What are the implications of the raid on the NUP party headquarters and arrests of Bobi Wine supporters by Ugandan security forces?

Aisha Kabanda a prominent supporter and Member of Bobi Wine’s NUP is reportedly arrested and scores more remain in prison.

In the early hours of one fine day, in August 2018, a tweet from then a little known local musician and MP, Bobi Wine aka Robert Kyagulanyi, changed the fate of Uganda’s politics perhaps for a generation.

The tweet made reference to his hotel being surrounded by security forces in the Northwest town of Arua. It was later widely reported that several colleagues, supporters of his people power movement and MPs had been allegedly assaulted, arrested, tortured and imprisoned.

Bobi Wine with Mr Kibalama founder of NUP who handed over to the younger presidential candidate, in a recent court hearing to invalidate the NUP.

Bobi Wine himself was detained in military facilities but was later released by a military court, after an international outcry, worldwide protests and riots across the country. There have since been numerous arrests and charges against Bobi Wine and his supporters. Some of whom have lost their lives, allegedly tortured, while others remain in detention facilities, including in the last few days, weeks and months, the detention of MPs like Lutamaguzzi and Francis Zaake.

Since the Arua incident and amidst the current spiral of arrests, a series of events have culminated into the formation of a new party, NUP for which Bobi wine was the nominated unopposed flag-bearer. That party has since faced intractable impediments such as the court claims about fear for his safety made by its founder, Mr. Kibalama who handed over the leadership to Bobi wine. A video of the purported hand-over was circulated on social media. The court case has been reportedly postponed until next week for determination.

This week, NUP’s offices were reportedly raided. Documents, attire and cash were said to be confiscated by a joint activity of the police and army among other security agencies. There are also reports of arrests of scores of NUP’s supporters who were said to be remanded in Kitalya and Kigo prisons. Among the most pivotal of the items reportedly confiscated in this raid, according to the NUP, were the millions of signatures collected that were required for the nomination of aspiring candidates.

Ugandan Security offices at NUP office during the raid

Media reports and the party secretary appear to indicate that NUP has since made formal contact with the Electoral Commission(EC) and to extend the deadline for nomination. It has since been understood that NUP has claimed to have re-acquired the necessary signatures for the nomination. Whether that will persuade the Electoral Commission, only time will tell.

Tremendous achievements

But for these events, on balance, two years on from a series of debacles, the people power movement and the NUP party has exceeded expectations and overcome immeasurable obstacles and impediments.

Today, the NUP has a fully fledged political party with what appears to be international recognition, as stakeholders in the governance of the country. Most importantly, the party has managed to raise awareness and strengthen the youth all across the country in engaging or involvement in the running of their own communities or engaging in the leadership of their country.

So what do these events mean for the party and the country by extension?

The implications are potentially dire if NUP are not allowed to register their party president, as a result of the alleged confiscation, both for the party and the country at large, by implication. But what is evident that a failure to nominate the candidate by the EC under any questionable pretext is an issue that could be politically volatile.

Elections are not just conducted in a day but part of a process.

Supporters of Bobi Wine gathered outside his campaign headquarters in Kampala after police raided the office

It must be emphasised that elections are part of a process that requires equal protection under the law, freedom of association, freedom of expression, access to the media and security of persons or property.

This is an election dubbed the scientific election that has already created tensions in a country with a long troubled and violent history since her independence in 1962.

All parties need to exercise restraint, spearhead respect for human rights and act within the confines of both the spirit and letter of constitutionalism, human rights and International law.

The authorities that are entrusted with managing the electoral process need to take all steps to ensure that there is verifiable integrity of the electoral process, before, during and after the election.

That requires a truly independent, unbiased and neutral election management process. Failure is not an option for Uganda. Because the fate of around 40 millions Ugandans, regional neighbours and international events could depend on the outcome of the 2021 election.

But most importantly how the perception of the electoral process takes root within the already restless populace could be the immediate determinant of what happens next.

International law spells out the applicable position

‘Article 19 of the ICCPR states in part:

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

Article 25 of the ICCPR states in part:

Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in Article 2 [distinctions of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status] and without unreasonable restrictions:

(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors’

It is very clear that governments must ensure that elections have integrity, human rights protection and guarantee the security of opponents.

But while the onus is on the state to desist from such actions like the raid on the NUP headquarters this week, there are lessons and areas for improvement for the NUP.

Firstly to maintain, prepare and grasp the mantle of governance which comes with immense responsibilities, NUP must be seen by all stakeholders, the public, regional and international community as a potential government in waiting.

There is no substitute for this perception which will determine support whether tacit or actual from still wavering and observing parties. Internal and external friends of Uganda who want the country to succeed want to know if they should risk offering their support, resources and energy to a group that can actually govern the country progressively, peacefully and responsibly at local and international levels.

It must be repeated that this is a pivotal ingredient of any group’s success through democratic and peaceful means which must be the only aim and way forward.

Other areas of improvement

There is a need for effective media management and better coordination between the legal team and the media team where there are intricate pseudo-legal issues that may present potential existential issues.

As an aspiring government in waiting, NUP needs prepared speeches for the benefit of international and regional audiences. This requires a dedicated speech writing team especially on matters that require expertise legally or are politically sensitive. A feat that requires an amalgamation of both style, substance simplicity, depth, brevity and impact. Above all expertise in foreign affairs.

Perhaps of most importance, NUP must harmonise intra-party competing candidates and struggles. This is a potentially existential and destructive issue if not addressed urgently. It will diminish resources, time, energy and cause conflict among supporters. Worse, it can be weaponized by adversaries against the senior leadership and framed in a manner that questions the ability to unite and govern the country with geopolitical interests, if internal matters out of government cannot be amicably resolved or at least managed.

All of which are both demoralising and self defeating.

For NUP, this issue is one of the most politically serious matter that needs to be addressed immediately without delay. Remember a house divided will not stand. Above all the optics of the whole scenario are less than complimentary. This can be resolved by redesigning a dispute resolving mechanism or a candidate finding another seat as a tactical strategic momentary step.

Added to that is the need to vet persons, officers and candidates which can be done by the internal legal unit with assistance from external trusted legal chambers.

There also appears to be a clear need for foreign policy advisors. This is one of the key areas where input by the party’s diaspora base could be a real and indispensable asset if not an imperative step on NUP’s part. While the men and women on the local team are impeccably impressive, charismatic and persuasive, exposure which cannot be bought is critical. This cannot be emphasised enough for the new party.

NUP, needs a better financial security strategy within the frame work of the law, in light of the recent failure of mobile money where entire networks were not able to function. Such as having multiple banking options and making use of today’s plethora of options and technology.These observations were true for countless former leaders around the globe, they apply today and will apply in the future.

These failures in fairness apply to almost all major political parties in Uganda which in fact appear to be in a worse shape than the NUP. DP appears to have been weakened by fights,literally, UPC is barely visible, FDC appears to be a shadow of its former self without its veteran leader, Dr Besigye, while ANT, an offshoot of FDC appears to have a luke warm presence, at least to date. But as the saying goes, to whom much is given, much is expected. And so it is for NUP and Bobi Wine’s people power movement.

As for the recent raids, on the NUP offices, these should have been anticipated by the party. There should be a basic system of securing information on cloud systems and certainly not keep that amount of cash in offices. The payments for nominations could have been paid electronically directly to the accounts of the EC.

These were inexcusable school boy errors that could potentially turn out to be very costly. And if the nomination fails on this, it could be fatal for the presidential aspirant and plunge the country into a potential crisis. They must find a way of getting the nomination signatures within the law and very fast. Meaning days.

NUP, could perhaps borrow a phrase from the Sun Tzu’s Art of war, which states that, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

But the greatest onus, responsibility and impetus is bestowed on the authorities to maintain utmost restraint, protect human rights to ensure a peaceful and fair election process. Or at least what is remaining of it.

Therefore, as Uganda approaches a pivotal moment in her history that could determine the region’s future for the next decades to come, the world is watching and holding its breath with trepidation. It is critical that the authorities and all international partners remain vigilant to ensure human rights are at the core of every aspect of this election cycle.

Again, the world is watching and the future of 40 millions Ugandans and the region depend on it.