On live camera, campaigners for Gen Elly Tumwine’s ouster from parliament present a unified front against the general and are loudly keeping up the drum beat for censure but in private, they are finding it difficult to mobilise the necessary political support.
The pro-censure MPs have until Thursday, February 20 to collect at least 153 mandatory signatures to support their censure motion.
They had 10 working-days to collect the signatures but the clock is ticking too fast. At least one third or 153 of all the 457 MPs in the House– with voting rights, have to append their signatures on the censure petition to successfully stand a chance of getting it to the next stage of censure.
But by Tuesday, less than 100 MPs had appended their signatures.
“It is very pitiful,” said Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo, “Why are MPs shying away from the process? Parliament has always condemned human rights violations and this is the best opportunity for us to act.”
Ssekikubo, arrested twice last month, was among the first MPs to sign the petition against a man he accuses of ordering his arrest for fighting cattle quarantine in Lwemiyaga.
“Some of our colleagues want the Speaker of Parliament (Rebecca Kadaga) to take the lead but you wonder what more they want her to do! Members should come out and say no to torture, no to safe houses, no to human rights abuses,” Ssekikubo said.
According to Ssekikubo, several MPs fear to sign the petition because Gen Tumwine is a big moneylender at parliament.
“The fear is that he may go after them for defaulting,” Ssekikubo said.
The issue has become so complex for the pro-censure MPs. Even members of the Human Rights committee who authored the report urging punitive action against Tumwine are fearing to sign the petition.
“The real test now is not on Gen Tumwine but us the MPs. Do we have what it takes to safeguard the Constitution and the various laws against human rights violations? We are not going after Gen Tumwine but the arrogance and impunity within him; it is time we put this impunity to rest,” said Lubaga North MP, Moses Kasibante.
Some MPs told The Observer that much as they support the petition, they fear to sign up. They said they have seen ominous messages on social media warning MPs against signing the petition papers.
“I still want my life… the man must have deployed operatives who give him timely updates. Whoever signs up gets an instant warning. When I saw what is circulating on social media, I had to think twice,” said Nakaseke South MP Paulson Luttamaguzi Ssemakula.
“If we failed to get him out of Nommo Gallery, can we [Parliament] really censure him? I doubt,” he added.
The censure motion was moved by Butambala MP Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi on February 5 after the parliamentary Human Rights Committee recommended that the bush war hero should be punished for contempt of parliament.
Tumwine, who fired the first bullet that launched the five-year guerrilla war that thrust President Museveni’s NRA into power 34 years ago, became a subject of parliamentary investigation after MPs; Abdulatif Ssebaggala (Kawempe North) and Kassiano Wadri (Arua Municipality) petitioned parliament on August 15, 2019, alleging the existence of illegal detention centers (safe houses) on Lwamayuba island in Kalangala district and Kyengera in Wakiso district.
The MPs claimed that several opposition politicians and supporters had been tortured inside the safe houses. Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga ordered a probe, which confirmed the allegations.
The Buvuma Woman MP Jenepher Nantume Egunyu-led committee recommended punishment for Tumwine after listening to testimonies from 11 witnesses including; Gabula Bright Africa, Justin Kayondo, Isa Mukungu, Alex Odwori, Musa Nsereko and Moses Magoba.
Others were Abdu Mulindwa, Deo Segawa, Isma Mere, Abdul Wahab Kawooya and Isa Luwangula in addition to hearing from relatives of individuals allegedly held in safe houses in Kyengera and Lwamayuba.
Appearing before the committee, Tumwine, without mincing words, confirmed the existence of safe houses in different locations around the country. He told MPs that safe houses were established to coordinate clandestine intelligence information and to secure and protect witnesses in danger.
His admission and failure to debunk testimonies from victims nudged lawmakers to conclude that government was acting in contravention of the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act (2012) as well as the United Nations Charter Against Torture by operating the safe houses.
Tumwine also angered MPs when he said he wouldn’t allow them access to any safe houses. He also shielded the director-general of Internal Security Organisation (ISO) Col. Frank Kaka Bagyenda from appearing before the committee.
While the entire committee was in agreement that Tumwine should take political responsibility for the human rights violations in safe houses and also be punished for contempt of parliament, they fell short of stipulating the type of punishment.
It was at this point that Muwanga Kivumbi moved under Rule 56 of Parliamentary Rules of Procedure that allows MPs to move a motion without notice, to invoke Rule 108 to have Tumwine censured. This kicked off a process provided for under Rule 108(3), which sets a 10-working-day period within which MPs collect signatures.