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Uganda: Presidential Campaign Heats Up

Intimidation charges fly as opposition candidates vie for voters.
By David Rupiny
Uganda’s northwest region of West Nile has become one of several hotly contested regions in the country’s presidential campaign.

As the five candidates including President Yoweri Museveni criss-cross the country, accusations have erupted of voter intimidation.

In a bid to woo West Nile voters, who traditionally favour opposition candidates, Museveni last week announced a new hydroelectric power plant on the Nile to serve the region.

The dam is a joint project between the government and an affiliate of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development.

At the same time, Major Kakooza Mutale, a presidential adviser who has been accused of intimidation in past elections, vowed that opposition candidates didn’t stand a chance in the upcoming leadership contest.

The leader of the Kalangala Action Plan militia, Mutale said that neither the main contender, Kizza Besigye, nor Miria Obote, the candidate of the Uganda People’s Congress, would ever rule Uganda.

Mutale advised Obote, the widow of the late Apollo Milton Obote, to quit the campaign and settle down to life as widow of the former head of state. Mutale said that Miria should not strain herself in a struggle for the presidency.

In Arua, the region’s largest city, district police commander Julius Salube said he was investigating Taban Amin, son of former president Idi Amin, for allegedly defacing posters of opposition presidential candidates.

Amin, an officer with the Internal Security Organisation, ISO, reportedly defaced posters of both Besigye and Democratic Party candidate John Sebaana Kizito. The ISO is the intelligence branch of the interior ministry.

Parliamentary candidate Akbar Hussein Godi that he observed Amin using a pistol to hold off an irate mob that had threatened him over the incident.

Shortly afterwards, Sebaana abruptly postponed his campaign in West Nile for a second time, saying he feared clashes with Museveni’s supporters.

It is not the first case where Sebaana has expressed worries about Museveni’s supporters. A week earlier, the Democratic Party candidate’s security director, Godfrey Ntale, said that armed men had been driving into villages in the southern Uganda and threatening villagers who attended rallies held by of opposition candidates.

“They follow people to the rally site,” said Ntale. “People have been menaced.”

Others have also warned of intimidation.

The former ethics and integrity minister, Miria Matembe, said last week that the Museveni’s National Resistance Movement, NRM, is intimidating voters even through the February 23 election is still two weeks away.

Matembe was removed from Museveni’s cabinet after she refused to support his plans to stand for a third term.

Now standing as a candidate for one of several parliamentary seats designated for women, Matembe said voters are being told that despite the secrecy of the ballot, the NRM can still find out how they voted.

Perhaps the strongest complaints have come from Besigye, who claims that paramilitary groups have been trained to intimidate supporters of his Forum for Democratic Change party.

Such groups have already generated widespread fear among voters, he said.

Besigye accused government administrators and internal security agents of raiding his party offices and confiscating records and documents.

Besigye scoffed at efforts by the government to provide security at polling stations, saying that such officers could easily be used to manipulate the votes.

Intimidation may not be confined to voters, however.

In a dramatic turn of events last week, the judge in Besigye’s treason trial resigned, becoming the third judge to leave the case.

Besigye said High Court Justice John Bosco Katutsi was pressured to withdraw from the case after senior military officials accused the court of being too soft on “terrorists”.

Katutsi, however, said doctors had advised him to step down because his high blood pressure had been aggravated by the tension surrounding Besigye’s case.

Earlier, General David Tinyefuza, a presidential advisor on internal and external security, attacked the judiciary over a recent constitutional court ruling that Besigye could not be tried by the military in addition to the treason trial.

Also, defence forces chief Lieutenant-General Aronda Nyakairima blasted the constitutional court for its ruling, saying it favoured extremists. Nyakairima said that the ruling was like giving them “a field day in Uganda”.

Besigye and 22 others stand accused of terrorism for their alleged membership of an obscure group called the People’s Redemption Army, which allegedly recruited fighters outside Uganda for a possible armed insurrection.

Besigye and the others have denied the accusation.

David Rupiny and Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi are correspondents with Uganda Radio Network, a project of IWPR Africa.