This article was written by Benjamin Ssuuna, one of the winners of the 2020 Young People’s Peace Essay Competition.
Uganda is a sub-Saharan African country located in the Eastern part of the continent. From the time of Independence on 9th October 1962, the country has had nine presidents. Violence has been a predominant theme associated with presidential change, the election period and the ushering in of dictatorial leaders. The few presidential regimes have generally been seasons of anxiety in past years to the countrymen. A case in point is the regime of Idi Amin from 1971 to 1979. Amin carried out mass killings within the country to maintain his rule. An estimated 300,000 Ugandans lost their lives at the hands of his brutal regime.
The incoming of Uganda’s current president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni budded out of The Ugandan Bush War. It has been estimated that approximately 500,000 people, including combatants and civilians, died across Uganda as a result of this war, through which Museveni took over power from a dictatorial ruler, Milton Obote.
The new government, led by Museveni was received with fear in 1986 as most knew little of it and the trauma of previous encounters lingered in the country. After a few months, however, many Ugandans began to view the new rulership with approval, as it actually succeeded in improving stability and restoring order throughout many parts of the war-torn country.
President Museveni has ruled Uganda for a continuous period of thirty five years now since 1986. During this reign, attempts of power transfer have turned out futile. Through the years, no opposition candidate has made their way into the presidential seat. Amidst manipulative engineering of the election process and individualistic constitutional amendments, Museveni has ruled.
The January 2021, most recent Uganda presidential elections filled the nation with a wave of excitement mixed with fear due to a glimmer of hope for change and dread for disaster respectively.
There was considerable violence on the part of the Ugandan military before the election. In a three-day protest from 18 to 20 November 2020 sparked off by unfair arrest and detention of a major and promising opposition candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine, a presidential candidate during one of his massive campaigns, at least 54 Ugandans, including protestors and others not involved were killed by security forces through intended and stray bullets and tear gas and more than a thousand arrested under direct command from President Museveni. Bobi’s popularity, zeal and massive support from citizens was a threat and seemed to disturb Museveni.
Uganda’s election campaign included harassment of opposition candidates, campaign staff and supporters, suppression and censorship of the media and a six-day nationwide internet shutdown before, during and after voting.
A bodyguard of opposition leader Bobi Wine was killed and two journalists injured in confrontations between security forces and his supporters on December 27. Wine said his bodyguard died after an army vehicle ran him over. He added that the bodyguard was helping an injured cameraman who was reportedly shot in the head in an earlier altercation. The army said the bodyguard died from injuries caused by falling out of a car.
On 30th December, 2020, Zebra Ssenyange, an influential boxer was shot dead by security agents deployed by President Museveni over association with and assistance of activities of the opposition party. In a resultant national address, Museveni confessed to deploying the brutal security agents and informed that Zebra’s death resulted from the recklessness of the agents. On the other hand, inside sources who had been close contacts to Zebra revealed that the the plot script handed down to Zebra by the president’s agents was to confront opposition leader Bobi Wine and his party, deliberately start a fight on the streets to paint the party as violent which would give a chance to the army to ‘intervene’ and appear as a good group. When he developed cold feet and with fears of leaking the details, the end result was nine bullets into his body. The same deal was offered to another boxer who roundly rejected it and ended up being incarcerated.
After the elections, Bobi Wine was put under house arrest by the military without any legal process to justify this. A heavy military presence was deployed around his premises to bar him from moving out. Asked if Wine was under house arrest, Government spokesperson, Ofwono Opondo said he was ” ‘under the protection of the Ugandan government’ because he is the target of many forces.”
Hundreds of citizens vacated the capital city which is the most probable nucleus of instability into their villages prior to the D-day of presidential elections in fear of post-election riots and violence.
The elections ended in favour of the incumbent Museveni, which did not please many citizens who had had high hopes in Bobi Wine. It was widely alleged that the electoral process lacked transparency and votes were rigged in favour of Museveni. This had a great potential to spark off violence and riots across the country. However, none transpired.
Considering the crucial role of peace in building and sustaining a nation, citizens were ready and willing to protect and maintain Uganda’s peace and tranquility regardless of the circumstances. The awareness that peace is a priceless treasure that nations take decades to achieve averted any possible damages.
In situations where a choice has to be made involving an option of peace, the most reasonable decision is to choose peace against all odds. Peace should never be compromised. In retrospect, this choice could have given many nations room to move forward had the leaders and citizens made the simple choice. Choosing peace is not a display of weakness. Rather, it is a demonstration of power over emotion and current crisis, saving all energy and resources for investment in building the future.