Main page picture shows Robert Kyagulanyi and family. Smaller picture shows him with wife, Barbara; a.k.a Barbie. Photos–Facebook. Success Museveni envies and resents.
The brutal assaults on, and incarceration in military barracks of, Member of Parliament Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, popularly known as Bobi Wine, by Uganda military and police forces on August 13, 2018 marks a watershed in the country’s politics and might be the beginning of the end of Gen. Yoweri Museveni’s dictatorship.
As the details of the dehumanizing torture and conditions of Bobi Wine are known, the great majority of Ugandans and fair-minded people the world over are rising up to protest the gratuitous use of military violence by Gen. Museveni and by some of his gangster-like military officers. Sooner than later, the outrage against the use of senseless violence by the dictatorship will galvanize people who, like a tidal wave, are bound to sweep away the nightmare that has haunted their lives for over three decades.
Yet, 32 years ago, it seemed so very different. On November 3, 1986, Uganda ratified the United Nations (UN) Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Among other things, the Convention prohibits any official of a government from inflicting severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or confession for an act he or a third person has committed or suspected of having committed.
In the convention, the prohibition of torture is absolute. What it means is that a state that has ratified the convention is obliged to, and must, refrain from all forms of ill-treatment and practicing torture under all circumstances: even in the event of national emergency or the threat of a terrorist attack.
Article 2 of the convention specifically states that: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or any public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
Uganda’s ratification of the convention against torture occurred eight months after Gen. Museveni and his band of fellow-outlaws usurped power in the country through the barrel of the gun by overthrowing the feeble military junta under Gen. Tito Okello, on January 25, 1986.
Blinded by the euphoria of displacing an ineffectual military junta, a cross-section of people believed the false dawn. But having ascended to power through violence, Gen. Museveni has turned out not only to be an apostle of militarism; but also in order to stay in power, he has throughout the period relied on a system of terror more or less proportionate to his fear of losing power by democratic means. In fact, over the years, he has displayed a graceless inability for rational discourse, even when he has placed the country in a state of siege.
It is no wonder then that, despite ratifying the convention against torture, his dictatorship has routinely used torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment to intimidate and harm his political critics who he always deems enemies.
It is clear that on grounds of international law, the dictatorship has contravened provisions of the convention against torture, as well as the country’s treaty obligation, for which he and his regime should be sanctioned. But in the world of self-interest without ethical considerations, he has got away Scott-free, without being held to account for the various transgressions of his government.
To illustrate the point, recently, on August 13, 2018, a specialized unit of Uganda’s armed forces, which in accordance with Uganda’s constitution and law should protect citizens, killed in cold blood Yasin Kawuma, driver to the 36-year old popular musician turned Member of Parliament (MP) for Kyadondo East, Robert Kyagulanyi a.k.a. Bobi Wine, apparently in an attempt to assassinate the MP himself.
In a chilling twist of tragic irony, instead of brining to book the killers of Kawuma, the Uganda military and police arrested Bobi Wine and subjected him to dehumanizing torture, leaving him in a perilously dire state of health. Three other MPs, a former MP, and a candidate elected MP two days later, were arrested together with scores of other civilians.
To date, despite the plain fact that he is in need of urgent medical attention, with a reported kidney injury, in addition to other physical trauma, the dictator and his hyena-like cabals who have neither simple human decency nor shame have refused to let him see his own doctor.
To add insult unto injury, Bobi Wine has now been locked up in a military prison at Makindye; and has been informed that he will be tried in a military court martial on a trumped up charge of unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition, simply for demonstrating fearless courage to speak up for the great majority of Ugandans against horrendous injustices perpetrated by the dictatorship.
A similar grim fate has been meted out to more than 30 of Bobi Wine’s colleagues, including Kassiano Wadri, the politician for whom he campaigned and who won the by-election for the Parliamentary seat in the northwestern town of Arua. The majority of people arrested with Bobi Wine, who are also Members of Parliament, have been charged with treason, which in Uganda carries the death penalty.
It should be pointed out that Gen. Museveni’s cruel and inhuman treatment of patriotic Ugandans when they are simply exercising their constitutionally guaranteed civil and democratic rights, is not new. What we are witnessing at the present time is simply the latest episode in his thuggish methods of brutally dealing with opponents. The overarching objective is a criminal design to perpetuate his and his family’s sordid and corrupt dictatorship in the country and continued plunder of the national treasury.
It should not be forgotten that for many years, Gen. Museveni has used state organs, underhanded methods to eliminate real or imagined rivals, associates of opponents and those perceived not to support him. Among distinguished Ugandan patriots eliminated in mysterious circumstances to advance the criminal scheme have been: Dr. Andrew Lutaakome Kayira, Brigadier Nobel Mayombo, Major-Gen. James Bunanukye Kazini, M.P. Cerinah Nebanda, and Gen. Aronda Nyakairima.
But sadly though not surprisingly for most politically conscious Ugandans, despite these egregious violations of human rights in broad daylight for more than three decades by the monstrous Museveni dictatorship, the international community, including the toothless African Union, has neither expressed outrage nor done anything of substance to demonstrate displeasure with the state of affairs in the country, leave alone to extend hands of moral and political solidarity to the great majority of Ugandans.
On the contrary, Western powers, who have habitually professed to stand for human rights and democracy, have belatedly issued perfunctory diplomatic protests, possibly mostly for public relations purposes, so as not to irreparably damage their image and credibility, as the dehumanizing torture of Bobi Wine and his colleagues has become too glaring for comfort. Ugandans hope any statements –preferably actions– by these powers marks a change of heart rather than a case of shedding crocodile tears following the diabolical and outrageous attack on Bobi Wine and his colleagues in Arua.
We know that Western powers can, when they have the political will, act robustly. The case of Zimbabwe under former President Robert Mugabe is a clear example. There, when the government used extra judicial means to deprive White citizens of land their forefathers robbed from Black indigenous people by means of military force and fraudulent means, major Western powers applied crippling punitive economic sanctions against the country. How are we to understand and explain the double standards applied in similar situations where and when gross human rights violations are concerned?
Why has President Museveni’s dictatorship not been subjected to any reasonable censure by the international community despite the fact that he has recklessly undermined human rights and democracy not only in Uganda, but also in the Great Lakes region of Africa?
For readers keen to understand how geo-strategic and security calculations of and by the USA in particular might have contributed to President Museveni’s long tenure in power, I recommend Helen Epstein’s brilliant, well-researched and well-written book, “Another Fine Mess.” In the book, the author provides a clinical exposition of the critical role played by the U.S. in maintaining the dictatorship in Uganda in power.
In summary, there are two major categories of factors that can explain dictator Museveni’s long tenure in power and his favorable treatment by big powers over the past three decades.
The first is that he is a political evil genius infected with deep and searing insecurity, which can be traced to his social background and failure to attract support in free and fair democratic contests; and the second, which is related to the first, is that in order to buy insurance policy to remedy his failures and perhaps even insecurity, he has bargained quid-pro-quo neo-colonial arrangements with the major powers on the international scene.
It is clear that at this time in the history of Uganda, Gen. Museveni is hell-bent to eliminate Bobi Wine. Why? As hinted above, it is in part because Bobi Wine is everything that the dictator is not.
To begin with, Bobi Wine the musician-turned politician is immensely popular across the country. People are genuinely attracted by his admirable qualities: he is patriotic to the country rather than to his ego or family, he is dignified, respectful of others, non-sectarian –not an ethnic chauvinist like Museveni– multi-gifted and is evidently not haunted by any ghost of insecurity. These are qualities that Gen. Museveni sorely lacks and probably wishes he had a fraction of.
Not to be underestimated is the fact that the creative genius is young and handsome. In a significant way, Bobi Wine indeed symbolizes and represents the great affirmative prospects of the future rather that the haunting nightmare and squandered possibilities of the past three decades.
In order to compensate for his shortcomings, Gen. Museveni has adopted a twin approach. The first is to act as Machiavelli’s Prince in the worst sense: to become a despot of unlimited power and unlimited tenure, which can be achieved only by imposition of fear on the population.
In practice, acting the role of Machiavelli’s Prince means attempting to institutionalize the triple pillars and following the logic recommended by the master of raw power politics. These are essentially three. The first is that that it is better to be feared than loved.
The second is that he must do whatever is necessary to keep power. The list of things to do to hold on to power might include, but not limited to: bribery, oppression, divide and rule, betrayal of comrades, and elimination of critics deemed enemies. And the third is that he has perfected Machiavelli’s formula that it is better to pretend to be good than to be good.
The second prong of President Museveni’s twin approach is, as indicated above, enter into quid-pro-quo neo-colonial arrangements with major powers that would provide support for him to stay in power. I have already referenced and recommended Helen Epstein’s book, “Another Fine Mess.”
In this section I focus on an institution that is scarcely regarded as part of the potent arsenal of neo-colonialism, the incomparable British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
It is fair to surmise that since before 1986, no international institution has played a more vital role in brainwashing Ugandans, sanitizing the odious character of the regime and keeping Gen. Museveni in power than the BBC. Indeed, despite the brutal assaults by the regime on the freedoms, welfare, social peace and unity of Ugandans, the BBC public relations on behalf of the dictatorship have ensured that the chilling facts that ordinary Ugandans experience daily are covered up and not disclosed to the wider world.
From an academic perspective, there is a real long-term danger that records by the BBC may become the staple for historical revisionism, if they are not treated with healthy skepticism as primary materials for writing and understanding what transpired in Uganda during this period.
The fact of the matter is that an analysis of BBC coverage of Africa in the past three decades indicates that no regime has been treated more frequently and favorably than Uganda’s. During the period, the genius of the BBC has been to project a relatively clean image of the dictatorship, when the realities for most Ugandans are so very different. In a separate academic article, I have discussed and shown how the role the BBC and other British newspapers facilitated the usurpation of power by the then guerrilla leader, Yoweri Museveni.
But, of course, just as with the U.S., which Helen Epstein has tackled with admirable clarity, the BBC, which is arguably the most potent fourth organ of the British government in as far as international affairs are concerned, has not carried out public relations exercise for the dictatorship in Uganda out of charity. In fact, it would be both astonishing and naïve to presume that the BBC would not in return require that the dictatorship performs some valuable service on behalf of the entities that pay its bill and ensure its existence.
What is now apparent is that in return for the public relations, financial, diplomatic and military support provided to the dictatorship mostly by Western institutions, Gen. Museveni has been required, and he has agreed to serve, as superintendent of their interests in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
In consideration of the support given to him so as to hold on to power, what has Gen. Museveni been required to do and what has he done accordingly? First, a brief historical background and context should be given.
It should be remembered that before the decade of decolonization in the 1960s, Pan-European powers physically occupied the continent; and as such, could directly exploit African strategic mineral and agricultural resources, such as coltan, gold, diamond, cobalt, tanzanite, petroleum, manganese, rubber, bauxite, timber, chrome, platinum, coffee and cocoa, with total impunity. Although the situation altered after de jure independence of African territories, their insatiable desire for the resources did not change. So they had to change their tactics: to control and exploit African resources indirectly through African ruling agents.
It is this role of a ruling agent facilitating the interests of Pan-European institutions that President Museveni, in return for the military, financial, diplomatic and public relations support afforded him, has more or less served with cunning ability.
From a historical perspective, the role played by Gen. Museveni has not been fundamentally different from that played in the region by the late dictator Mobutu Ssese Seko of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from 1960 to 1997. Both were parasitic rulers and driven by personal selfish reasons to stay in power rather than to serve their people and advance the common and greater welfare of the great majority of Africans.
The neo-colonial function of Gen. Museveni –his role is akin to that of the European governors’ before formal independence– in the Great Lakes region of Africa in the past three decades has effectively made a mockery of the struggles for decolonization, rendered juridical political independence a fiction, and also bastardized if not inverted the relevance of legitimacy in Ugandan politics.
The dehumanizing torture of the patriotic Bobi Wine is the latest evidence, which demonstrates beyond a shadow of doubt that the dictatorship in Uganda has become so decadent and delusional that even in a state of siege it is not equal to the constructive task of building the nation to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.
What is the antidote for Museveni’s regime of terror? The type of fearless courage demonstrated by Bobi Wine; he was on the front lines resisting the shameful amendment that removed the age-75 limit from the constitution, paving the way for Gen. Museveni’s Life-Presidency Agenda; he was in the resistance against the social media tax; and he was campaigning for Wadri when the dictator struck.
As Bobi Wine languishes in military prison in excruciating pain, his bravery must inspire Ugandans to come together affirmatively in moral and political solidarity to get rid of the nightmare that has menaced the people for the past three decades and to redeem the future of the country.
The fact that Wadri was elected while in detention and after Museveni had unleashed terror in Arua is an affirmation that the public’s fear is no longer an ally the dictator can rely on.
The people have drawn the line in the sand in Arua and said–enough.
In the end, by the practical collective actions of Ugandans, an unequivocal message of determination should be conveyed to Gen. Museveni that no guns or humiliation shall forever extinguish the people’s aspirations and yearning for fundamental freedoms and decent living.
Because we live in an interdependent world where no people are islands unto themselves, for positive change to take place without violence and bloodshed, the international community should help facilitate it by showing moral and practical political solidarity with the great majority of Ugandans.
After all, Ugandans have been resisting not only Gen. Museveni; but also, the powers that enable his regime with financial resources and military firepower.
Professor Amii Omara-Otunnu
University of Connecticut, Storrs
Editor’s Note: A PETITION campaign demanding the release of Bobi Wine and sanctions against the regime has been launched