Human rights activists and opposition figures yesterday accused the Ugandan government of deploying a militia to intimidate protesters and disperse demonstrations ahead of next year’s presidential election.
The East African nation has one of the fastest-growing economies in the region and has seen heightened international investor interest since the discovery of commercial hydrocarbon deposits in the country’s west in 2006.
Uganda’s government has denied links with the militia but tensions are mounting ahead of the election, due early next year, as President Yoweri Museveni’s government faces accusations it has become increasingly intolerant of dissent.
Activists say a mysterious militia, dubbed the Kiboko Squad, was first deployed by authorities in 2007 but has returned as the election approaches. Its members were accused of flogging people at a rally against the Electoral Commission on June 9.
“(The militia signals) the regime’s growing sense of impunity,” said Livingstone Ssewanyana, director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, a Ugandan group.
The government denies training or deploying any militia, but opposition figures are defiant.
“We’re absolutely sure these people are deployed by police,” said Ibrahim Semujju Ibrahim Nganda, spokesperson for Inter-Party Cooperation, a coalition of major opposition parties.
“But since (the government) has disowned them, the onus is on us to strike back and next time we hold a rally we’ll come with clubs, too,” he said.
Uganda’s main opposition leader has already threatened to bring chaos and violence to the country in order to block the poll unless the Election Commission (EC) is revamped.
While the government does not deny the existence of a violent group of people breaking up demonstrations, it said they had no link to the authorities.
“Nobody deploys those people and certainly not the government because that’s not our method of work. We don’t use militias,” Kabakumba Matsiko, minister for information and national guidance, told Reuters late on Wednesday.
“However, some individuals get fed up with chaos that these opposition people are sowing in the city and they have decided to defend themselves,” she said.
Bruce Kyerere, Uganda Law Society president, said they were planning to sue the state if it failed to investigate the militia’s activities and prosecute its members.
Analysts fear the simmering violence is a sign of worse things to come in the months before the poll.
Pic: President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda