Ugandans Denounce Museveni At UN As Minister Sings His Praises

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[Global: Africa]

THE UNITED NATIONS (New York)--Ugandans held a protest rally outside the United Nations Friday as the East African country's president addressed the General Assembly, denouncing Yoweri Museveni as a serial human rights violator who was also stifling the media and citizens' right to freedom of assembly in the run-up to February's presidential election.

At the same time, the country's minister of state for foreign affairs, Henry Okello Oryem stopped by towards the end of the rally when there were a handful of people left and confidently said his boss would win next year's vote by an even larger margin relative to five years ago.

Okello Oryem said one of the opposition parties, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) could have prevailed over the ruling party next year had it not squandered the momentum built from the last election.

The minister also said the latest assessment of Uganda's political scene by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was an improvement from the last report. He denied the government had tried to assassinate an opposition party leader, an incident which was referenced in the first Clinton report.

The demonstrators rejected Okello Oryem's rosy assessment of the Uganda political scene. "I'm here to protest against dictatorship and corruption," said James Kabonge, 56, a Ugandan who had traveled to New York from Washington, D.C.

Kabonge, who is a financial consultant and CPA, added: "We want to expose Museveni to the world. We want the international community to support us to end his regime. There is no free election. Clinton is concerned about what is happening. I don't believe in the election commission."

When reminded that Museveni had publicly stated on more than one occasion that he had a unique vision for Uganda, Kabonge said: “After 25 years, if you have not fulfilled that vision when are you going to do it?”

Kabonge said the outcome of next year's election is "pre-destined" if the composition of the Election Commission -- handpicked by the president -- is not changed. He denounced what he says was a proposed law that required permission for any gathering of three or more people. "Most families in Uganda have more than five people. You have to get a permit for people to come to your funeral? To your birthday party?"

Kabonge said the West has covered up for Museveni, despite his gross human rights violations in Buganda, and in the northern and eastern parts of the country. "He has killed more people than all the past presidents combined," he said.

Rev. Nnakabaale Kaasa, the Constitutional Chairman of Gwangamujje, who lives in Boston, echoed Kabonge's views.

"Museveni is disorganizing Ugandans," he said. "Prevention of freedom of speech, freedom of association, and worse of all now, freedom of assembly."

Kaasa said the government had ruined the economy. But when asked why Western officials often pointed to statistics showing impressive economic growth rates in Uganda, he responded: "That's a lie. They are favoring Museveni. He's a darling for them."

Foreign minister Okello Oryem denounced the political opposition parties and praised his boss. He said the Election Commission would not be reconstituted since the appointment was done as the law requires. He said a Committee that could have challenged the names included members of the opposition.

"They were asleep and now they realized the elections are coming," Okello Oryem said. "I would advise them to read the laws of Uganda," he added.

He had volatile words for Olara Otunnu, leader of the Uganda People's Congress (UPC) and a former UN Under-Secretary General, who survived a reported assassination attempt last year--Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her first report on Uganda's preparation for elections raised doubts about the government's willingness or ability to investigate the matter--when vehicles from the Presidential Guard Brigade reportedly ran Otunnu's car off the road.

The Ugandan government has denied that there was an attempt on Otunnu's life and insists it was an accident.

"The Ugandan government does not assassinate political opponents," Okello Oryem said. "If the government wanted to kill Otunnu why wouldn't the government just shoot him?" One of the remaining demonstrators in the background gasped when he heard the minister's remark.

Attempts to reach Otunnu in Kampala this evening for a reaction were not successful.

He said Otunnu was "killing himself politically" and that the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) political party had "misled him into bringing UPC into IPC" a reference to the Inter-Party Cooperation, a grouping that was to bring Uganda's opposition parties under one tent to mount a challenge. "Otunnu fell for it; Mao did not. He did not listen to Mao," he said, referring to Norbert Mao, who heads the Democratic Party (DP).

Okello Oryem also had some harsh criticism of FDC leader Dr. Kizza Besigye, stating that Besigye's chances of winning next year's election was "zilch," because he would not be able to duplicate his party's success in the northern part of Uganda.

"They gave him overwhelming support. He never went back to thank them for voting for him last time. He never went back when they were coming back to the villages," he said, referring to the squalid camps, which had been referred to by critics as concentration camps, where hundreds of thousands of Acholis perished through the decades. He also said the FDC had not participated in the now aborted Juba Peace Talks, which was aimed to end the war between the government and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

The Ugandan foreign minister also stated that had Besigye built upon the momentum of his success in the last elections, he might have been poised to win next year's elections, since he only needed to win an extra 1.1 million votes. "He is going to perform worse than last time," he said. "FDC failed to grab the momentum which would have actually turned the table around."

The minister offered his prediction for next year's outcome: The ruling NRM party, 62%; FDC, 18%; DP, 5%; UPC, 3%; and the balance split by minor parties.

Asked whether he did not see a problem with a perpetual presidency by the incumbent Museveni, the minister said: "Me, I've got no problem with Museveni's leadership, unless someone can show me a better alternative, which I don't see on the horizon."

The minister insisted that The Black Star News should also report that Elizabeth Allimadi Ociti, the publisher's sister, ran in the primary elections for a parliamentary seat on the NRM ticket. She did not win.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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