Peter Tatchell writes … Is Museveni the new Mugabe?

Peter Tatchell reports on Uganda’s drift to authoritarianism …

Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni, was once seen as the country’s great democratic saviour. Increasingly, he is becoming ever-more tyrannical, repeatedly violating the democratic and human rights principles of the African Union, United Nations and the Commonwealth. The international community is mute. It colludes with his regime.

How odd. World leaders readily condemn President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan – but they happily fund and support Museveni. Why the double standards? How can they justify such silence and inaction?

President Museveni’s Ugandan critics say his regime is a constitutional dictatorship, with a rubber stamp parliament, powerless judiciary, censored media and heavily militarised civil institutions.

Details of these abuses were discussed in my Talking With Tatchell internet TV series, when I interviewed three Ugandan activists from the opposition Forum for Democratic Change. You can watch the interview here.

Despite Museveni’s claims, Uganda’s elections are neither free nor fair. During the 2006 poll, Human Rights Watch reported significant intimidation of voters and anti-government politicians, and unequal and often biased media coverage of candidates opposed to Museveni. Opposition parties were denied representation on the Electoral Commission, which is the body charged with oversight of the conduct of the election.

In a further alarming erosion of democratic safeguards, limits on Presidential terms have been abolished in a bid to ensure that Museveni can remain President for life.

Shortly before the 2006 ballot, Dr Kizza Besigye, the leader of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change, was framed on charges of terrorism, rape and treason. This derailed his campaigning in the run-up to the election. He was released on bail only a month before
the poll date.

Twenty-two opposition activists were charged alongside Dr Besigye with engaging in acts of terrorism. Although granted bail by the High Court of Uganda, they were held in Luzira maximum security prison, where they were tortured. As well as facing charges in a civilian court, the defendants also, for while, faced charges before a military court, despite a High Court ruling that appearing before two courts on similar charges is unconstitutional.

In response to these High Court judgments against the regime’s suppression of civil liberties, army commandos raided the High Court and intimidated the judges. Museveni and his military colleagues (he is an ex-military strong man) seem hell-bent on crushing the independence of the judiciary.

Uganda’s parliament is stacked, neutered or ignored. A parliamentary select committee twice summonsed the commissioner of prisons to explain why he was detaining 22 opposition activists who the High Court had granted bail. He failed to attend; insisting that he would only release the men if he is ordered to do so by the military. This has led many Ugandans to conclude that the military, acting in concert with Museveni, is now the real power in Uganda. The democratic constitution is, in effect, null and void – or at least seriously weakened.

Uganda is drifting to dictatorship. Although not yet a fully-fledged police state, the ever-tightening ring of repression echoes what happened in Zimbabwe. Indeed, many Ugandans fear that Museveni is fast turning into another Robert Mugabe.

Allegations of tyranny are backed by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. They confirm the harassment of Museveni’s political opponents, detention without trial, torture, extra-judicial killings, suppression of protests and homophobic witch-hunts.

The East African Court of Justice in 2007 found Uganda guilty of violating the rule of law and the rights of its citizens.

Museveni’s army is implicated in massacres in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 2005, the International Court of Justice ruled that Uganda must pay the DRC up to £5.6 billion in compensation for its war of aggression, plundering of resources and killing of civilians.

Similar abuses occurred during the civil war in northern Uganda. Over 1.5 million people were herded into camps by the Ugandan army. Some were beaten, raped and killed; many more fell ill and died from unsanitary conditions. In the worst period, fatalities peaked at 1,000 a week; with infant mortality three times the national average and typical life expectancy in the camps a mere 27 years.

Not long after receiving international debt relief, Museveni went on a spending spree; building a new £50 million State House at Entebbe and purchasing a £16 million presidential jet. Meanwhile, millions of Ugandans suffer from malnutrition, slum housing, illiteracy, preventable diseases and a lack of clean drinking water.

By colluding with the Kampala regime, the US, Britain, EU and the Commonwealth are rewarding Museveni’s authoritarianism, social injustice and human rights abuses. It is a sad betrayal of the long suffering people of Uganda.

* Peter Tatchell is an international human rights campaigner: his website is petertachell.net. ‘The Independent View’ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers: please email [email protected] if you’re interested in contributing.

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16 Comments

  • Please lets not give Tatchell another platform. Bad enough giving him an award!

  • rantersparadise, Nick has called for Uganda to be expelled from the commonwealth since before Christmas; I believe (though can’t find a source right now) that his opinion is that removing aid will hit innocent civilians rather than the government that is proposing this law, and hence diplomatic sanctions are more appropriate than economic ones.

  • Richard Church 20th Jan '10 - 11:51pm

    Is there a single word in Peter Tatchell’s article with which Liberal Democrats would disagree? He may come from a socialist political ideology which we don’t share, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t read what he writes and say when we agree with it.

    I even agree with things that some Tories sometimes write, but I am still a Liberal.

    Just how is refusing to publish an article by Peter Tatchell on a liberal topic going to further our cause or the cause of freedom in Uganda?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 21st Jan '10 - 12:02am

    “Not someone I care to read on a Lib Dem site.”

    On the contrary – please let’s have more comment from people who have principles and the courage to express them, rather than jumping on every populist bandwagon that goes past.

  • Rather than discuss whether or not this article or author should have been published, what can we as Lib Dems do about this? There’s a lot of debate about whether cutting off aid will damage Museveni or just the already-suffering people of Uganda; there’s debate about whether to apply pressure as the UK, through the EU, the African Union, the United Nations or even Liberal International…

    These are topics on which I’d like to hear people’s opinions, and much more interesting than petty and spiteful bickering about the author. Frankly, some of the comments here look like they’ve been posted by trolls to make the Lib Dems look bad.

  • Would all the tribalists here also object to Morgan Tsvangirai (a socialist) having spoken at the liberal international congress? Surley somone dosn’t need to be a liberal for us to listen to them on an issue that we care about and agree with them on?

  • As for what we can do, as an opposition party the best hting we can do is to rase awareness. The best thing the UK can do is seek multilateral action through as many organizations as possible to place diplomatic pressure on the regime, threaten sanctions targeted at the regime itself and the military and folow through with such sanctions if no progress is made.

  • Anthony Durham 21st Jan '10 - 12:25pm

    I can introduce you to a Ugandan whose parents were murdered at the behest of people close to Museveni, and who was himself lucky to escape with his own life. He would (I suspect) endorse everything in this article as true.

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