Stalinism In Africa: U.S.-backed Uganda Regime Bans Free Public Gathering Of Three People

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Ugandan president Gen. Museveni

On August 6, 2013, Uganda's Parliament passed the Public Order Management Bill 2011 (POMB) within minutes despite objections from opposition Members of Parliament (MPs). 

All thanks to President Yoweri Museveni’s "A-Team" in Parliament led by the puppet Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah.

The POMB once signed by Gen. Museveni into law prohibits any gathering of three or more persons without a police permit. Anyone planning to hold a political rally, demonstration or public gathering must apply to the police for a permit.

Why does the U.S. continue to offer succor to such a regime?

The police in Uganda now have the power to approve or reject such application without giving any reason. Overall, the law gives the Inspector General of Police, a serving army general, and a loyal NRM cadre, Gen. Kale Kayihura, unlimited powers to prohibit public meetings and demonstrations as well as to continue to terrorize the civilian population as he has always done.

The absurdity of this obnoxious law is that any three or more opposition politicians, human rights or political activists, who desire to have coffee or lunch at a restaurant or coffee shop must apply to the police one week in advance -- the police may be concerned that they might plan to conduct "political discussions" or cause a "disturbance."

Arguably, the organizers of funerals, marriages, birthday parties, graduations or other social gathering may fall in the category of persons who must apply for police permits before such functions are open to the public.

What is the wisdom of legislating that whenever three or more people want to meet at a restaurant, nightclub, or attend a football match, they must first apply for police permit?  The overall impact of this ridiculous law is that any spontaneous peaceful gathering or demonstration of three or more people is a criminal act.

A further absurdity of this draconian law is the provision requiring the police to reject any request to hold, or to stop any meeting if the police have “reasonable grounds” to do so.

The law also gives the police the sole authority to determine what constitutes “reasonable grounds”. The criteria used to determine the reasonableness of a proposed gathering are arbitrary and subjective.

Therefore, while Gen. Museveni will continue to tour the country and engage in political campaigns in his capacity as chairman of the NRM in preparation for the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections, leaders of other political opposition parties will be denied such freedom unless the police commander, Gen. Kayihura approves.

Going by his track record of brutality against opposition parties Gen. Kayihura may not be so keen to approve any request by the opposition.

The impact of the law on political activities of opposition political parties is untenable. The law constitutes undue restrictions on the ability of individuals to take part in public assembly. The requirement for prior authorization from police to hold an assembly translates in an effective ban on public gatherings and violates Uganda’s international obligations on freedom of expression, the right of assembly as well as the right to freely participate in competitive politics.

Critics of this law have correctly noted that the objective of the insidious law is to "fix" the opposition and to stifle political debates in Uganda at a time where publicly criticizing the government is already fraught with personal risks.

The long term objective of the Museveni regime is, however, to pre-empt an Egypt-style revolt by the people. As a result, the regime has decided to threaten opposition MPs from both inside and outside parliament.

The law deals with the opposition outside parliament by restricting their ability to meet and conduct public discourse. On the other hand, inside parliament, the NRM will rely on its "tyranny of numbers" to pass whatever law it desires and to physically threaten opposition MPs in the house whenever they disagree with the NRM position.

With respect to the use of violence or threats thereof against opposition MPs the Uganda Observer of August 9, 2013, reported that a cabinet minister in Gen. Museveni’s government, John Nasasira, “asked the prime minister to set some funds aside, to facilitate a self-defense training course for all members of government in Parliament, largely to prepare them for any physical encounter with opposition MPs.”

This bizarre request, coming from a senior cabinet minister, reflects the general view of NRM officials on the use of violence to intimidate and threaten political opponents.  President Museveni has boasted that his police have tear-gassed his nemesis, Dr. Kizza Besigye, a top opposition leader, into "submission." The harassment of Dr. Besigye by President Museveni and his cronies is legendary. With the passing of the new law, hard times are ahead for Dr. Besigye, his supporters and leaders of other political parties.

He and supporters have never backed down to threats of violence and actual attacks.

To further reinforce the suffocation of political parties, Gen. Museveni is now seeking new ways to sell himself to the public in preparation for national elections expected in 2016. According to the Daily Monitor of August 7, 2013, A Protocol Handbook approved by the Cabinet mandates a Member of Parliament, including opposition legislators, to play the role of Masters of Ceremonies each time President Museveni attends a function in his or her home area.

There is no distinction between the President’s visits as Chairman of the NRM intended to seek support for his political party, or when he is on a visit as President of the Republic. 

Arguably, the opposition MPs welcoming President Museveni are not expected to request for police permit prior to receiving NRM chairman in his or her constituency. At such gatherings an opposition MP is not also expected to disagree with what President Museveni says notwithstanding that he regularly insults or abuses opposition leaders in their presence.

This deliberate attempt to confuse the roles of the President with that of the NRM chairman is intended to confuse the general public into believing that opposition MPs do support the President and his NRM party or have, indeed, crossed over to Museveni’s party.

In a country where symbols and state patronage are more potent than policy statements or party manifesto, an appearance by an opposition MP on the same podium with Museveni is evidence to the public that their MP has crossed over to the other party. No amount of explanations will convince the voters that their MP has not crossed over. President Museveni’s ultimate objective is to establish a one-party state by creating conditions for opposition MPs to cross over or drive his political opponents and their leaders underground.

The adoption of this law and the manipulation of the opposition MPs to receive Museveni at his party functions, further demonstrates that Gen. Museveni is increasingly intolerant of dissent and will do whatever it takes to rule the country unchallenged.

With corruption rife, his autocratic and sectarian rule transparent for all to see, he needs a Gestapo-type police force to control the opposition from rising against him. It is in this context that the unconstitutional appointment of a serving army general, ArondaNyakairima, as minister of internal affairs must be understood.

Gen. Kayihura, the national police chief and and Gen. Nyakairima, both serving army officers and loyal NRA cadres are now responsible for police brutality against the opposition political parties and the civilian population. As the planned general elections in 2016 draws near, the opposition must prepare themselves for bloodshed ahead and much more.

What is to be done to address these challenges? 

It is recommended that if the opposition MPs are to remain relevant, they must consider the following actions:

First, it is necessary to challenge the legality of the draconian law in the constitutional court notwithstanding that some of the judges on the bench are NRM cadres and are loyal to President Museveni and not the state. However, the petition must still be filed seeking a declaration that this Nazi-like law is null and void.

Second, because of the super majority of NRM members of parliament, thanks to successful rigging by the NRM of the last elections, continued participation in parliament by the opposition MPs is now untenable and irrelevant.

The extensive use of the so-called "tyranny of numbers" guarantees that whatever Bill the Museveni regime seeks to adopt, it will always be adopted thus making participation by other non-NRM members of parliament an absolute farce. It is therefore only logical that the opposition MPs pull out of parliament and cease acting like an NRM caucus.

The passing of a series of draconian laws and the unconstitutional approval of Gen. Aronda, a serving army general to serve on a "civilian" cabinet have fully demonstrated the irrelevance of opposition MPs in Parliament.

Their continued stay in Parliament only helps to lend credence and legitimacy to undemocratic military regime and to give it an appearance of a functional democracy.

It is common knowledge that it will not be easy for opposition MPs to resign from parliament. If President Museveni was willing to bribe each Members of Parliament 5 million Uganda shillings (a mere $2,740 at the time) to change the Uganda Constitution and remove term limits for the President, how much more will he spend to keep opposition MP in parliament if only to give an appearance of functional democracy to the rest of the world? Some legislators who accepted the bribe are now remorseful.

The MPs must take the right decision in the interest of Uganda and stay on the right side of history by getting out of this false parliament.

Third, opposition MPs, NGOs and other stakeholders must demand for the dissolution of Parliament. In its place, a National Dialogue, where all stakeholders are represented, must be held with a view to re-writing Uganda’s Electoral Laws which must provide for proportional representation.

In that context, all parties of different political persuasion will have a realistic opportunity of getting seats in parliament and thus participate in governance of the state. To accept to hold the 2016 general elections under the current flawed electoral law, with the same corrupt electoral commission, and the same rigging NRM party, is political suicide for the opposition.

 

Obote Odora is a Legal Consultant

 

 

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