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Anxiety Over Government-Sanctioned Violence Engulfs Uganda as Elections Approach

A screenshot of YouTube video showing police officers arresting the opposition official.

A screenshot of YouTube video showing police officers arresting a female opposition official. The official was stripped naked. Some Ugandans expect to see more incidents of election-related police brutality.

Tension is building as Uganda goes to the polls on 18 February in a hotly contested election in which two of the top candidates are former allies of incumbent president Yoweri Museveni, Dr. Kizza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi. President Museveni is seeking to extend his 30-year-old reign with a fifth term in office.

As the clock ticks towards election day, fears over arbitrary arrests by the government and post-election violence are circulating both on social media and mainstream media.

There is every reason for Ugandans to worry. Opposition politicians including Kizza Besigye, who was accused by police of endangering public order, and Amama Mbabazi were arrested and later released in 2015. Military General David Sejusa, who opposes President Museveni was arrested last month and detained at Luzira maximum-security prison. He is charged charged with being absent without leave from the army and participating in politics. He will appear in court on February 9.

Last year, the government trained 11 million crime preventers — civilian volunteers recruited by police — which some activists have compared to Interahamwe, a Hutu paramilitary organization of Rwanda that was formed just before the genocide there.

Despite a call from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Network Uganda, Chapter Four Uganda, and Foundation for Human Rights Initiative to suspend the ‘partisan’ crime preventers, the government and the Ugandan police have been adamant.

The inspector general of police told those that don't understand what crime preventers are to go and hang.

Statements that senior government officials have uttered in the past month have sent chills amongst Ugandans. For example, the executive director of the Media Centre, which is responsible for press releases and other official information from ministries and government departments, Ofwono Opondo, warned members of diplomatic missions in an official statement against meddling in internal politics of the country.

Justine Lumumba Kasule, the secretary general of the ruling National Resistance Movement party, shocked the nation when she said children intending to create chaos might not be spared the government's violence:

When President Museveni, the chief fighter, is still seated on the throne, whatever they are planning, tell them the government of NRM is not going anywhere! Don’t send your children to bring chaos in Kampala and cause confusion during elections, disrupt peace in the country, government will handle you…. you will be shot.

Newspaper The Daily Monitor reported that the deputy resident district commissioner, Erick Ssakwa, warned that those who are found disrupting the February 18 elections in Jinja District will be shot dead.

News website Chimpreports reported that the Mbarara Police Deputy Commissioner Jaffar Magyezi even threatened that animals could be targeted:

Magyezi also said Police will not permit presenting animals such as goats to the candidate which are painted in party colors, noting that this violates the rights of animals.

Something that Winnie Byanyima, the wife of opposition candidate Kizza Besigye, scoffed at:

In response to the fears and threats, Ugandans have taken to Twitter to carry out campaigns for peaceful elections using the hashtag #IpledgePeaceUg.

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