Some MPs call for Uganda Sanctions: Dictator Museveni "Tried And Convicted" In U.K. Parliament

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Gen. Museveni

[Publisher's Commentary]

No amount of lies from paid public relations gurus can help Uganda's life-president Gen. Yoweri Museveni spin his way out of his damning resume of torture, murder, massacres, corruption, election-rigging, and militarism that was laid bare on the floors of the U.K. Parliament yesterday

At least two of the U.K. MPs spoke about Museveni's duplicity in maintaining his rule: how he'd condemned African leaders for staying too long in office when he seized power in 1986; yet, 33 years later, he still rules Uganda, having removed term limits and the age-limit from the constitution, and having rigged multiple elections. 

Several MPs spoke in turn while their colleagues listened. There were discussions centered on whether to impose targeted sanctions on regime officials for various crimes. MPs spoke about numerous violations and cases of human rights abuse such as: attacks on Ugandan lawmakers by the security forces, some of whom are trained by the U.K; Museveni's use of cluster bombs when he attacked South Sudan; theft of U.K. aid money meant to help Ugandans; the 2016 Kasese Massacre --which was news to one MP, who has now demanded that the U.K. take action on the matter; Museveni's Stalinist-style Public Management Order law mandating that whenever more than two Ugandans meet that they first notify the police; attacks on the press including the closing of critical media outlets and the shutdown of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter during the 2016 election; the beating, arrest and detention of Ugandan opposition leaders and their supporters; and, the Museveni regime's monopolization of political space and his refusal to carry out the electoral reform recommendations made in the final report of the EU 2016 election observer mission, including the creation of an independent election commission.

When one MP said the government is a military regime clothed in civilian clothing, another said it was actually a military regime since some of the MPs were army officers who appeared in Parliament wearing uniform. "Democracy has died in Uganda," one MP said.  

All of the Museveni regime's ugly warts, which had until now been shielded from public debate in Britain thanks to public relations firms and U.K. governments that ignored Museveni's abuses for more than three decades, were finally aired. The extraordinary session amounted to a public indictment, trial, and conviction of the dictatorship. 

The debate was a historic first. It was sponsored by Labor Member of Parliament Dr. Paul Williams who represents Stockton South constituency. Years ago, he worked as a volunteer doctor in Uganda. However, some of the most stinging attacks on the Museveni dictatorship came from Members of the Conservative Party and a Member of the Scottish Party in Parliament.

When Museveni seized power in 1986 in mineral-rich but democracy-deprived Uganda, Ronald Reagan was president in the United States and in the U.K. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister; both are dead now. MP Paul Williams, who sponsored the debate on Uganda, was 13 years old. 

Williams believes the U.K. lawmakers have a right to discuss the human rights abuses in Uganda since the British government gives the regime millions of pounds in development assistance --much of which ends up in the pockets of corrupt government officials-- and also trains the Ugandan military, which has engaged in abuses. 

"How can the UK, as a friend to the Ugandan people, best help to support their democracy?" Williams said, speaking on the floors of Parliament. "Ugandan opposition leaders are asking the UK Government to place targeted sanctions on Uganda, to freeze the assets of Ugandan officials who are known for violations and abuses of human rights, to enforce a travel ban on Uganda’s leaders who are known for corruption and violation of human rights, and for Britain to condemn in the strongest terms the attacks on and abuse of Ugandan parliamentarians and all the activists inside and outside Uganda."

He added: "I would like the Minister to respond to those requests. I do not necessarily believe that all those things are needed. I certainly would not want to do anything that put at risk our relationship with the people of Uganda. Sanctions would be a last resort, but I understand why people are calling for them. Unless significant change happens in Uganda, the UK should take no option off the table." He was referring to Harriet Baldwin, the U.K. Minister of State for Africa at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Minister of State at the Department for International Development.

Williams spoke about his respect for Uganda's constitution. This was an important point. Ugandans know that Museveni doesn't respect the constitution; and, the constitution implores Ugandan citizens to remove dictatorship. 

Williams noted the courage of Ugandans who are still determined to bring change in their country through peaceful means. He said, "I do not have time to mention them all, but I will draw  attention to two such people. Kizza Besigye has stood for President on three occasions. He has been arrested, beaten and harassed so many times that he has lost count. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Besigye when he visited our Parliament last year. His sacrifices in the pursuit of democracy in Uganda should be lauded."

"I also want to mention Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine," Williams added. "He is a young, charismatic musician with a large popular following. He was elected to the Ugandan Parliament at about the same time that I was elected to the UK Parliament. While I, in a friendly way, get to be critical of our Government without harassment, Bobi has been the target of totally undemocratic behavior by his. In August last year, he and four other MPs were arrested by the military while campaigning for a by-election. His driver was shot dead, and he was severely beaten by soldiers before being brought to court on trumped-up charges that were later dropped. Bobi Wine was eventually handed over to the police and released, but that was just another example of the Ugandan Government using the military to prevent democratically elected politicians from doing their job."

"Why are all such attacks on democracy important? They are important for the Ugandan people, the people who might one day want to see a different Government in their country." Williams continued. "They have no hope of ever seeing a different Government if this one undermines democracy to cling on to power. The attacks are also important because of international standards and accountability. Uganda is a partner to our country in the United Nations, in the Commonwealth and, in multilateral relationships, through the European Union; and partners hold each other to international standards. The attacks are also important because they undermine the ability of the UK and the Ugandan people to work together on shared goals."

Williams spoke about some specific cases where the armed forces was used to murder or brutalize Ugandans. He told his Parliamentary colleagues about evidence of "serious human rights abuses" including "a 2016 attack on the palace of King Charles Mumbere in Kasese, and the massacre of 150 civilians by Ugandan forces." Gen. Museveni has ignored several calls by Human Rights Watch to permit an independent investigation of that massacre

"When MPs were debating the extension of presidential term limits, Parliament was attacked and MPs, including Betty Nambooze, were beaten by armed forces," Williams said, recalling the attack shown around the world of what appeared to be a brawl inside the Ugandan Parliament. In fact, it was an attack on MPs who opposed Museveni's bid to remove the 75-years age limit from the constitution by his security agents dressed in suits. Nambooze was tortured so severely in a separate room that her back was broken and she is now confined to a wheelchair. 

Williams noted the endemic corruption under the Museveni regime and how in 2012, 12 million Euros in aid money from Ireland, Denmark and Norway was diverted into the private bank accounts of officials working in the Prime Minister’s office. "The corruption has meant that the UK’s Department for International Development has stopped direct budgetary support to the Government of Uganda," he said. "We now have to provide our UK support through private sector and non-governmental organizations. We cannot pretend that that is a good thing—it is always better to work with Governments—but, to be honest, we know that if want to help the people of Uganda, we cannot give money to their current Government."

"Transparency International ranks Uganda as 151st out of 180 countries in the world for corruption. That is worse than Kenya, which is 143rd, much worse than Tanzania at 107th or Ethiopia at 103rd, while Rwanda is ranked as high as 48th," Williams continued. He noted that in 2013, Transparency International said of Uganda: “Corruption in Uganda is widespread and seen as one of the greatest obstacles to the country’s economic development as well as to the provision of quality public services....Such corruption challenges are exacerbated by weak law enforcement, which fuels a culture of impunity, particularly with regards to high-ranking officials involved in corruption schemes.”

Williams didn't bring it up in Parliament, but the whole world now knows that corruption flows in the veins of Museveni and his most senior officials. On December 5, 2018, a Hong Kong national, Chi Ping Patrick Ho, was convicted in U.S. federal court in New York city for paying a $500,000 cash bribe to Gen. Museveni in May 2016, and wiring a separate $500,000 bribe to Sam Kutesa, who is the dictator's foreign affairs minister, on behalf of CEFC China Energy, which was seeking non-competitive business deals in Uganda. 

Other Members of Parliament were just as critical of the Museveni regime, an indication that a critical mass now exists in Parliament to force a shift in long-term U.K. policy, which has been to ignore Museveni's most egregious crimes. 

Bob Stewart, a Conservative Party MP for Beckenham constituency said: "When I worked in aid in Uganda, we ensured that the aid got to the people by delivering it ourselves, refusing to give it to any officials. We took it directly to the villagers or the people who required it." 

Jim Shannon, a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP for Strangford constituency said when he read "stories of the so-called elections in Uganda, my skin crawled." He added, "When I realized that the UK Government have no way to be certain that UK relief funding is not being spent on training forces that go on to arrest and torture elected Ugandan MPs, my skin crawled some more and I must admit I questioned our ongoing support of Uganda."

"It is clear that a huge amount of aid goes elsewhere, which raises questions. We in this House have every right to ask those questions and to seek the answers. How much of the money is used for the training of troops and officers? How do we justify training a military that seems to do simply what the President demands, without any evidential base? That is completely incredulous and unacceptable. How can we, as a true democracy, turn a blind eye to the absolute desecration of democracy, and support a Government who allow—indeed, carry out—abuse and beatings of elected representatives for opposing the Government?"

It was also the first time that Shannon had heard about the Kasese massacres where even women and babies were murdered in cold blood by Museveni's soldiers. 

"The honorable Member for Stockton South referred to the alleged massacre, which I did not know about," Shannon said. "Let us in this House do something about that today. I am proud that we help those who cannot help themselves, which we highlight in debates all the time. However, our role is not to prop up or support regimes that flagrantly disregard the basic principles of democracy and seek merely to wear a cloak of democracy over a decrepit body of dictatorship."

After the Kasese killings Museveni boasted in an interview on Al Jazeera that he was the one who ordered it and said he also promoted the commanding officer, Gen. Peter Elwelu. Perhaps MP Shannon might be interested in joining Ugandans in referring the case to the ICC, which is permissible under the Rome Statute. He could also sign and promote one of the petitions online demanding such an investigation.  

Finally, directing his comments to Minister Baldwin, he said: "There are questions to be answered. I look to the Minister, for whom I have great respect, to assuage my fears, and the fears of everyone here, and outline how we will ensure that every penny of funding for Uganda is for humanitarian aid and not for training an army to be used against any dissenting voices, which is completely unacceptable."

Alex Sobel, an MP representing Leeds North West, for the Labor Party and Co-operative Party alliance, said he would support targeted sanctions against the Museveni regime. He said Ugandans had "long suffered from tyrants who have committed crimes against their own people" and referred to Gen. Idi Amin and President Milton Obote. He recalled that in 1986 when Museveni was sworn in he said "'The people of Africa, the people of Uganda, are entitled to a democratic government. It is not a favor from any regime. The sovereign people must be the public, not the government.' Those are his own words—words that he should heed now."

Sobel recalled how, after Museveni forced the repeal of the term limits, the entertainer Bob Geldof said, “Get a grip Museveni. Your time is up, go away.” He said after he was introduced to a prominent Ugandan opposition leader Nandala Mafabi, in 2017, he learned more about the Museveni regime's repression. 

He deplored the arrest of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) presidential candidate Dr. Besigye prior to a presidential election as "another stain on an election that Museveni should not have been contesting." 

"In December 2017 he succeeded in getting the presidential age limit of 75 removed, just as he was approaching that age himself. The hallmark of a dictator is stripping away the impediments to his becoming leader for life, and that is exactly what Museveni has done," he said. 

"We must heed the words of the Ugandan community in the UK. Will the Minister commit to meeting their requests?" Sobel said, closing with some strong words to the Theresa May administration. "I echo the requests made by my honorable friend the Member for Stockton South for the Government to place targeted sanctions on Uganda, including on military materials; to freeze assets of Ugandan officials known for violations of human rights and abuses of power; to enforce a travel ban on Ugandan leaders known for corruption and violations of human rights; to condemn in the strongest terms the attacks and abuse of Ugandan parliamentarians and all activists, whether in or outside Uganda, including in this country, and to apply conditionality to aid to the Ugandan Government."

David Linden, who represents Glasgow East for the Scottish National Party (SNP), spoke about his experience when he traveled to Uganda last year as part of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy which trains young candidates. "It was there that I observed a number of things that gave me concern about the situation for democracy in Uganda. One of my first observations on going to observe proceedings in the Parliament was that the military has seats in the Parliament. I was shocked and horrified when I saw someone in military uniform speaking at the Dispatch Box," he said. "I cannot possibly imagine having military in the House of Commons. I think it sends a very deep signal. The honorable Gentleman spoke about a military Government in civilian clothing, but the reality is that we saw them in military clothing in the Ugandan Parliament, and that is alarming."

Linden said he also attended a campaign rally for a friend, Mugaya Paul Geraldson, who was a candidate for the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in a Jinja East by-election. "For the two days that I was there in an official capacity I facilitated the training, and on my free day I traveled at my own expense from Kampala out to Jinja East, largely to be a friend to Paul and go around as he was doing his rallies. One thing I observed was that there were hundreds of people turning out to his rallies—he was a young candidate who projected hope, ambition and energy. On election day he polled 48 votes, but there were hundreds of people at his rallies."

He said on the second day of the two rallies he attended, he was speaking to some villagers when at one point he was "quickly bundled into a car by the people I was there with, because Museveni’s thugs had turned up and made it clear in no uncertain terms that the rally was alarming to the Government and that this young candidate was a threat to Museveni’s forces. That is deeply worrying."

"I leave honorable Members with that view of the military in Parliament. Surely that does not represent a good sign for democracy in any country in the world," Linden said.
 
Mrs. Pauline Latham, who represents Mid Derbyshire for the Conservative Party said she's been to Uganda about 15 times and that she's vacationed there. She said Museveni and his "troupe" were "making sure that they win the elections, which I do not believe are free and fair. As the honorable Member for Stockton South said, they go out and pay villagers to vote for them. I know that that happens. When we send observers for the election, the deals have already been done. The people feel intimidated and that they must vote for Museveni and his MPs."
 
She said she has a Ugandan doctor friend who is a former MP who had been harassed, arrested, and beaten by the regime in the past. "I have seen photographs of the beatings. The only reason he is still alive is that he managed to get himself transferred to hospital," she said.
 
"I have always said that people who put themselves up for election for opposition parties in countries like Uganda are incredibly brave. The worst that can happen to us in this country is that we lose an election. The worst that can happen over there is that they die. What is worse is that they die because the state is beating them, punishing them and ultimately could kill them," she continued.
 
Mrs Latham had more strong words: "We should be very careful about how we give money and the relationships we have with the Government of Uganda. I am very pleased that international development  money has been reduced and we are not giving it directly to the Government, but to third party organizations. We need to monitor that extremely carefully. If we do not, the money will get into the wrong hands and will be used for the wrong reasons.
 
"I am concerned about the whole idea of democracy in Uganda. Uganda needs to prosper and it needs a good democratic system. It should have a good democratic system, but it does not, because it is abused. Until the abuse stops, we will not be able to stop elections being rigged. That is the truth of it and there is no point in beating about the bush. The elections are genuinely rigged. The honorable Gentleman spoke about political parties not being able to meet in groups of more than three. That is ludicrous. How can there be a democratic process when people are not able to meet in groups of more than three? It is just ridiculous to have to get the state’s permission to be able to do that—and why would the state give it? It does not want big rallies.
 
"Uganda is not like here, where we might have a church hall rally. They have huge rallies in the villages, because the only way the people can meet their candidates is to go out and see them. It is important that they do that so that they can weigh up one against the other, as happens here. That is not happening properly in Uganda anymore and we need a proper democratic system to be fair to the people there. There are so many things wrong in the Ugandan Parliament and the Ugandan system that we need to monitor them very carefully."
 
Paul Williams himself concluded by pressing the need to level the political playing field in Uganda. 
 
"Serious allegations have been made about the conduct of elections in Uganda over many years, but the most recent EU report on the 2016 presidential election made 30 recommendations that should be enacted before the next election in 2021," Williams said. "They include taking clear steps to differentiate the state from the ruling party and to strengthen the independence of the electoral commission, and systematic checks on the integrity of votes. As of March 2018, none of those EU recommendations had been implemented. There are credible stories of vote-rigging, with the police preventing access to 'rigging houses', and electoral bribery is common. Ugandan politicians routinely hand out money or gifts at election rallies."
 
"Opposition politicians find themselves in an impossible position. It is hard to build good policies and to get widespread support for them when the democratic space is so curtailed. Between now and the next election in 2021, it is crucial that a united opposition builds a potentially winning manifesto with popular policies, that opposition politicians are allowed to campaign freely and enthuse the people of Uganda, and that the  opposition is given an equal chance to persuade people that they have an alternative platform for Government, on a level playing field," Williams said.
 
"There is no level playing field, however, because so many profoundly undemocratic occurrences have become normalized in Uganda. In a democracy, it is simply not acceptable for the military to arrest, beat and torture opposition politicians, for soldiers to enter Parliament and use physical force against MPs, or for elections to be rigged. Uganda’s democracy is under threat. The institutions that in a normal democracy would have the power to hold a Government to account have been systematically undermined, intimidated, bullied and cajoled by Government. Let no one be fooled: Uganda has a military Government in civilian clothes."
 
"I end by addressing the people of Uganda, some of whom are in the Public Gallery," Williams said. "We want the UK to work with them on security, sustainable development and business growth, but we are watching their Government closely. Our support for their Government comes with conditions. Members of Parliament such as myself and my colleagues here today will ask our Government to invest in their country if there is a thriving democracy and international standards are met. The United Kingdom must be on the side of the Ugandan people."
 
Williams worked in a rural clinic in Uganda as a young medical doctor from 2006 to 2010 alongside many talented Ugandans. "I did this without pay, as a Voluntary Service Overseas volunteer, and played my small part and used my skills to leave a sustainable healthcare system," he said. He said he learned some Runyankole-Rukiga, one of Uganda's languages. He also saw, in those earlier days, some of the achievements of the Museveni government in the areas of education and economic growth "albeit in a country with significant inequalities."  
 
Those successes have now been overshadowed by the destruction brought on because one man has insisted for 33 years that he's the "only man with a vision in Uganda."
 
Ugandan Diaspora in the U.K. are commended for the tremendous work they've done in working with MP Williams to expose Museveni's crimes.
 
Now U.K. citizens must contact their individual MPs to follow up on the Parliamentary debate by insisting that the government of Prime Minister Theresa May stop its blind support of Museveni's crimes with their hard-earned taxpayers' money.
 

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