Uganda: Museveni Ideologically-Compromised Court Will Determine Bobi Wine’s Election Nullification Petition

Owiny Dollo
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Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo. Is this a done deal? Photo: Facebook.

Challenger Robert Kyagulanyi, a.k.a. Bobi Wine, called the announced results of the Jan. 14 presidential elections as a “joke” and he has petitioned the Supreme Court seeking its  nullification. To understand how the judges on the Court are beholden to Uganda’s dictator of 35 years, Gen. Yoweri Museveni, a review of the ideological indoctrination of many Ugandan officials will shed light.  

The National Resistance Movement Army under its permanent Chairman, Gen. Museveni, began to operate an ideological school at Kyankwanzi, nearly 200 miles from Kampala in 1985, soon after Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa seized power from President Milton Obote’s Uganda People Congress (UPC).

The following year, in January 1986, Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) and its army tricked Gen. Okello Lutwa and captured power. The ideological school was re-named NRM Kyankwanzi National Leadership Institute. The school’s sole objective was to indoctrinate Ugandans with NRM ideology and to build a personality cult around Museveni by reinventing the history of the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) a small group comprising Ugandan students and youth in exile in Tanzania during the dictatorship of Gen. Idi Amin. The indoctrination created a non-existent nexus with NRM, a rebel group which was formed in 1982 after a merger with the late former President Prof. Yusuf Lule’s group, with a mythical ideological continuity dating back to the 1960s and unverified links with Samora Machel’s FRELIMO which defeated Portuguese colonialism in Mozambique. 

So, between 1986 and 1996, hundreds of thousands of Ugandans went through the NRM ideological school. All civil servants, individuals identified for leadership positions in the military, security, Police, and Prison services were recruited and trained at the NRM ideological school. On completion of the course, the young and not-so-young graduates were assigned at different layers of administrative structure throughout the country. The NRM and National Resistance Army (NRA) cadres operated from the grassroots, using organs called Local Council level one (LC I) to the District Council Level V (LC V). Thus, the NRM and NRA controlled the entire country, including the rural areas.

The Judiciary was particularly affected and the recruitment and training of NRM judges became policy which Chairman Museveni dutifully forced upon his self-centered organization to implement. The impact of the work of NRM cadre judges, since the first Presidential Election Petition was filed has been clear. With Gen. Museveni as candidate, a challenger petitioning the Court has never prevailed before the Supreme Court presided over by Museveni’s appointees. 

It is, however, necessary to state at the outset, that Uganda has some of the best qualified and competent judges. Their qualifications are therefore not contested or subject of my comment. What is relevant is the ideological orientation of the Judiciary, the sectarian policy adopted by Museveni on appointment of the said judges, and the worship of Museveni’s personality cult. The belief that Uganda cannot exist without Museveni is inculcated in the minds of Ugandans who pass through the NRM and NRA ideological school at Kyankwanzi—the cadre judges carry with them this concept to the apex court; Uganda’s Supreme Court.

In the present case filed by Kyagulanyi before the Supreme Court, candidate and incumbent Museveni is expected to be declared a legally-elected president of Uganda because of the composition of the bench, and the ideological orientation of the majority of the justices. 

First, the Chief Justice, and the person presiding in the Supreme Court on candidate Robert Kyagulanyi’s petition is Justice Alphonse Owiny-Dollo, a card-carrying member of the NRM. A graduate of NRM ideological school, Owiny-Dollo never formally resigned from the NRM ruling party. He served in Museveni’s cabinet as minister of state in charge of Northern Uganda.  During the 2006 Presidential Election Petition, Owiny–Dollo was a senior member of Museveni’s Defense team in opposing challenger Dr. Kiiza Besigye’s petition at the Supreme Court.  Justice Owiny-Dollo has a track record of bias in favor of Museveni. As Chair of the Constitutional Court, he validated the improper amendment of the 1995 Constitution for the removal of the 75 years age limit for presidential candidates, thus creating conditions for President Museveni to contest presidential elections till death removes him.

Justice Mike Chibita, also on the bench, is another NRM cadre judge. Justice Chibita is best remembered for his embarrassing decisions as the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) in, among other cases, prosecution of Dr. Kiiza Besigye on fabricated rape charges at a time when Besigye was a presidential candidate and a great threat to Museveni’s re-election. In his judgement in the case of Uganda v Dr Kiiza Besigye, a High Court judge, John Bosco Katutsi, stated: “the investigations had been crude and amateurish, betryaing the motives behind the case”. Justice Katutsi added: “I find that the Prosecution dismally failed to prove its case against the accused and is accordingly set free.” This senseless and vindictive case was prosecuted under the direction of Mike Chibita. Dr. Besigye was forced to appear in court for mention of the case 25 times during the campaign period and the European Union Election observers agreed Besigye’s campaign was hampered by the bogus rape case.

Justice Faith Mwondah, another eminent NRM cadre judge on the bench, served as Inspector General of Government (IGG), a position ring-fenced for trusted NRM cadres and often used to investigate and harass opponents of the NRM. The IGG is a position once occupied by a former Supreme Court judge, Jotham Mwesigye, a long-time legal advisor to Yoweri Museveni and director of legal affairs at the NRM secretariat.

As I argued in my book, How Gangster Regimes Undermined Justice in Uganda (2018), there are highly qualified and competent judges in Uganda’s Judiciary, from the High Court to the Supreme Court. However, the problems judges face are their ideological orientation and the worship of personality cult inculcated in their minds at the NRM ideological school, complemented by dictator Museveni’s sectarian policy of appointing judges from Western Uganda, or from other parts of Uganda as long as they are loyal and trusted NRM members, former cabinet ministers, Inspector General of Government, or other senior government officials known to profess support for NRM. At page 286, of my book, I emphasized: “...the fact these Judges have links with the NRM is not necessarily proof that they are either biased in favor of Museveni, or the NRM, notwithstanding that their ethnicity and loyalty to President Museveni probably were factors in their appointment to the Supreme Court. What is crucial is the perception or appearance of bias based on their membership of the NRM and how they relate to its Chairman who is also the Presidential candidate and a Respondent in the petition which came before the Court.” 

The possibility of judicial justice in theory exists. Yet, consider the overview I’ve provided: all the Supreme Court judges are affiliated with Museveni’s NRM party and the army; or they’ve  been appointed by Gen. Museveni who also happens to be a presidential candidate and a perpetual feature in all elections as incumbent; and, the so-called “Election Commission” is actually a body of loyalist individuals hand-picked by Gen. Museveni. Who really believes Gen. Museveni will not influence the judiciary to secure a favorable outcome? 

Lessons learned from past presidential electoral petitions and Supreme Court Judgements suggest that as long as the majority of judges are NRM cadres and are appointed by Gen. Museveni, using his various hats to create layers for obstructing justice, candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, like Besigye before him, shall not get justice in this court. Even if the justices of the Supreme Court were, as a matter of fact and law fair to the Petitioner—for there are many good lawyers and judges in Uganda—the perception that Museveni uses state structures, organs and institutions of government to obstruct the functions of the judiciary shall continue to exist. It is the perception, and not reality, that counts to the general public.

As the process of Presidential Election Petitions goes on, candidate Robert Kyagulanyi’s witnesses who are expected to swear affidavits in support of his Petition are either in unlawful detention or their whereabouts cannot be ascertained notwithstanding the fact that they were arrested by Gen. Museveni’s government security personnel in public view or at their homes at night. 

This kind of obstruction creates conditions for injustice and unfairness rendering the entire process a mockery of justice, a process the dictator has normalized.

Ugandans are sophisticated and the world is watching. The key questions is will the Western countries that finance the regime and support the army play along and validate Museveni’s charade?

Dr Obote Odora is a Consultant

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