s death. This detail has not been independently verified but a source that has spoken to the MP’s family says, Nebanda’s mother, Alice Namulwa, raised the matter of the quick involvement of the highest level of police in one conversation with the President. It is also understood that the President kept in close contact with various people since the death, raising suspicion

With unexplained murders using guns peaking over the last year and concerns that poisoning as an assassination method for opponents, whether business, love or political has been spreading. State House, under the direct control of the President has reportedly been working to ensure that the poison theory to Nebanda’s death does not gain currency.

Mr Museveni, who had mentioned Nebanda by name during his special address to Parliament just the previous day as she heckled constantly through the address was reportedly as concerned that she could have been poisoned.

Since the MP’s death, the government has been battling on how to deal with the two theories about the possible cause of death, poisoning and a drugs overdose. While police investigations point strongly to drugs, the rumour about poison has grown so deeply, turning government explanations about drugs a hard sale.

A senior party official who declined to be quoted to discuss a sensitive subject freely, told this newspaper that even the decision to block forensic pathologist Dr Sylvetre Onzivua from travelling to South Africa with samples for testing was dictated by fear that his report would conclude the poison theory.

“It is not that the President feared that the MP had been poisoned or that the government had killed her. His main concern was that if Onzivua had returned with a report saying “poison” then it would send the country into panic and he did not want that to happen,” said the MP.

The MP explained that the strength of President Museveni’s government has been largely fortified on the feeling of security and safety, if that too goes, the MP argued, Mr Museveni figured his government would be in trouble unseen before.

While people have been shot and killed in demonstrations and riots which have grown in intensity over the last few years, the feeling that the gun was tamed with the arrival of the NRM remains strong among Ugandans; a fact that has not been changed either by a wave of ritual-like murders in 2007/8, iron bar hitmen or gun murders of key Muslim clerics and other people have not dented that.

But poison is a different matter altogether, those in the know have said. Since Nebanda’s death, several of her former colleagues in Parliament say they are suspicious of what and where they eat.
The fear is not without basis, the police crime report for January to December 2011 identified poisoning as a growing means of killing.

“While death by shooting and ritual murder decreased by 45 per cent and 43 per cent respectively, death by domestic violence increased by 14 per cent, death by mob action by 7 per cent, death by such other causes as hacking, stabbing, strangulation, during robbery or assault, poisoning (grew by) by 9.4 per cent,” the report indicates.

According to police, 659 people were killed through poisoning in 2011 compared to 434 the previous year. Cases reported jumped from 153 in 2010 to 413 in 2011.

Incoherent organs of state

Makerere University lecturer Mwambutsya Ndebesa, says the Executive might be suffering a sociological condition known as millenarianism, “a situation that occurs when people are not certain about the future”. He said, “it could be as a result of frustration or a society which is not certain about the future.” According to Mr Ndebesa, that condition could be used to describe the current political state of the ruling party.

Mr Ndebesa says a lack of trust in government, incoherent workings of the different organs of state could — like the current feud between the Executive and the Legislature – have exhibited a state of panic.

He argues that even if the current government was returned to power with a higher electoral percentage in 2011, it has remained inherently weak.

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