By Hudu Hussein
Just after the 2020 November riots and the 2021 elections, the allegations of NUP supporters disappearing started to spread. Initially, Bobi Wine claimed that 436 NUP supporters had been kidnapped by the state. NUP’s official position was that 243 were missing on account of state abductions. When asked for the names and IDs of those who had disappeared, they (NUP) only managed to present a list of 30 names albeit without their national IDs. As night follows day, the number of the “disappeared” drastically reduced from 423 to 30, notwithstanding the contradiction between the figures provided by the party president and by NUP.
This fact went uncovered, unnoticed and uncriticized. What was the motive for this? Just like most opposition political parties, NUP’s intention was to instigate malevolence in the international community against the government. The Uganda Human Rights Commission has since established that of the 30, 12 were arrested and charged with criminal offences just as any other suspect would, while some of the rest are rumoured to be mainly in Europe and the US.
These did not disappear as NUP claimed, they were arrested. I thought that after this revelation, NUP would issue out an apology. Instead, they hurled more insults on the Chairperson of the commission.
Disappearances are not a recent phenomenon in Uganda. In Amin’s regime, they were quite the norm, according to the available literature. So, because we know what abductions and disappearances look like, we can judge and conclude that what NUP is crying about is unfounded and exaggerated.
We are told that Amin eliminated those who threatened his presidency – Ben Kiwanuka, the former Chief Justice was abducted in broad daylight, and Shaban Nkutu was gathered up from his village in Busesa amidst protests from the community members in full view of everyone. In Museveni’s almost 40-year regime, we have never had a political opponent or threat, whether in the opposition or in the NRM disappear even when some of their acts were treasonous, or they publicly challenged and insulted the President.
In an era of social media and the internet, abductions and disappearances would even be more pronounced however few had they been here. Why would Museveni start now? The disappearances as narrated by the late Wanume Kibedi, Amin’s brother-in-law and Minister of Foreign Affairs after he fled, in his 1975 open letter to Amin give us a very clear understanding of what “disappearances” look like. In fact, in his narration, he speaks of Amin’s unwillingness to speak to the relatives of those abducted despite several attempts to have a word with him.
Juxtaposed to today’s so-called disappearances, the relatives of the “kidnapped” are under instructions from NUP to shun talking to any government officials. The Uganda Human Rights Commission has indicated and NUP hasn’t denied that the commission has been shunned by relatives of those who claim their people disappeared. Could it be because those that “disappeared” did not disappear in truth?
Using a social media platform (X formerly Twitter), Bobi Wine has severally accused President Museveni of masterminding the disappearances.
Firstly, it is not President Museveni who reduced the number from the 423 that NUP gave the media to 30 whom they gave the UHRC. Allegations of disappearances in neighbouring nations still exist even today and the victims, are not ordinary citizens. Why would Museveni be interested in Kidnapping a misguided young NUP supporter?
These sorts of allegations can only serve to soil his political image for a leader who continues to enjoy and needs the support of the youths, and he has a legacy to keep especially in the later days of his political career. There is no political justification for such a course of action by the NRM government whose record on Human rights has throughout history had no trace of anything to do with disappearances.
One would wonder, has NRM had to wait for 40 years to start abducting people? When Besigye was the leading voice of opposition and FDC the lead party, the NRM faced its toughest times. His fame was national, not regional as is with Bobi Wine and yet not even once did FDC complain of disappearances. What is so special about a much weaker NUP that it would drive a far much stronger NRM government to abduct a section of non-influential youths who do not pose any threat whatsoever?
Isn’t it interesting that after the 2021 elections, the only thing that has kept Bobi Wine relevant in the news is the topic of disappearances? Isn’t it so convenient that without it his political candle would be so dim? Who is the actual beneficiary of this story and why has it been very hard for the government to find these missing persons?
Does the fact that NUP and Bobi exaggerated these figures to the media but only presented 30 when pressed by the government indicate the real intention behind this story? Why are the family members of these missing persons so willing to appear before news media surrounded by NUP leaders but cannot have a meeting with the Uganda Human Rights Commission?
True there are some wrongful arrests by police and other security agencies in Uganda many of which have been publicly condemned by the President. It can even be postulated that some elements within the security forces may deliberately frustrate the government by wrongfully arresting some people.
But to come up and categorize these wrongful arrests as state-crafted kidnaps and disappearances and directly hold President Museveni accountable is absurdly wrong and shows other motives. While the government truly wants to verify and find these alleged missing persons, NUP is heavily relying on the cries of their families for political capital.
They are selling the tears of the relatives of the alleged missing persons to Western media in exchange for more funding. There are no politically inspired abductions in Uganda. What we may have, which is a symptom of an institution still growing are wrongful arrests done by individual officers and even these are isolated cases. A serious political party ought to prioritize the formulation of alternative policy and accountability rather than self-engineered disappearances.
Hudu Hussein is a Lawyer and Resident City Commissioner (RCC) for Masaka City
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