Ugandan Police End House Arrest of Opposition Leader After Election Results are Confirmed By Top CourtApril 6, 2016 in Uganda
On Friday 1 April, Ugandan police ended a six-week-long house arrest of an opposition leader that was imposed after he claimed that recent presidential elections were rigged.
Second-placed Kizza Besigye, who rejected the results of the 18 February election won by veteran President Yoweri Museveni, has been forcibly kept inside his home in the capital Kampala for 43 days. He has said that his detention was designed in order to block him from gathering evidence of fraud in what he called a “scandalous” election. On Friday, Ugandan police chief Kale Kayihura stated that he has “…given directive that the deployment of police outside Besigye’s home be withdrawn forthwith.”
While the police chief provided no explanation why the house arrest was being lifted, it comes just a day after the country’s Supreme Court dismissed a legal challenge to the election result and upheld Museveni’s fifth-term victory. With Besigye unable to submit a legal challenge, third-placed Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister who won just over one percent of the vote, filed the suit that was rejected in court on 31 March.
Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, was declared the winner with 61 percent of the vote. He has rejected claims that his victory was won through cheating and fraud. A long-standing opponent of the president, Besigye has been frequently jailed, accused of both treason and rape, teargased and hospitalized over the years, however this was the longest period he had ever been under house arrest. On Friday, Kayihura warned that “we expect Besigye to respect the law, to stop causing trouble for people going about their private businesses,” adding, “ He must respect the law. If he veers off, the police is there to protect people and their property.”
On Saturday, long-time Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of the country’s disputed presidential election, with his main rival rejecting the results, stating that they are fraudulent and calling for an independent audit of the country.
According to the final results, which were announced by the election commission, Museveni got more than 60 percent of the votes while his nearest rival Kizza Besigye received 35 percent. While Museveni was re-elected president, at least nineteen of his ministers lost their parliamentary seats. Amongst them was defense minister Crispus Kiyonga, who is spearheading regional efforts to end the political crisis in Burundi, and attorney general Fred Ruhindi. Some 9.7 million Ugandans voted, a turnout of around 63 percent, for president and members of parliament, with 290 assembly seats contested by candidates from 29 political parties. Furthermore, on Monday, election commission spokesman Jotham Taremwa disclosed that Saturday’s election results did not include tallies from at least 1,242 polling stations – effectively about 4 percent of all polling stations. While Taremwa has disclosed that the missing results cannot change the outcome, Besigye’s supporters have noted that they could bring down Museveni’s margin of victory. Museveni needed 50 percent plus one vote in order to avoid a runoff election.
Besigye was under house arrest as Museveni was declared the winner. On the ground sources have reported that heavily armed police were standing guard near his residence, which is located on the outskirts of the capital, Kampala. In a video, Besigye rejected the results, stating, “we knew right from the beginning the electoral commission that was organizing and managing these elections was a partisan, incompetent and discredited body as from the previous elections,” adding, “we knew that the military and security organizations were going to be engaged in a partisan and unfair way like they did in the past.” Besigye urged the international community to reject the official tally. The president’s ruling party, the National Resistance Movement, has urged “all candidates to respect the will of the people and the authority of the electoral commission and accept the result. We ask all Ugandans to remain calm and peaceful and not to engage in any public disruptions.”
While following the announcement of the results, the capital, which has been under a heavy security presence, was calm on Saturday, tensions increased on Monday when police arrested Besigye as he tried to leave his home where he had been confined under house arrest. On the ground sources reported seeing police push Besigye into the back of a blacked-out van and take him away to a police station in a rural area outside the capital. Besigye had been going to the election commission to get detailed copies of results from the presidential elections. Uchenna Emelonye of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Besigye in the police station, telling reporters shortly after that he “has not been informed, formally or informally, why he is being detained. Polly Namaye, a police spokeswoman, has however disclosed that officers arrested Besigye in order to keep him from “storming the electoral commission with his supporters.”
Thursday’s voting was marred by lengthy delays in the delivery of polling materials. There were also some incidents of violence as well as a government shutdown of social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, which remained inaccessible on Saturday. The European Union (EU) observer mission has since reported that the election was marked by an “intimidating atmosphere, which was mainly created by state actors. Speaking to reporters on Saturday, EU mission leader Eduard Kukan stated that Uganda’s election commission lacks independence and transparency and does not have the trust of all the parties. According to the EU’s preliminary report, opposition supporters were harassed by law enforcement officials in more than twenty districts. Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the head of the Commonwealth observer mission, also reported that Uganda’s elections “fell short of meeting key democratic benchmarks,” while the US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner disclosed that “the Ugandan people deserved better…We encourage those who wish to contest the election results to do so peacefully and in accordance with Uganda’s laws and judicial process, and urge the Ugandan government to respect the rights and freedoms of its people and refrain from interference in those processes.”
On Saturday, Ugandan political candidates raised fears of violence ahead of presidential polls next month, with accusations of police brutality and claims that opposition groups are organization milita forces.
Seven opposition candidates are vying to end President Yoweri Museveni’s 30-year rule in the 18 February poll. Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, currently faces his stiffest opposition from Kizza Besigye, a three-time loser for the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), and Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister and ruling party stalwart who now leads the Go-Forward party. All sides are accusing each other of arming militas in a bid to press their claim to political power. Last week, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda warned, “we are following up reports that a small group of the radical opposition are talking and planning violent actions during and after the election.” He further indicated that the “government has established that some of these groups, under the guise of training agents to protect their votes, are raising semi-milita groups,” adding, “these groups, we have learnt, are being prepared to incite provocation and violent confrontations, starting on polling day until the swearing ceremony in case they lose the lections.” Opposition leaders however have dismissed these claims, and in turn have accused security forces of backing the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) to harass the president’s rival. According to Kizza Besigye, who has called on the president to “stop using police and other state apparatus to intimidate, harass, arrest our supporters,” “the trend of violence has left us worried.” Ex Prime Minister Mbabazi has also disclosed that “we have seen acts of violence wherever we have been. Police have used teargas and live bullets to stop our rallies…We ask President Museveni to stop these acts. If he does not act, then people will be forced to rise up and who knows what comes out. We have seen such situations elsewhere turning violent and Uganda is no exception.” Police chief Kale Kayihura has stated that police have recruited around a million civilians as “crime preventers,” describing them as “part of the police effort to enforce community policing.” Opposition politicians however say that the teams are partisan and back the ruling NRM. All eight candidates are due to hold a live televised debate on 15 January.
The United States embassy in Uganda reported Saturday that Ugandan security forces have stopped a cell of al-Shabaab insurgents who are apparently “planning for an imminent attack.” On Monday, a Ugandan military spokesman confirmed that nineteen terror suspects were arrested over the weekend in a raid on an al-Shabaab cell that was supposedly plotting to carry out an attack in the East African nation.
A statement released by the US embassy Saturday disclosed, “Ugandan authorities reported the discovery of an al-Shabaab terrorist cell in Kampala,” noting that US officials “…remain in close contact with our Ugandan counterparts as investigations continue into what appears to have been planning for an imminent attack.”
Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga confirmed that forces had arrested nineteen foreigners on Saturday in connection with a foiled attack. On Monday, Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda disclosed that police seized “substantial amounts of explosives” and suicide vests from the suspects, who are all of Somali origin. The operations were carried out in the Kisenyi neighbourhood, which is known for its large Somali population, and targeted a hotel and a flat where the Somalis recently had moved.
In the wake of an imminent terrorist attack, US security forces have increased their patrols around major sites and have warned its citizens about travel to the country. Embassy officials have disclosed that “at this point we are not aware of specific targets, and the Ugandan authorities have increased security at key sites, including Entebbe International Airport….If you must move about, remain aware of your surroundings, avoid crowds, monitor local news stations for updates, and maintain a high level of vigilance.” The US embassy warning comes nearly a week after US embassy officials warned that al-Shabaab insurgents may try to exact revenge for a US strike that killed the militant group’s commander earlier this month. Last Monday, officials warned US citizens to “stay alert to the on-going potential terrorist attacks in Uganda…we also caution US citizens of the possibility of retaliatory attacks in Uganda by al-Shabaab in response to the US and Ugandan military actions in Somalia, which killed al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane.”
Uganda, which has troops fighting al-Shabaab militants in neighbouring Somalia, is currently on high alert amidst concerns that the al-Qaeda-linked militant group is planning to carry out a similar attack to the Westgate assault that occurred in Kenya last September. The country has in the past been targeted by al-Shabaab. In 2010, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for bomb attacks that killed at least 76 people who were watching a soccer World Cup final in Kampala.
As the FIFA World Cup football tournament kicks off in Brazil, security warnings have been issued for a number of African countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. UK officials have also issued warnings for Djibouti, stating that they have credible intelligence that al-Shabaab insurgents may be planning to carry out further terrorist attacks against targets that include “Western interests.”
East African nations are currently on high alert over fears that Somalia’s al-Shabaab may launch attacks on World Cup screenings over the next month. Previous attacks throughout the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed. Crowded areas, including hotels, restaurants and bars and transport hubs are possible targets.
There is currently a high threat from terrorism throughout Ethiopia. Attacks could be indiscriminate and can occur at any moment, including in places that are frequented by foreigners. Previous terrorist attacks in the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed.
There is a high threat from terrorism in Kenya, mainly from al-Shabaab. The militant group has issued public threats against Kenya, due to the country’s military intervention in Somalia, and has recently stated that they are shifting the war and will now focus on Kenya. There have been a number of small-scale grenade, bomb and armed attacks in Nairobi, especially in the Eastleigh district, Mombasa and Northern Eastern Province. Methods of attacks have included shootings and bombings, including car bombings, as well as the use of grenades.
Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo has promised “sufficient security measures” to ensure the safety of fans, however he has noted that bar owners must take their own precautions, stating, “owners of such social places must ensure that every person is thoroughly screened before entering their premises.” Attacks could be indiscriminate and will likely occur in places that are frequented by foreigners, including bars, sports bars, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, sporting events, supermarkets, shopping centres, beaches, buses, trains and transport hubs.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, whose country is a key contributor to African Union (AU) forces fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia, has cautioned fans “to be alert as they enjoy football, bearing in mind that the country is threatened.” A statement issued by Ugandan security forces has urged that people are screened prior to viewing soccer tournaments. The move is being enforced in a bid to avoid a repeat of attacks that occurred four years ago during the World Cup final, when al-Shabaab militants bombed two restaurants in the Ugandan capital, killing at least seventy-six people.
Officials in Britain warned earlier this week that al-Shabaab insurgents are planning further attacks in Djibouti, after last month’s suicide bomb attack on a crowded restaurant. According to a statement released by the UK Foreign Office, “there are credible reports that al-Shabaab plan, and have the capability, to attack targets in Djibouti, including western interests,” adding “there is a high threat from terrorism” in the port city. The statement further notes “Djibouti and Western interests within Djibouti may be seen as a legitimate target by al-Shabaab because of its support to the Somali government and its participation in the African Union peacekeeping mission.”
Djibouti has troops deployed in Somalia, as part of the African Union force that is battling the militant group, however the Horn of Africa nation’s port also serves as a key base for ships taking part in international anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. Last month, at least one person was killed and several others wounded when two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a restaurant, the first attack in Djibouti to be claimed by al-Shabaab since the country joined the AU force in 2011. Days after the attack, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility and indicated that the attack was carried out in retaliation for Djibouti’s hosting of the United States’ largest military base in Africa, which is used for operations across the region, including drone strikes against Islamists in Somalia. France also has a base in Djibouti.
Nigerian officials have taken additional steps in order to prevent any World Cup related terrorist attacks from occurring. Soldiers in the capital of Yola, Adamawa state, have shut down all venues preparing to screen live World Cup matches in the hopes to stave off attacks. The Nigerian government has also advised resident of the capital city, Abuja, to avoid public viewing centres. Minister Bela Mohamed has issued a directive for Abuja, ordering high vigilance in places such as motor parks, restaurants, markets, supermarkets, shopping malls, banks, churches, mosques, hotels, viewing centres and hospital.
While over the past five years, the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa have seen a number of deadly terrorist attacks, in recent months, Boko Haram militants have carried out an increasingly bold series of assaults, which has included the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in April. Since then, the militants have carried out a number of attacks on villages, including a recent car bomb that was set of at a centre in the settlement of Gavan, in the north-eastern state of Adamawa. O June 1, at least eighteen people watching a game on television were killed. A week before that incident, a suicide bomber set out for an open-air screening of a match in Nigeria’s central city of Jos. His car blew upon the way, killing three people. Such assaults on television viewing centres across Africa have raised fears that militant groups will target supporters gathering to cheer on the global football contest.