A night before the last rally in Hoima, I received a call from a friend who works with one of our security agencies. Since he had seen me in Hoima, he had called to warn me not to stay there or at least be in the company of other colleagues at all times while there. He told me that security forces deployed in Hoima had received clear instructions not to permit people from Kampala play any role in the electioneering process on the day of voting. He told me of how I could be arrested or assaulted if I stayed in the district. Since this is an old friend, he went further to assure me that Hoima was a must win for them. Of course, I had occasion to remind him that as a serving officer in our security, he should be non-partisan and not say ‘WE’ shall win. Who were the ‘WE’ in this case? (As everyone knows, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between NRM the party, the State, security forces, the government of Uganda and the person of President Museveni. We have had the misfortune of all these being intertwined into one entity which I like to call ‘those who rule over us’.)
He told me they would do everything possible to get this election. In a local dialect he said, ‘Bobi Wine aretsire amaani. Nituteekwa kumushara sipiidi’ (Bobi Wine has amassed a lot of support, we must cut his speed.) In saying this, he alluded to the fear the regime got seeing the masses of young people who were following Bobi Wine for the rallies- moreover in rural areas of Hoima. In his words, without ‘people from Kampala’ at those polling stations, the ‘villagers’ would be unable to detect or even prevent rigging and other malpractices which they had planned to engage in. Well, I thanked him for the call and told him I was not staying in Hoima. I also assured him that the election was ours to win before we concluded the conversation.
Well, the day of our last rally, the signs became too clear. As we drove into Hoima, we found that a military police roadblock had been mounted at the entrance to the district. The intention was to intercept the people from Kampala! We decided to avoid the main route and used a murram path that led us into the town. We quickly joined supporters who had gathered at the FDC office and at that point we had a mammoth crowd going towards the rally venue. We all watched videos of soldiers battering young people, who earned their due punishment for wearing red and chanting People Power slogans. In the evening, we got information that plans had been made to arrest Bobi Wine and drive him out of Hoima straight. The intention was to prevent him from going for a radio program, and to cause ‘any further trouble.’ So he used other means to get out of that place and despite looking for him everywhere, they could not find him. It was at that point that they let his car pass through the roadblock and held the others back. Of course thousands of supporters on foot were also blocked from using the road. The security officers bought time and when night fell, those poor people were clobbered as though they had killed an angel. Hon. Zaake narrowly survived this onslaught courtesy of a colleague MP belonging to the NRM. My friend Saasi Marvin wasn’t so lucky. We were told how that same night power was switched off throughout the district, and security forces went from hotel to hotel looking for people from Kampala. Those who were found have their stories to tell. That night and the day after, many arrests were made and until now, some comrades’ whereabouts are still unknown.
It was against this background that the following day, our candidate tried to use whatever human resource was available to prepare for election day. Well knowing that plans were rife to rig the election, it had been agreed that there are a minimum of four agents at every polling station. What the Electoral Commission did was to issue tags to these agents meant for the Kaabong election! When they complained, they were given assurance that the tag would be used the way it was- there had been confusion in transporting the materials. Of course this was a deliberate plot to frustrate the agents. In the evening, the tags were recalled on the pretext of issuing new ones, this time meant for Hoima! That threw the team into total confusion. Bullets were fired, more arrests were made and the people dispersed. The key targets were prospective supervisors and agents! There were also inhouse problems amongst the forces of change, thus limiting the possibility of jointly resisting the blatant rigging attempts. It had been regularly suggested throughout the election period that some people on the opposition side were not only interested in, but working hard to see that Nyakato fails because her win would give so much credit to Bobi Wine and People Power!!
Anyway, what happened on election day has been widely shared and talked about. Many agents of Nyakato were assaulted and driven out of polling stations with impunity. Unlike an ideal election where a candidate will sit home and wait for results, Nyakato and her team spent the entire day running up and down chasing government and private vehicles which were full of pre-ticked ballot papers in favor of the NRM’s candidate. Reports indicate that the stuffing of ballots which took place early morning is unbelievable. The few video recordings which captured pre-ticked ballots under guard do not capture even and inch of what happened. In the night, Declaration Forms while being transported from villages to the main tally center miraculously had results changed. The tally center was raided at some point – supporters took to their heels! By the time Businge was declared winner, the population of had been effectively subdued. At the declaration of those results, there was neither celebration nor jubilation. Once again, those who rule over us had effectively usurped the power of the people. In the aftermath of the sham election, Crispin Kaheru, the Executive Director of CCEDU, an NGO which observed the election and reported about the use of state resources in a partisan manner and irregularities received an email in which he was reminded that in the past regimes such a report would cost him his life. A clear warning was sent!
There are many lessons for us who belong to the People Power movement and to all Ugandans. The intention of the regime was to water down our election strategy. I can imagine what must have happened in a meeting amongst those who rule over us- “We must win this election at every cost,” they must have said. As Andrew Mwenda said on TV a few days ago, the moment voter turnout is high in 2021, it will be game over for the regime. They must do everything to discourage our people from believing in an election! We must not give it to them! Here is another reason- Bobi Wine having effectively beaten the regime in by-elections held in Kigezi, Buganda, West Nile, and Busoga, a decisive victory in Bunyoro would be too much. They had to find a way. From the commentary on social media yesterday, some people are discouraged. They are asking People Power to design another strategy. Maybe we should. But it is important for us not to give up on the strategy which has effectively worked elsewhere, but to learn lessons and respond accordingly.
The second lesson is to the forces of change. We must either come together or decisively decide to work separately but in full unity. If we mean what we profess, this must be obvious to us.
Finally, the people of Uganda must learn that they are on their own! In the wake of another openly, blatantly rigged election, the academics and so called educated elites are quiet. Some of them like Morrison Rwakakamba have come out to defend and celebrate a rigged election! The religious leaders are quiet. Only yesterday, President Museveni was being hosted by some pastor who used the pulpit to ask for financial support from the head of state. Two days earlier, a group of pastors met with him and sang praises to the regime; not for doing God’s bidding but for allowing them operate freely without regulation. We can talk about so many other categories of people. ORDINARY PEOPLE OF UGANDA, YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN AND YOU MUST OWN YOUR OWN REDEMPTION.
We who deeply care for democracy and the rule of law must not be discouraged or give up. It is an incredible coincidence that these events coincided with the release of Bobi Wine’s new song, ‘OSOBOLA’ – You can. Together, we can.’