After 30 years in power there is no indication that Uganda's dictator of 30 years, Gen. Yoweri Museveni, plans to heed President Obama's warning for rulers not to cling to power when he addressed the African Union (AU) gathering in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, in July; with recruitment of militias around the country and a recent violent attack against a female opposition leader, Museveni has escalated political repression heading into next year's February 28 presidential election.
Gen. Museveni and his police chief Gen. Kale Kayihura have recruited as many as 1.7 million people, including young boys, into militias euphemistically called "crime preventers." It's feared they will be unleashed against supporters of opposition parties heading towards the election, during the voting period, and thereafter.
This is dangerous given the memory of the 1994 atrocities in Rwanda. There, although both the RPF and government soldiers committed massacres, many of the attacks were also carried out by armed civilian militias called "Interahamwe."
A photograph of Gen. Museveni congratulating some of the newly-trained recruits posted on the official Facebook page of Uganda's State House indicates that some of them are young teenagers who should be in school.
Recently, in an angry speech Gen. Museveni vowed that his political opponents, should they engage in violence, would be "smashed completely"-- when in fact his security agents are the ones committing atrocities.
Soon after Gen. Museveni's speech, on October 11, Ugandan police violently stripped naked Ms. Zaina Fatuma, a leading female member of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) opposition party, while arresting her. Her crime was being in the convoy of FDC president Dr. Kizza Besigye, who was traveling to address party supporters. The attack was recorded by a Ugandan news crew and televised on national TV.
Ms. Fatuma was the only person stripped naked by male and female officers. "Why are you undressing me? Why are you undressing me?" she screamed and struggled as she was carried by the arms and legs. Her cries were ignored; at the end of the vicious arrest Ms. Fatuma extends her chest at her tormenters as an act of defiance, when they offered her shirt back, after they had already humiliated her.
Several weeks after that incident, the Ugandan regime has yet to condemn the attack or arrest the officers involved, meaning the leadership endorses the officers' conduct.
There have been other attacks against opposition party supporters.
What's even more shameful about the ugly incident is that while many Ugandan organizations, including the country's Law Society, have condemned the attacks, there hasn't been a word from the State Department even though the United States is Uganda's principle foreign financial and military supporter with about $400 million in annual U.S. taxpayers' aid.
Even more stunning, the Museveni regime will gain further international legitimacy when Pope Francis visits the country on November 27 during his tour of Africa, which also takes him to Kenya and the Central African Republic.
There are many African countries that have embraced democratic governance and the rule of law, such as Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and others, that would have been worthier of a Papal visit. Surely with Papal representatives in Uganda, the Pope who has denounced greed, lust for power and human rights abuse must be aware of political conditions there.
Gen. Museveni, after all, is the same dictator who shepherded through his country's Parliament the anti-LGBT law last year that calls for life-imprisonment for same-sex relationships. The law was annulled by the country's constitutional court because Parliament lacked a quorum; legislators from Museveni's ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party have already said they will reintroduce the bill for the law. Gen. Museveni himself has said gay people should have their blood drawn to study their "abnormality" and he told CNN they were "disgusting."
The stripping of Ms. Fatuma was meant to humiliate her and cower Uganda's population. This isn't the first time Museveni's security forces used sexual humiliation against a high profile female opposition leader. In April 2012, security agents violently squeezed the right breast of Ingrid Turinawe, another FDC party leader, while arresting her. This too was captured on video and at that time there was also silence from the international community, including the United States.
Gen. Museveni has made it impossible for opposition party supporters to meet and organize freely, by pushing through Parliament a Stalinist law condemned by Amnesty International, called the Public Order Management, which makes it illegal for a meeting of three or more Ugandans without permission from Gen. Kale Kayihura the police chief; that's the law the regime used to arrest Ms. Fatuma, Dr. Besigye and other FDC members on October 11.
Why has Gen. Museveni decided to escalate his attacks on the opposition?
He may fear that he won't be able to successfully rig and win next year's elections because his ruling NRM party is divided. He has fired his former prime minister Amama Mbabazi. Many Ugandans believe Mr. Mbabazi, who is also now running for president --and has also been arrested and prevented from addressing supporters-- may have a good chance of defeating Gen. Museveni.
He had also been secretary general of the NRM and a former security minister. He knows how the elections were rigged and he has also amassed a fortune, allegedly through embezzlement. Ironically, Mr. Mbabazi's negatives work in his favor; who would have a better chance to unseat the dictator than his former right-hand man turned reformer?
Recently The Democratic Alliance, comprising civil society leaders and religious leaders tried to get all the opposition parties to rally behind one candidate by consensus. While the TDA didn't succeed, a majority of the political parties have endorsed Mr. Mbabazi. Talks continue between Mr. Mbabazi's camp and Dr. Besigye's to see if one of the two can step aside in favor of the other; barring that, the two are discussing how to work together.
Some believe that in a three way race --Museveni, Mbabazi and Besigye-- the dictator won't secure the 50% vote needed to avoid a runoff. The presumption is that during such a runoff the opposition would then rally behind one candidate, Mbabazi or Besigye, against Museveni -- depending on who fared best in the first round. Some optimists hope the dictator is knocked out in the first round.
On the otherhand, many Ugandans see the vote as a sham since the country's "election commission" for years, as with the current one, has been hand-picked by Gen. Museveni himself; many can't envision a scenario whereby he would allow the commission to declare someone else as winner of the presidential election other than Museveni himself.
Combine this with Gen. Museveni's determination to hold on to power by any means necessary -- the recruitment of militias that recall those during Rwanda's massacres and the violent attacks on opposition party members-- escalation of political violence is almost predictable in Uganda.
The Obama administration depends on Ugandan soldiers now stationed in Somalia in the fight against al-Shabab militants. But those soldiers aren't Museveni's personal militia and Uganda could continue the security cooperation even under a post-Museveni government.
The U.S. must make it clear that it won't continue military and financial support as Gen. Museveni continues the political repression leading towards the 2016 vote.
Should Museveni rig his way to "victory" again, given the increasing popular discontent a civil disobedience campaign to resist his regime such as the one following the 2011 vote can't be ruled out; given the split within his own party this time it could be more sustained and effective.
Of course a peaceful alternative would be the resignation of Gen. Museveni. A caretaker administration could then introduce electoral reforms that would include an independent elections commission after which free and fair elections could be conducted. All political parties would be eligible to run, including the NRM, this time with a level playing field.
Any regime that condones the kind of violent attack on Ms. Fatuma in broad daylight does not deserve to be in office -- To sign a petition calling for Gen. Museveni's resignation for not condemning the attack on Ms. Fatuma please go to Moveon.org