The treason charges preferred against 11 men from northern Uganda, including a journalist, Patrick Otim, have been linked to a plot by some elements of the ruling NRM to scare Ugandans in the Diaspora away from home and scuttle their plans to mobilise against President Museveni in the run up to the 2011 elections.
Also linked to this grand plan is the recent string of killings in Kampala –targeting opposition figures and the dumping of a body at the residence of FDC president, Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye in Kasangati, near Kampala. It is understood that President Museveni’s recent campaign to refuse bail for treason suspects, among others, is part of the ruling party’s plan to keep political opponents at bay.This plan, security and political sources say, is being orchestrated by the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) at Kitante and the Kololo-based Joint Anti Terrorism Taskforce (JATT) . The killings are intended to scare away the activists who are reported to be engaged in preparatory meetings across continents ahead of their planned return. Should these elements in the Diaspora ignore the reported killings, then they would be linked to the new shadowy rebel group; the Popular Patriotic Front (PPF), arrested and charged with treason. Top among those targeted is former UN Under Secretary, Olara Otunnu, who recently held a consultative meeting with about 40 UPC politicians in Nairobi, Kenya.
Otunnu comes from Acholi, part of the greater north that has traditionally voted against the President but is being viewed by the ruling party as its bedrock for 2011. A fairly respected figure in the north and across Uganda, especially among the elite, Otunnu is one of many Ugandans in the Diaspora who have been consulting and have decided to return home to take on President Museveni who will be seeking to extend his rule to 30 years. Others reported to be planning to return to mobilise support for the opposition include; FDC’s Dr. Kibuuka Mukalazi (South Africa), Dr. Munini Mulera (Canada) and Anne Mugisha (USA).
Besides Otunnu, another UPC presidential hopeful, George Okurapa (Canada) is planning to return home. Joseph Ochieno, who returned home in 2005 but has since returned to UK, is also expected.
Sources have told us that many of these activists think political parties are not aggressive enough and want to push for change. They also say that parties are poorly organised and would benefit from the organisational skills Ugandans in the Diaspora have acquired over time. They think their colleagues back home have been compromised by President Museveni, and that’s why they are not aggressive enough.
The understanding is that prominent
Ugandans in the Diaspora who are UPC, DP, and FDC should return and work for change in leadership in their parties. And when this is achieved, then the new opposition leadership would organise a national conference at which they will announce a joint front against Museveni. It is against this background that Otunnu sponsored a consultative meeting with 40 UPC politicians in Nairobi. They included MPs; Livingstone Okello Okello (Chua) and Benson Obua Ogwal (Moroto, Lira). The two MPs, together with their colleague from Oyam South, Ishaa Otto Amiza, addressed a joint press conference at Parliament last week and announced that they had convinced Olara Otunnu to run for the UPC top job. The party is expected to hold internal elections at the end of this year.
Otto has told The Observer that he didn’t travel to Nairobi but was briefed by Okello Okello. Since Okello Okello is the UPC Whip in Parliament, Otto accompanied him to the press conference. Otto says those who went to meet Otunnu were invited by Otunnu and went in their private capacity. Otunnu told The Observer, by e-mail sent on Wednesday that he has been approached “by many people to compete for the presidency of UPC. “I am very touched by this demarche. I am seriously reflecting on it. I will soon make my decision concerning this matter.” He denied accusations that he ditched Ugandan citizenship when he campaigned for a United Nations post. “I have never switched my citizenship; this is vintage Museveni disinformation, designed to conceal the dark deed of his own hand.
It is Museveni himself who, for over 20 years, has rendered me a stateless person by robbing me of my Ugandan passport.” The Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Prof. Morris Ogenga Latigo, told The Observer that Otunnu will be arrested, “just like Besigye was in 2005,” if he returned. Latigo, also FDC Deputy President for northern Uganda, said Museveni is scared and will do anything to cling to power.
Anne Mugisha, the FDC Deputy Secretary for International and Regional Affairs, who is also reportedly on the way home, denied participating in any meeting.
“I do not know of any meetings in the Diaspora focusing on returning home to participate in politics nor am I aware of any meetings discussing armed rebellion.
If such meetings are taking place, then I have not been invited to participate,” she said.
Mugisha said that her decision to return home to take part in the 2011 campaigns will be informed by “personal considerations and FDC party needs.” Mugisha added that she will return when she is ready – “sooner rather than later.” “I will participate in Ugandan politics as I have been doing for the last nine years because I am a Ugandan citizen,” she said. Some NRM mobilisers are said to be particularly worried about Mugisha because she is said to have good organisational skills and can manage a door-to-door campaign similar to the one that enabled US President Barrack Obama win a bitterly contested election last November.
The 11 people were charged with treason only after Justice Patrick Tabaro issued an order on June 10 for journalist Patrick Otim to be produced in court. The journalist has been detained in an unknown place since May 13. The Army initially denied holding him until the Human Rights Network for Journalists, a local NGO, through its lawyer, Ladisleus Rwakafuuzi Kiiza, filed the habeas corpus demanding the state to produce him.
The Army that had earlier denied holding him then produced him in court and accused him of being part of a new rebel group, the PPF. In a June 12 statement, the Army/Defence Spokesman, Maj. Felix Kulaigye said Otim, who works with Mega FM and Rupiny, a local Luo newspaper, was arrested with others during a military operation following intelligence reports linking him with PPF. Six other people, he said, had been arrested earlier in March, in “a training camp” in Murchison Falls National Park.
“We have also found out that there are some politicians in Gulu trying to put into shape a new rebel organisation, as assistance to those in the Diaspora,” Kulayigye said. “These individuals want to start another rebellion and indeed in September 2008, our intelligence unearthed a training camp in Murchison Falls National Park.” He said the Army raided the camp and recovered one hand grenade, one army camouflage uniform, a sub-machine gun (SMG) and 10 rounds of ammunition. Anne Mugisha told The Observer that in the past government agents succeeded in threatening her, to a point where “I did not feel secure returning to the country. I believe that this new rebel group (real or imagined), is just a continuation of those threats.”
Mugisha further said that she has established enough good-will for people to realise that everything she says and does is said and done in peace.
“I may be a firebrand opponent of the government but that does not mean I support armed rebellion. On the contrary I am completely opposed to it because it is too costly and will only succeed at creating a new bunch of ‘heroes’ who will think the country owes them a favour. Any change that happens in Uganda I hope will be fully owned by the people and not a few heroes or ‘liberators.’ So I am ready to return home and will do so at a time of my choosing,” she argued. The emergence of PPF reminds Ugandans of a similar shadowy group called the Peoples Redemption Army, PRA which the government announced in the run up to the 2006 general elections. In fact, PRA became more profound in 2004, about two years to the 2006 elections.
The PRA story peaked with the arrest of Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye in November 2005 shortly after his return from South Africa. The Acholi Parliamentary Group was due to meet Tuesday evening to discuss the implication of this alleged new rebel group, according to its Chairman Okello Okello. Okello Okello said he didn’t understand why government was trying to link Acholi politicians to this group. Prof. Latigo said the NRM government uses violence against the people of northern Uganda and finds it easy to explain it away. He said similar claims of existence of a rebel group have been made about Teso region, another opposition stronghold. Otunnu on his part said, “ I have not heard of the ‘creation’ of a new rebel group in northern Uganda . This is news.”