Opinion and Editorial

Peaceful campaigns in Uganda? The dirty work went on behind the scenes

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Posted  Monday, February 21   2011 at  00:00

Ugandans have just gone through another round of elections.

When polling stations opened on Friday February 18, the presidency and hundreds of parliamentary seats were up for grabs.

Ever since the controversial 1980 general elections which gave current President Yoweri Museveni the excuse to wage war and seize power by force, Uganda has not had as peaceful a campaign period as the one just ended.

So peaceful was it that journalists who had waited for dramatic scenes of violence were moaning about how boring it all was.

According to one foreign journalist, the absence of drama had led many of his friends who covered the extremely violent 2006 campaigns to stay away.

Uganda watchers will recall how during those campaigns a panicky and vindictive Museveni had drafted the entire state machinery into his efforts to defeat Kizza Besigye whose sudden return from exile had caused a dramatic rise in the number of people seeking to register to vote.

Inside the president’s camp, these developments were hardly good news.

And so began the assault on Besigye and his supporters. Whenever he was not being kept behind bars or ferried to court to answer trumped-up charges, he and his supporters were being trailed and harassed by members of one or other legal or semi-legal security outfit.

Courtesy of trigger-happy security operatives, some did not live to vote.

From what I have been hearing, for journalists the gratuitous violence and the accompanying breaking of limbs, cracking of skulls and murders, were all rather good copy. “Shame,” you may say, but then you’re not a journalist.

In looking for adrenaline-raising drama of which there has been very little, however, journalists, mainly the foreign ones who rarely venture into the countryside, have missed the below-the-surface episodes of harassment and dirty tricks directed at members and supporters of opposition parties.

Courtesy of the ubiquitous resident district commissioners, some have been prevented from appearing on local radio stations to put their case to members of the general public.

Others tell stories of hefty financial inducements to cross over to the ruling party, a move intended to demoralise the opposition.

A prominent member of the Besigye-led Forum for Democratic Change, the largest party in the opposition alliance, the Inter-Party Co-operation, has claimed he was offered Ush1.5 billion, well over half a million US dollars, to cross to the cash-loaded ruling party.

The agent, he alleges, was one of Museveni’s sons-in-law, himself the subject of media stories linking him to a variety of financial scams.

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