Uganda Dictator Museveni's Grip Slips Following Critical Lawmaker's Mysterious Death

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[Commentary: Uganda]

A Young Lawmaker's Death Puts General On Defensive
recent death of Ms. Cerinah Nebanda, a critically-minded ruling party
politician, is being compared by some Ugandans to the demise of Mohamed
Boazizi, a young Tunisian street vendor, whose death triggered an
unstoppable wave of opposition and protests against dictator Zine El
Abidine Ben Ali. 

Ben Ali, who had ruled Tunisia with an iron
grip, tried hard to clamp down on the ensuing popular uprising, but was
rapidly swept away by People power. 

Uganda’s Gen. Yoweri
Museveni, who has ruled with a similar iron grip since he fought his way
to power in 1986, after a six-year long bush war, is being accused by
the family and political allies of the late member of parliament, Ms.
Nebanda, of having a hand in the death of the politician, who was only

Just a few days before her sudden death on December 14, Museveni had
publicly admonished Ms. Nebanda, warning her to stop criticizing him
and sabotaging government policies relating to the country’s newly
found oil wealth. Critics are demanding for a more transparent  oil-governance and management regime. (Here Nebanda  is shown in Parliament at the 2:00 minute mark in a past meeting last year being critical of the president for unfulfilled campaign promises)

Cerinah Nebanda had
castigated the Museveni regime and her own National Resistance Movement
(NRM) ruling party over bad-governance, rampant corruption and unending
intimidation of critical politicians. 
Museveni’s political
opponents and the family of Ms. Nebanda were even more intrigued by the
actions and reactions of the regime, and in particular the president
himself, in the wake of the Parliamentarian’s death.  
Museveni ordered the arrest  of the senior pathologist, Dr. Sylvester Onzivua, who
had been mandated by parliament and the deceased’s family, to carry out
an independent investigation into the cause of the death.  He
was traveling with samples from Nebanda's body to South Africa; it's
unclear what the regime has done with the samples. The doctor was
charged with "smuggling" body parts. A second  doctor,  Chris Baryomunsi,  who also supported the independent forensic testing was also arrested. 

Parliamentarians were outraged after the arrest of the doctors. 

also ordered the arrest of several parliamentarians who had raised
doubts about the government’s own explanations of how Nebanda might have
died; with the regime claiming tests administered in London from
samples sent by the government found traces of cocaine and alcohol.
also went wild, throwing angry abuses at any politician and critic who
suspected foul play as an "idiot" "fool" and "despicables". He warned
critical lawmakers that they could be arrested inside Parliament and
advised them to flee to the U.S. embassy instead, perhaps an indication by the general that the blank check policy he once enjoyed from Washington has ended.

critics of the Museveni regime, including the Speaker of the Ugandan
Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, don't believe the government's version of
the cause of  Ms. Nebanda's demise. Many of them believe she was
This contrasts with the government line that she died of alcohol and drug misuse.
a result of the ruthless clampdown on any form of criticism of the
government’s poor handling of the Nebanda affair, Ugandan
parliamentarians went into over drive. 
They collected
signatures to recall parliament into session for an emergency sitting,
and mobilized themselves into what is fast becoming the most significant
bi-partisan legislative rebellion against the Museveni leadership.
Museveni's spokespersons said the government was "barring" Parliament
from calling the special session. 
Museveni Power Meltdown 
extra-hostile reaction to the recall of Parliament, together with his
inability to contain the uncharacteristic rebellion by the Members of
Parliament, particularly those from his own NRM party, may not have yet
resulted in the Tunisia-type mass revolt.  
But no one can doubt
the fact that the dictator’s iron grip on the country and his NRM party
is in serious jeopardy. The violent attempt to silence his critics has
turned Museveni into a hate figure right across the political divide,
and more and more Ugandans are becoming convinced of the need for
political transformation sooner rather than later. 
hemorrhaging of Museveni’s support within his own ruling party must be
the most worrying crisis that he has had to deal with in his
26-years in power. In the past, opposition within his own party was
limited to a few individuals, and whenever Museveni raised his voice,
the majority of his senior party members quickly jumped back into the
The death of the young member of parliament from his own
NRM party seems to have solidified the resolve of Museveni’s critics
across the board, but more profoundly, it seems to be bringing home some
truths to the majority of NRM politicians and party supporters across
the country – that Museveni’s popularity is waning fast, and it is not a
good thing to side with a loser.  
With an increasing number of
NRM supporters turning their backs on Museveni, and the rest of the
country already readying themselves for a Tunisian-type struggle, the
question that must be asked now is – could this the beginning of the end
for President Museveni's 26 year-long rule in Uganda?  
The answer to this question will be known as Ugandans start to organize new rounds of popular protests in the months ahead.  
growing evidence indicating that pro-democracy activists are indeed
mobilizing as they have in the past, Museveni’s political journey in
2013 will be full of dramatic twists and turns, and things could easily
turn for the worse for Uganda's long-ruling dictator unexpectedly and
without warning. 

"Speaking Truth To Empower."
Dr. Vincent Magombe, a London-based journalist and broadcaster, is also Director of Africa Inform International.

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