In a dramatic u-turn, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has finally acknowledged that security forces made mistakes that led to the death of more than 50 Ugandans during the November 18-19, 2020 protests.
By the government's own official count, at least 54 people were gunned during the spontaneous two-day protests in Kampala and the neighbouring Wakiso district, triggered by the arrest of then-presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine in Luuka district on November 18 2021.
Previously, Museveni praised and boasted about the response of his security forces, claiming they had deployed urban street warfare methods to defeat what he called terrorists, who wanted to overthrow his government through violent protests.
But during today's 32nd Heroes Day Anniversary ceremony at Kololo Independence Grounds held under the theme, “Remembering those great men and women who put the nation first in pursuing freedom for our motherland Uganda," Museveni admitted that mistakes were indeed made by the same security forces that he previously praised.
The president said that one of the things that pushed them into the liberation struggle in 1980 was to stop extra judicial killings and killing people outside the law. Museveni acknowledged that security forces might have overreacted to some situations in the lead up to the general elections, something he attributed to poor leadership like lack of proper briefing of soldiers by their superiors.
"They [soldiers] just go into a situation without proper briefing but the law is very clear, we have put it in the law, the procedures are very clear, the standing orders are very clear how to handle the different types of trouble makers. If they are peaceful but lawbreakers in an illegal demonstration, there is how to handle it. There, you use non-lethal methods which are there; tear gas, water cannon. Those are there, they don't kill, they discourage and somebody goes away. If somebody becomes violent and threatens the lives of the security people, there is also a procedure. In some cases mistakes happen, some of them don't follow that procedure and make mistakes - fire when they should not fire," said Museveni.
It is not clear if Museveni change of opinion was influenced by a recent BBC documentary titled; Three Killings in Kampala, which profiled the murder of some innocent Ugandans including Shamim Nabirye, who lost her three foetuses to UPDF/Uganda Police bullets.
There was also the food vendor, Kamuyat Nangobi, who was shot dead by officers travelling on Police Truck 17 while on her way to deliver food to a client during the riots. Daily Monitor editors were last week summoned by police over the publication of the documentary, which the police claimed was full of falsehoods.
Human rights activists have demanded that responsible soldiers be prosecuted for their gruesome actions. During the protests last year, both uniformed and non-uniformed officers without a clear command structure were seen on the streets firing into buildings and at moving traffic in what appeared to be a panicky response.
According to Museveni, honest Ugandans know too well that the government he leads cannot condone extrajudicial killings because when such acts happen, they follow up the cases.
“And I have the file of all the 54 people who died in that problem of November. And where the security forces made mistakes…we discovered it. The first I did was to hold seminars; you must have seen how I met all the commanders of special forces and all the police commanders in the whole country to review their actions and mistakes. But also to follow up the families of the affected people,” he said.
He assured Ugandans that there is no way his government can tolerate and condone impunity and wrongdoing. Besides the November 2020 killings, Museveni also said that even the use of insecurity like the recent attack on Gen. Edward Katumba Wamala, which cost the life of his daughter Brenda Nantongo and driver, Haruna Kayondo will not bring down his government.
“And the NRM is very strict on that. Even when mistakes occur, we follow them up. Like for instance during these elections which Bishop Ssemogerere talked about, there were mistakes. The opposition made mistakes by being violent, by intimidating, attacking people because they are putting on yellow,” said Museveni.
WAR CAN'T WIN
Museveni emphasized that killing people with the aim of tarnishing the government image would not be tolerated. Museveni reminded Ugandans that the elections are now over and that there is need for opposing parties to work together for the good of the nation. He said use of violence is a miscalculation on the part of the opposition because nobody can defeat the ruling NRM government by force.
"If you bring force then you're on the wrong arena, we have a lot of capacity to deal with force. This is a miscalculation and those who encourage the opposition to take that line are misleaders. Of course, they are acting unconstitutionally because there is no need to use force in Uganda." he added.
He wondered why someone would choose to use force when there is an option of voting. “In some areas, NRM did not win…opposition won in some areas. So why did we not stop the opposition from winning? We had candidates but, some other groups won. So, there is no need to use force. But some people think they can use force and uproot the NRM, it will not happen. That’s a wrong line,” he emphasized.
Unlike previous Heroes Day celebrations, there was no decoration of heroes due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The scientific event was attended by chief justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, deputy speaker Anita Among, Church of Uganda Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba Mugalu and a few dignitaries. The president paid tribute to people who died during the liberation war.