Reacting To Election Criticism, Museveni Official Says 'Uganda Not British Colony'

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[Global: Africa]

A senior political adviser to the Ugandan president has rejected a call by a British lawmaker that the Kampala government rein in paramilitary groups terrorizing members of the opposition, in the few months leading to presidential elections.

In sharply worded retorts, the official, Ofwono Opondo, who is spokesperson for the ruling party, said Uganda was no longer a British colony and even challenged the U.K. lawmaker to come and govern Uganda.

The U.K. provides the bulk of foreign assistance to the Kampala regime.

The British Member of Parliament, Mike Hancock, had denounced the government-allied paramilitary goon squads known as the "Kiboko. " MP Hancock had told The Black Star that the U.K. acknowledges "that there has been some improvement in the procedures for conducting elections in Uganda.” He added: “However there remain concerns and there are also concerns over the Kiboko squads and the conduct of the police.”

Uganda has been criticized for failing to put in place an independent Election Commission (EC)--it was hand picked by President Yoweri Museveni. Separately, the United States has also criticized the EC's close ties to Museveni, in Congressionally-mandated reports issued by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I don’t know what Kiboko Squad is, because the police denied it,” Opondo said, when told of Hancock's criticism. The Uganda official then launched into sharp attack against the British government.

“They have stenches in their compound, let them first sort out their problems,” Opondo said. He also said: “Britain is no longer a world power. So she should concentrate on how to maintain at least the status quo they had,” Opondo told The Black Star News in a telephone interview. He added: “If that MP wants to rule Uganda, he can come and rule us from here.”

When reminded that the United States had also voiced similar concerns, Opondo, who is spokesperson for the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), sidestepped the question, and refrained from attacking Washington.

The Kiboko squad is widely believed to receive government funding and have in recent months broken up political gatherings and even assaulted Dr. Kizza Besigye, a top opposition leader and presidential candidate. The feared goons operate outside any laws and regulations and the police stood by when they assaulted Besigye.

The goons were rudely introduced to the Uganda political scene in 2007 when civilians protested a government plan to give away to wealthy investors vast tracks of the Mabira Forest preserve. The Kibokos plunged into the gathering and crushed the limbs of several demonstrators. Their recent activities include beating up of Dr. Besigye.

With less than 90 days to go before the February 18, 2011, general election in Uganda, people are worried that the Kibokos may plunge Uganda into the kind of bloodshed that the violent Mungiki paramilitaries did in Kenya, after the disputed elections there.

Opondo was adamant in insisting that the elections would be free and fair. “But in any case, we don’t do our elections to appease the Whites, the British MPs. As long as our local Ugandans are certified that largely the elections were free and fair.”
Separately, when asked Opondo was asked to react to possible U.K. criticism over Uganda's alleged role in the massacres of civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo and looting of resources, he retorted: “What do they say in their own involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq?" He added: “Are there no killing in Iraq and Afghanistan? Are there no human rights abuses in Afghanistan? Why don’t they talk about those?”

He also defended Uganda's conduct in the Congo.  “First of all, we didn’t loot; but if that is what they want to say, what would be wrong with Africans to their wealth?” Opondo said. He also said the U.K. was not in a good position to attack Uganda since its hands were not clean. “Well, you know the British and the French looted the whole of Africa. If there is anybody to be paid for looting Africa, why should the British think they are right to loot Congo and Africa, and they think Uganda should not share in the wealth of their neighboring country?”

“Let everyone including the British Prime Minister, Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham and Mr. Mike Hancock who is being used by a local Ugandan opposition political outfit know in clear terms that Uganda is no longer a colony of Britain who ruled with iron-fisted hands and no single democratic elections while exploiting our people and resources,” Opondo added.

“Even when they give us support that shouldn’t be the basis to lecture to us about good governance,” he added, referring to U.K. aid.

When told of Opondo's reaction, Hancock, the U.K. lawmaker said: “I appreciate that African governments will drag up the colonist past to try and deflect any criticism from the British Government and or politicians and indeed other Western governments."

He added: “My understanding is that the concerns over the conduct of elections come from the observer missions of the EU and the Commonwealth to the 2006 elections. So this can’t be dismissed as just coming from the British Government. I think it right also that the governments do raise issues of human rights etc. with other governments.”

Miwambo reports from Europe for The Black Star News

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