Ugandans head to the February 18 elections, billed as the most fiercely contested in the country’s history amid fear and uncertainty about the actions of the state and the apparent resolve by opposition political forces not to accept any conduct they perceive to be illegal.
This state of affairs was markedly on display by revelations that some big corporations have sent out election safety tips to their staff, that some people have started leaving the country in search of safety abroad, that individuals have begun stocking up on essential supplies, and that there is a record low turnout at some higher learning institutions, which has been attributed to the coming elections.
For instance, on or about February 11, a security brief purported to be from Stanbic Bank showed up on different social networking sites advising the bank staff to stock enough food and water to last at least a week, for those with cars to fill up their tanks and to park them in secure areas — preferably within the walls of their compounds and well away from the main road.
The brief further advises its recipients to have some cash in hand in case ATMs are down, to stay indoors at all times in case of unrest and to lock all doors and windows, to ensure they stock up enough equipment like flashlights, batteries, candles, medical supplies, airtime and spare batteries.
The brief, which Stanbic has admitted to have originated for internal use, came two days after the Electoral Commission appeared to corroborate reports The EastAfrican had earlier received that officials at Entebbe Airport had begun noticing an unusually high number of people leaving the country compared with those who were making return trips.
A media dinner organised by the EC on February 9 to urge fair reporting and avoid causing panic before, during and after elections, Jotham Taremwa, the Commission’s spokesperson, reportedly told journalists that the Emirates Airlines, for instance, has in recent times flown a lot of people to Dubai apparently to wait out the elections.
These developments come on the back of already heightened tensions between the government and the opposition as all three leading contenders — President Yoweri Museveni, Dr Kizza Besigye, and Amama Mbabazi — have voiced concerns over planned electoral malpractices that each has vowed to block.
The anticipated vote rigging, which seems poised to spark off confrontations, has put vote protection initiatives like Dr Besigye’s P10 networks (groups of 10 people the Forum for Democratic Change is mobilising to protect its vote) against the equally controversial millions of “crime preventers” the police have been training supposedly to supplement its work and now plans to arm, according to Inspector General of Police Gen. Kale Kayihura.
On Saturday, January 27, while passing out a batch of crime preventers in Kapchorwa district, Gen Kayihura reportedly told them that, “We are going to change you from having sticks to rifles and get ready to defend this country in case of any attack.” The comment followed another in which he had reportedly said, “We shall not hand over power to the opposition to destabilise the peace that we fought for.”
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A few days after Kayihura’s pronouncements, Justine Kasule Lumumba, the Secretary General of the ruling National Resistance Movement party, reportedly told an audience at the party’s campaign headquarters in Wakiso district that the state was prepared to shoot to kill any-body who they deem to be disorganising and destabilising the peace and security in Kampala and Wakiso —Uganda’s most urban centres.
Early last week, Police shipped in state-of-the-art hardware that included several armoured personnel carriers, water cannons and tear gas trucks, which its officials said are aimed to secure the election.
“In the process of ensuring that we secure the election, we have had to purchase equipment that we believe will help us in transportation, in crowd control and public order management,” said Police Deputy Spokesperson Polly Namaye.