By Ruth Namatovu, Kampala Correspondent
Ugandans go to the polls today determined to bring to an end 30 years of what most of them now call ‘misrule’ by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) led by Gen Yoweri Kaguta Museveni since January 1986.
Tuesday saw presidential aspirants winding up their campaigns amid teargas and the use of live bullets by the Uganda police that led to the death of one man and the injuring of several others. The campaigns ended in the same fashion as they were launched them in November last year with unexplained arrests that included the brief but bloody arrest of leading presidential candidate Kiiza Besigye. Dr Kiiza Besigye of the leading opposition party, Forum for Democratic change (FDC) and the former Prime Minister John Patrick Amama of the Go Forward pressure group, started off their campaigns with police blocking their planned rallies in the first two days during the campaigns. The three leading contenders. Dr Besigye (FDC) Amama Mbabazi (Go Forward and the incumbent Yoweri Museveni (NRM), all pulled huge crowds which made it difficult to easily tell which direction the election victory would take, especially in Uganda’s capital Kampala.
On Tuesday, Besigye and Mbabazi addressed the press on Monday’s events that culminated into a deadly scene of teargas in several parts of the city in which one person lost his life and several others were wounded as police stopped Besigye from accessing the city centre where he wanted to address his supporters. Besigye was also briefly detained. At several bus stations, many travellers who spoke to The London Evening Post said they were heading for the villages fearing that Monday’s clashes were a signal that there will be election violence. Most said they would return to Kampala after the post-election period. Addressing a press conference as the events unfolded live on several Uganda Television stations, police spokesperson Fred Enanga defended his force, claiming that Dr Besigye had defied their orders not to pass through the city Centre. This forced his supporters to pour into the streets and hence the chaos. But addressing separate news briefings, both Besigye and Mbabazi decried police actions with Besigye saying that he’s not to blame for the chaos.
Siraje Nsanja, a political analyst and a lecturer of political science at Kampala University described the Uganda police’s brutal acts on Monday as unforgivable. “What police did on Monday tells the world how unprofessional our police force is to date. What they should have done was simple; let the Besigye supporters match to the venue where their rally was expected with police guidance and protection. Arresting a presidential candidate and detaining him even if it was for hours at the closure of the hectic campaigns and firing teargas at opposition supporters was uncalled for,” Nsanja told The London Evening Post. Dr Livingstone Ssewanyana, a human rights activist, also condemned Monday’s police brutality saying that police actions and force onto people was not called for. He was on Tuesday Addressing a press conference, he said his organisation, the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU) is documenting all election violence related activities. He unveiled new gadgets that will help them do the job.
Besigye, a three-time failed presidential candidate, has been repeatedly arrested in the past, and is commonly released without charge hours later. With the election hours away, Besigye’s campaign ends on the same note it started in July when he and Mbabazi were arrested at the start of the campaigns for “planning campaign rallies without permission”. Opposition candidates are vying to deny veteran leader President Yoweri Museveni a fifth term at the February 18 election, and there are fears violence could mar the election, with all sides accusing each other of arming militias to press their claims to power. Besigye’s FDC party officials accused the government of blocking their efforts to address supporters in the city centre. “Museveni has declared all public places in Kampala central a ‘no go area’ for opposition,” FDC spokesman Semujju Nganda reportedly told the press, adding that they had hoped to hold a rally in a central football stadium. “Police blocked us. This has left us with no choice but to address voters on the streets and roads,” he added.