Uganda: Political Kettle At Feverish Boil With Gen. Aronda's Death As Opposition Congresses

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Gen. Aronda lowered into grave -- with the evidence of things untold? Photo: The Daily Monitor

[Editorial: Africa]

Two matters have raised the political temperature in the East African nation of Uganda to feverish levels.

The first involves the opposition alliance which is trying to select a single candidate to run against the country's dictator of 30 years Gen. Yoweri Museveni.

The opposition and many Ugandans see this as an opportunity to send the militarist general packing. He's spread bloodshed beyond Uganda, with multiple military invasions of Rwanda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He's lorded with an iron and deadly fist over domestic politics since 1986. He's suspected of eliminating political opponents such as Dr. Andrew Kayiira, who was also leader of a potent guerrilla army in brief alliance with Museveni in the 1980s and more recently there was Ms. Cerinah Nebanda, a Member of Parliament who was only 24 years but causing much headache by denouncing regime corruption on the floors of the house. Our Ugandan correspondent covered these incidents and others in a recent news review.

Today's question is this: will the opposition alliance elect Dr. Kizza Besigye, who's been the face of resistance, running against Gen. Museveni in the last three elections, and being denied victory through rigging, his supporters and many observers believe; or will it elect johnny-come-lately, Amama Mbabazi, until last year Museveni's prime minister?

Besigye supporters say he has credentials; he's been on the receiving end of numerous beatings and incarcerations by regime goons.

Mbabazi's supporters demand for "negative realism." They claim the political environment in Uganda is so corrupted that only someone who can out-gangster Gen. Museveni can win. Elections won't be fair, as Besigye's experiences have shown, so why not let a reformed, or reforming, lieutenant take down Godfather Don Corleone?

Those are the stark choices for Ugandans. A genuine democrat or the well-dressed tough who will inspire the remaining lieutenants to retire the old general in State House Entebbe?

(There is also indication both Besigye and Mbabazi could run pushing the vote into a runoff if no candidate including the dictator gets 50% in which case one would then back the other against Gen. Museveni).

There are whispers that the general might engineer a "friendly" coup d'etat so faithful commanders can ensure his safety should he not be able to retain political power. The appetite for coups has ended in Africa. Witness what's occurring in Burkina Faso. There, a reactionary presidential guard loyal to deposed dictator Blaise Compaore is trying to derail the country's first free elections planned for October 11.

The resistance is fierce. From within Burkina Faso, through much of Africa, and from around the world. Even Burundi's controversial president Pierre Nkurunziza was restored after a coup of a few days. So while Uganda's equivalence of the presidential guard brigade is commanded by Brigadier Muhoozi Kaenerugaba, Gen. Museveni's son, it's hard to see how he would sustain a military takeover.

The other big story is the sudden death of General Aronda Nyakairima, Internal Affairs minister. Given the suspicious past  deaths reviewed by our correspondent it's not surprising that the social media erupted with conversations between Ugandans skeptical there wasn't foul play involved.

Aronda died September 12 on his way back from South Korea where he'd attended with an unspecified number of colleagues a gathering of vendors who produce digital identification cards which Uganda hopes to introduce to minimize election fraud and rigging.
Aronda is said to have fallen ill before the return trip. Rather than being rushed to a hospital officials, presumably Ugandans at the embassy in South Korea, told him that without health insurance in that country, hospitals wouldn't allow him to be treated. He would just have to grit it out until his return. By this scenario Aronda's heart gave out while on the plane from Seoul to Dubai, from where he was to head to Uganda.

Upon his arrival an autopsy was administered by the state and it was announced that Aronda had died from a heart attack. There was an official funeral service with pageantry and all the nice speeches including by Museveni, and the gun salute business.
It was only at the burial itself that more trouble emerged. Professor Peter Kasenene, a Ugandan official who had traveled to South Korea with Aronda, speaking publicly said when the general complained about not feeling well a "protocol" officer, presumably Ugandan, gave him a sachet of tablets --who knows what-- and told him to take five pills every six hours.

Before the official could divulge more information Gen. Museveni himself who was at the funeral reportedly interrupted him and ordered silence. Who would blame even more Ugandans for casting questioning eyes at Gen. Museveni?

One remedy to clear the air of suspicion is to allow Aronda's family, if it wants, to have private independent pathologists and other experts conduct another autopsy.

In the meantime journalism may yield answers to the following questions in coming weeks if not days:

1) Who gave the drugs to Gen. Aronda?
2) What were the drugs?
3) How many did he actually ingest?
4) From where were the drugs procured and, critically, how soon were they made available from the time when Aronda complained? Presumably the drugs were not obtained in advance, in which case, it would raise questions about the purposes.
5) Why would an educated professional of Aronda's caliber, willingly and knowingly, ingest drugs of unknown nature and origin given that all medications have some side effects?
6) Where is the sachet in which the drugs were provided?
7) Why was the information about the ingestion of drugs by Aronda not initially revealed and instead exposed haphazardly?
8) What other critical information in possession of the state have not yet been revealed?
9) Who was the last person or persons to speak with Aronda and what were his last words?
10) Who was the last friend or associate or family member to speak with Aronda and what was the nature of the conversation?

There had already been reports that Aronda was no longer favored by the regime because he intended to ensure that the pro-Museveni militia now in training, operated by a thug named Kakooza Mutale who has played a role in stealing past votes, did not disrupt the 2016 presidential elections through orchestrated violence intended to suppress the vote of supporters of the opposition. This lends more fuel to the feverish suspicion about his demise.

Finally, had Aronda managed to secure a system that would have minimized the possibility of rigging, that would have neutered Mutale's thugs. Aronda never made it back alive.

The South Korean embassy in Kampala has already disputed the Ugandan official narrative, including Museveni's comments blaming Seoul, without its own clarification.

It is more likely than not that more information will emerge soon.

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