KAMPALA — The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party has told its newly elected Members of Parliament to take keen interest in helping the party chairman Gen. Yoweri Museveni in taming the entrenchment of National Unity Platform (NUP) and its leader, Bobi Wine.
One of the newly elected NRM MP attending the retreat said since the Kyankwanzi retreat kicked off on Friday, the main discussion has been hinged on Mr Wine, his party and supporters.
“We expected to hear about speakership race, how to implement the party manifesto and the likes but up to now, our trainers are preaching only Bobi Wine and NUP since Friday,” the MP told this reporter. “We are being told not to allow Bobi Wine to confuse the youths,’ the MP added.
Three months after President Museveni controversially won a sixth five-year term in office in the most fiercely contested election in years, his government appears to be intent on breaking the back of the political opposition.
His principal challenger, Bobi Wine, a magnetic musician-turned-lawmaker who galvanized youthful crowds of supporters, is now largely confined to his house in Kampala. Mr. Wine’s party said recently that 623 members, supporters and elected officials have been seized from the streets and arrested in recent weeks, many of them tortured.
For many Ugandans, the enforced disappearances suggest a slide toward the repressive policies of dictators such as Idi Amin and Milton Obote — who was ousted by Mr. Museveni.
Many Ugandans including those from his party now say they worry that President Museveni, after 35 years in power, is adopting some of the harsh tactics used by the autocrats he railed against decades ago.
The president recently urged Ugandans to discuss in an honest and balance way, the recent security operations that have had hundreds of Mr. Wine’s jailed, tortured and some killed.
“Recently, the Police and UPDF have been criticised for brutal conduct and use of excessive force. It is good criticism in an open, free society like Uganda. However, it should be honest and balanced,” he said, before releasing a 2000 word statement.
Analysts say history is once again repeating itself – as a strongman is stubbornly and violently clinging to power in the face of growing demands for a peaceful transition, and shamelessly warning the nation that his exit would bring nothing but chaos and bloodshed.
Top African journalist Rosebell Kagumire in a missive described Uganda’s January 14 presidential election as an election held at gunpoint in the cover of darkness.
“Days before the polls, Museveni not only ordered a full shutdown of the country’s internet but also demonstrated the military might of his dictatorial regime by filling Kampala’s streets with tanks and skies with helicopters. His message to the voters was clear: “it is either me, or war”.
The rebel-turned-politician, who has been in power since 1986, was even more determined to not allow Ugandans to vote freely in this election, as for the first time in decades his main challenger was not his old comrade and former personal doctor, Kizza Besigye.
So, as the country geared up for the 2021 elections, Museveni had to come up with new ways to deter millions of young Ugandans armed with their mobile phones from tallying results or exposing in real-time the expected repeat of widespread electoral malpractices that have marred previous elections.
During the last election, he had ordered a social media shutdown. This time, he went all in and ordered a total internet blackout to allow his state machinery to work in complete darkness, with no information about the election reaching Ugandan citizens.
Museveni’s attempts to secure a victory at any cost started long before the polls actually opened. During the entire campaign period, he used state powers in his service to try and intimidate Bobi Wine, other leading opposition figures like Forum for Democratic Change’s Patrick Oboi Amuriat, and their supporters into submission.
His regime also used restrictions put in place to stem the spread of COVID-19 to target opposition rallies and prevent his rivals from connecting with voters across the country.
Kagumire also describes Museveni as a leader with a long history of strong-arming the Ugandan people, the opposition, and the international community into looking past allegations of election fraud and rigging.
In 2016, for example, he succeeded in convincing the country of his electoral victory’s legitimacy by besieging his then-rival Besigye’s house for more than 40 days.
However, the tactics that kept him in power for decades, Kagumire says “may be starting to lose their efficiency”.