After a 60-day stretch, the sparring between the military and opposition presidential candidates on the campaign trail ended on Tuesday, January 12.
From start to finish, the campaigns were scarred by gory episodes of military/police violence, killings and arrests of presidential candidates accused of flouting Covid-19 rules limiting gatherings to 200 people.
Through-out the cross-country road trips, opposition candidates and their supporters stared defiantly into barrels of the gun, and at death every day, as hordes of armed policemen and soldiers followed them at every turn, breaking up rallies deemed to run counter to the Covid-19 rules.
Finally, the much-anticipated January 14 election day is tomorrow and Ugandans are going to choose either to extend President Museveni’s 35 year-long rule or select a new president altogether. Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu of the National Unity Platform has tangled more with security forces on the campaign trail and seems to be the leading candidate in the crowded field of 11 contenders.
In a Sunday, January 10, interview with BAKER BATTE LULE at his home in Magere, the NUP leader said he is confident of victory. Kyagulanyi projects a win of between 80 and 85 per cent.
You have spent almost two months on the campaign trail. How do you sum up your experience?
It has been a very eventful campaign trail, a very brutal period, a very lawless period. It has been more or less a war front only that one side was armed with state power, teargas, batons, pepper spray and all weapons of coercion while we were armed with the truth and the will to break the yoke of oppression.
It has been impunity at play; thank God that some of us have made it through alive. We have lost many friends, murdered by the police and the military. Our friends have been shot at or run over by military or police trucks. Many are in hospitals fighting for their lives. Many are in prisons. That’s what the campaign trail has been like.
Did you expect them to do what they did to stop you from campaigning?
I didn’t know they would go to such an extent to derail me. This campaign has opened our eyes to another fact, which is, General Yoweri Museveni (president) and his regime of blood and national shame are ready to plunge to such extremes to keep power.
But are you aware we are in the middle of a deadly pandemic…
I was the first person to sing about Covid-19 in Uganda if not the whole world. I know the virus exists and I have always called on our people to wear masks, sanitize and social- distance whenever possible. But the virus has been weaponized by the regime.
They are stopping us not because they don’t want people to catch Covid-19 but because they don’t want us to meet the people. Even before Covid-19, they never allowed us to move.
Tomorrow, Ugandans will decide who their next president will be. What do you expect to happen?
I expect Ugandans to come out in very large numbers to vote. We encourage them to carry their face masks, and voter credentials. I call upon them to be peaceful, to be nonviolent, to be calm and to be law-abiding. They should rally everybody they know and help those who can’t take themselves to the polling stations to cast their vote.
They should also ensure that they guard that vote. They should keep a safe distance but be vigilant to ensure that voting goes on transparently. They should ensure they capture the moment of counting and announcing the winners at every polling station across the country.
We know that people are going to come out and ensure that they vote massively for change.
You say voters remain at polling stations but security has already said everyone must leave after voting. Are you not inviting the same brutality you have talked about onto these Ugandans?
I’m not inviting anybody to break the law; I’m inviting Ugandans to be vigilant within the law. Police and other security agencies have been breaking the law and if they continue breaking the law, it’s them exposing themselves. I’m glad they are aware that each one of them will be held accountable.
I have urged people to guard their vote. Why should security agencies and the Electoral Commission stop people from observing elections even after they stopped observers like the European Union?
Why don’t they want journalists at polling stations? Why don’t they want people filming what happens at polling stations? For as long as it’s not illegal, we are asking our people to be vigilant.
But you know so many illegal things have happened and so many legal things have been stopped…
The fact that so many legal things have been responded to illegally by those that are supposed to keep law and order and that so many illegal things have happened under the protection of the police and the military doesn’t mean that we should condone illegality. Illegality shouldn’t define the people of Uganda.
We should defend legality at all cost. I have heard you countless times saying your only weapon is the camera. The Electoral Commission has outlawed phones and cameras at polling stations. How should your people respond? Justice Simon Byabakama [EC chairman] is a servant, not the boss of the people.
His service is described under the law and he should respect the law. He is a justice of the Court of Appeal. I call upon people not to respond to illegal orders. Mr Byabakama has been behaving illegally. Today [Sunday] is campaign day but I’m not campaigning because Mr Byabakama ordered so.
People are being murdered under his watch but he has done nothing. He has allowed the military and the police to take over this election. As long as Ugandans are doing something legal, we shall continue because it’s our constitutional duty to defend what is right. People will not be breaking any law by taking their phones to polling stations. If Mr Byabakama thinks this is going to be a credible and transparent election, why does he fear people taking the record?
They have arrested people with cameras all over the country because they know they have been doing many criminal acts they don’t want the world to see. Our weapon is the camera to let the world see what is happening in Uganda. That explains why they have been brutalizing journalists. So, Mr Byabakama has nothing to tell us.
In the last two weeks you have not been able to campaign and you say that is illegal. But it has happened… Stopping the use of cameras at polling stations won’t be the first illegal thing to happen and you abide by it…
Blocking me doesn’t mean that I don’t campaign. Have you heard of something called rub-a-dub style, that’s what we are deploying. Gen Museveni and all his hangers-on cannot handle our generation. Have you heard of a song called Tulonde? Don’t you think that is a campaign strategy?
I told people that I will get to them in every style. Of course, they have stopped us from campaigning physically, which is illegal but we are ensuring the message reaches the people. On election day, you will most probably find my home surrounded by the military but that does not means that they will stop millions and millions of people yearning and pushing for change.
How should people go to polling stations, rub-a-dub style with cameras without attracting the ire of the state?
I can’t explain that because I will be giving it away to security. But I have been telling people that we are dealing with criminals who are trying to intimidate and keep them away from polling stations.
Do you have the infrastructure to guard your votes across the country?
We have studied elections under Gen Museveni and we have shared the challenges and possible remedies. We know the entire nation is taking keen interest in this election. We also know that Ugandans are going to take part. So, it’s not about me having
an infrastructure, it’s about us having an infrastructure.
How will you ensure that what happens at polling stations is what is reflected at the national tally center?
We are not looking at the national tally center because we know Mr Byabakama is working on the orders of Gen Museveni. He is going to be told what to say irrespective of what goes on at the polling station. We have an application called Uvote and we are going to use it to ensure that everything that happens at the polling station is relayed as is.
That application is internet-enabled and the state normally disables the internet. Isn’t that an effort in futility?
That is five years ago; have you heard of VPN? There are also many others. You are dealing with 21st century boys and girls. I’m encouraging them to download VPN now and also look out for more options. These are young dynamic people with robust minds.
There is a feeling that you will be defeated but the only worry for the state is your reaction and that of your supporters…
Why would they fear me if the election is going to be free and fair? Museveni fears the people. He fears the truth.
You might be a sour loser who refuses to accept genuine defeat…
Let him then allow us to lose freely and fairly. He has arrested all our campaign teams and right now they are picking up all our leaders and our coordinators, accusing them of recruiting rebels.
Museveni is trying to make sure that he tilts the playing field in his favor…
But the people are ready for him and he’s scared and he better be scared.
You have been stripped of your entire campaign team; has that in a way contributed to the scaling down of your physical campaigns?
Museveni arrested all the people I have been campaigning with but that has not stopped us. He has targeted my life and then ordered the Electoral Commission to suspend my campaigns. As we speak, other presidential candidates are campaigning but I’m not allowed to campaign; does that mean anything to you?
How does this house feel without the people you have been living with?
It feels empty, I feel empty, it feels like a desert, it feels like church on a Monday. I’m very lonely but that’s a small price to pay compared to the price that has been and continues to be paid by other people.
Did you think it would ever get to this? NO…
It pains to send my children to exile.
Some claim you are exposing other people’s children to state brutality yet you are cushioning our own…
There was a plot to abduct my children. Museveni has tried to coerce me into subjugation and failed. He tried to bribe me and realized there was no price to buy my conscience. I had to be light because I sacrificed myself and my wife sacrificed herself.
The Kyagulanyi family offered Mr and Mrs Kyagulanyi for this cause. Our children are not voters. In any case, they would be a baggage to us because they would touch them and touch us in the softest spot. As for me and my wife, emitima gyakaluba (our hearts are hardened) and here we are to lead our generation out of slavery.
Now that you are light, should we fear that you are capable of anything…
Anything is a very relative word. I have been very direct and precise about what we want. We want people to come out and vote, guard your vote and defend your victory. We are not inciting violence and we don’t believe in violence. We are not armed with anything apart from the truth.
The regime is violent because they have nothing to offer anymore other than violence.
When you say you are a peaceful people, should we assume that if the vote is rigged, you won’t react?
Peaceful doesn’t mean passive. We are going to be peaceful and nonviolent but we are going to be assertive. In Sudan, they were peaceful and nonviolent in the face of untold suffering; they won. So, we know nonviolence will win violence. We are convinced because we are the majority of Ugandans.
If you met President Museveni now, what would you tell him?
I would tell him be true to his word. “When you were my age you said, Africa’s biggest problem is leaders who overstay
I would tell him that when he was coming to power in 1986 he promised to lead Uganda for only four years and hand over to a civilian government. Now, it’s 35 years, he should have a sense of shame and respect for his age. He should know that Uganda is bigger than him.
Most importantly, he should know that he cannot kill all Ugandans. He’s a good student of history; he should look at the recent past and see how autocrats like him end up. He still has a chance to respect the vote and will of Ugandans and retire in a dignified way or end up like all the despots and tyrants that have come before.
If tomorrow, Ugandans choose to retain Museveni as their president, would you congratulate him?
First of all, the race has not been fair at all; everybody is campaigning, I’m not campaigning. Everybody can go to radios upcountry and campaign, I can’t. The Electoral Commission has been used against my candidature. But we know
that the nation is ripe for change and I’m confident we are going to win with a margin of between 80 and 85 per cent.
Whether or not Mr Byabakama announces the voice of the people is up to him, not to us.
Speaking about announcing the results, the Electoral Commission said you should not have parallel tally centers…
Mr Byabakama should be shameful. The NRM recently announced a tally center; did you see Byabakama speak out against that tally center? Just to inform him, it’s not only one tally center that we are going to have, we are going to have very many tally centers; so, he should deploy so many police officers to come and arrest us.