The East African

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Crime preventers during a training session. The presence of the group at Uganda's campaign rallies is a cause for alarm among the opposition. PHOTO | FILE

Crime preventers during a training session. The presence of the group at Uganda’s campaign rallies is a cause for alarm among the opposition. PHOTO | FILE 

By GAAKI KIGAMBO

Posted  Saturday, January 2   2016 at  14:51

IN SUMMARY

  • To make the most of the remaining 45 days of campaigning, leaders are certain to drive up political temperatures and probably spark more violent confrontations than have been reported so far, some analysts say.
  • Analysts say the triggers likely to spark off violent confrontation are varied and range from continued interferences in other candidates’ campaign activities to perceptions of unfairness in any part of the electoral process.
  • But perhaps more important than the triggers is the presence of militias that are likely to provoke the skirmishes. On the one hand, are the so-called crime preventers and on the other, counterforces that politicians have assembled.
  • The crime preventers in particular have been a constant source of contention since the police began recruiting and training them in early 2014

As Uganda’s presidential race enters the home stretch, efforts by the three leading contenders – President Yoweri Museveni, former prime minister Amama Mbabazi and Forum for Democratic Change flagbearer Dr Kizza Besigye – to make the most of the remaining 45 days of campaigning are certain to drive up political temperatures and probably spark more violent confrontations than have been reported so far, some analysts say.

The earliest indication of rising tensions came on December 13 in Ntungamo municipality, when supporters of Mr Mbabazi clobbered the president’s followers, who had attempted to interfere with the former premier’s campaigns in the district.

The southern district of Ntungamo is one of 59 electoral violence hotspots, the Uganda Human Rights Commission said recently. The clashes there were violent incidents reported since the campaigns began on November 9, according to Ushindi kwa Uganda, a self-reporting online site that is tracking and aggregating election violence in this year’s elections.

More recently, in December, there were more clashes in Gulu district, where Dr Besigye had scheduled rallies, but supporters of Deputy Speaker of parliament Jacob Oulanyah disrupted the meetings, prompting Electoral Commission chairman Dr Badru Kiggundu to write to Mr Oulanyah over this violence.

Full-blown violence

“He should not carry the title of Deputy Speaker to rallies. I wrote to him and said that he was on the wrong,” Dr Kiggundu told The EastAfrican in an interview.

Mr Oulanyah is defending his parliamentary seat of Omolo county in Gulu district.

These incidents are being seen as the start of full-blown violence for the remainder of the campaigns.

“As we draw nearer to the end, the excitement is certainly increasing as candidates put in a lot more effort to win more support and with that we can expect some confrontations. A lot of candidates were waiting for January to begin real campaigns. The first months seemed generally devoted to warming up,” said Namugwanya Betty Bugembe, chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, which approved Ush51 billion ($14.85 million) for tackling election-related violence.

“The three leading presidential candidates have all been drawing large crowds, and many think these will automatically translate into votes. So the election results are likely to be contested either by the candidates themselves or their supporters. As a country, we would not like to be caught off-guard like the last time of the Walk-to-Work protests,” added Ms Namugwanya.

Street demonstrations

Two months after the 2011 elections, a series of street demonstrations spearheaded by the opposition to protest hyper-inflation in food and fuel prices broke out in Kampala and a few urban centres. The state responded with brutal force to quell them. As a result, a number of people lost their lives while scores others sustained injuries.

This year, some analysts say the triggers likely to spark off violent confrontation are varied and range from continued interferences in other candidates’ campaign activities to perceptions of unfairness in any part of the electoral process.

But perhaps more important than the triggers is the presence of militias that are likely to provoke the skirmishes. On the one hand, are the so-called crime preventers and on the other, counterforces that politicians have assembled.

“The re-emergence of militia/vigilante groups has increased tension among the citizens, given that voters and their  candidates have been handled with brutality on several occasions,” said a November report by the Citizens Election Observers Network – Uganda (CEON-U), which listed 11 such documented groupings.