US Directs Clinton To Monitor Uganda's 2011 Election

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[Global: Africa]

In what a key Ugandan opposition figure has hailed as a "milestone" the United States Congress has issued a directive to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to monitor next year's Ugandan presidential election to ensure that it's free and fair.

"This is big news and very welcome," said Olara A. Otunnu, former United Nations UndeSecretary General and now a Ugandan opposition leader. "This is hugely important. I am delighted and applaud the US Congress for taking this decisive action in favor of free and fair elections in Uganda."

The directive is included in the section dealing with Uganda in the U.S. Foreign Operations Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2010. It calls on Secretary Clinton to work with other countries, including the European Union and Canada, in monitoring preparations for the Ugandan elections, including: “the independence of the electoral commission; the need for an accurate and verifiable voter registry; the announcement and posting of results at the polling stations; the freedom of movement and assembly and a process free of intimidation; freedom of the media; and the security and protection of candidates.”

General Yoweri K. Museveni has been in office since 1986.

“This is a milestone because for the first time the Museveni regime is being held to the same electoral standards as other governments," Otunnu continued, in an interview. "Up till now, the regime has enjoyed scandalous exceptionalism, particularly from universally-accepted standards concerning democracy, human rights and corruption.”

"This is the beginning of the end of that impunity," he added. “The Congressional directive is of particular importance given the extensive and well documented rigging and fraud witnessed in recent elections in Uganda.”

Supporters of Dr. Kizza Besigye, opponent to Museveni, believe their candidate was robbed in the 2001 and 2006 presidential elections.

Additionally, the U.S. Congress directed Secretary Clinton to provide the first status report on the directive to monitor the elections in March 2010, and “every 120 days thereafter until 30 days after the election detailing actions taken by the government of Uganda to address these concerns.”

The State Department did not respond to inquiries for comment from Secretary Clinton by publication time. Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also couldn't be reached by publication deadline. Uganda's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Ruhakana Rugunda wasn't available for comment this evening.

In an interview on The Voice of America's "Straight Talk Africa" program today Otunnu for the first time spoke in the clearest terms about a December 21, 2009 incident when a vehicle he was travelling in was forced off the road in Uganda by military vehicles belonging to President  Museveni's Presidential Guard Brigade (PGB). The 12,000-strong tax-payer financed force is commanded by Museveni's son.

"There is no doubt in my mind that it was an attempted assasination," Otunnu said, in the VOA interview. In an Op-Ed column Otunnu wrote for The Daily Monitor, a Ugandan independent newspaper, Otunnu had called for an independent investigation of the incident. During the VOA interview today, he called on Secretary Clinton to similarly investigate the matter and include it in the status report called for in the Congressional directive. 

During the VOA interview Otunnu also welcomed the critical reaction by Western countries to the proposed bill in Uganda's parliament that would make homosexuality punishable by death but noted that the same International community had turned a blind eye to "genocide" in the northern part of the country.

There, for more than two decades, the Uganda government had confined more than two million civilians in what Otunnu has called "concentration" camps. The Uganda government maintained that the camps were created to protect civilians from the Lord's Resistance Army, but in 2005 the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that more than 1,000 civilians died per week in the camps, or an estimated more than 52,000 annually.

The Black Star News has learned that Otunnu played a major role in pushing for the Congressional directive, through meetings with U.S. lawmakers as well as human rights and democracy activists in Washington, D.C.

Additionally, under the Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2010, Uganda is allocated $70.6 million in assistance. Otunnu in an earlier interview on WBAI Pacifica Radio said Western governments didn't hold Museveni's government accountable on issues of corruption, human rights and good governance, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies.

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