Kampala. In most places in Africa, to be in opposition is to live under constant threat from government. The price members of the Opposition pay include intimidation, imprisonment, torture and sometimes death.
In Uganda, harassment of Opposition Members of Parliament is as old as our Independence. Immediately after the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) government came into power in 1962, intimidation of Opposition MPs started.
Members of the Democratic Party (DP), which was in Opposition, suffered the wrath of the UPC-Kabaka Yekka coalition government.
The violence against Opposition MPs was so bad that the matter was taken to the floor of the 1st Parliament.
A victim of such harassment was MP Vincent Rwamwaro who represented Tooro East constituency. His case was brought to the floor of the House on September 19, 1962. It was debated under the motion “arrest of a member of the National Assembly”. The motion was moved by Mr Basil Bataringaya, the Leader of Opposition in the House.
Bataringaya narrated how the MP was on August 16, 1962, arrested from his home at the Naguru Housing Estate in Kampala by police officers from Buganda Kingdom. Rwamwaro was arrested for allegedly not paying graduated tax.
His explanation that he had paid tax and his ticket was in his briefcase at his office at Parliament fell on deaf ears. Rwamwaro was arrested at 6.20am, had a rope tied around his waist before being bundled into a pick-up truck. He was later paraded before a magistrate at the Nakawa court in an underwear and sandals. He was set free by the magistrate.
The following week, on September 26, 1962, the Leader of Opposition again moved a motion titled “threats against the Opposition”.
During his deliberation, Bataringaya said: “Mr Speaker, in every human situation there is more than one possible line of action. Therefore, an Opposition MP is simply an essential element in the proper working of the representative government.”
“By threatening to wipe off the Opposition from the face of the earth, the government is preparing a way whereby there will be no way for the periodical testing of the degree of support which the government may be enjoying among the community called elections.”
Bataringaya went on to explain how the government was fabricating all sorts of accusations in order to destroy the Democratic Party.
“Benedicto Kiwanuka went to Masaka and his Mercedes-Benz was carried shoulder-high and tens of thousands of people welcomed him. Therefore, preventive detention acts must be passed against the DP,” he said.
He continued giving the false accusations the government had levelled against the Democratic Party.
“That DP is smuggling arms and they are being stored at a convent; DP is going to assassinate the leaders of government. Although the police deny all knowledge of this, the DP must be found guilty and therefore it must be wiped out,” Bataringaya said of the accusations.
“…the arm of the law, the police, under the control of the prime minister, declares it is ignorant of the serious affair. If these things are so, and it would be a serious thing, why are the wrongdoers not brought to court and charged?” he wondered.
After Uganda attained independence, a motion titled “Intimidation and violence in Buganda kingdom” was debated on the floor of the House.
The motion was moved by Gaspare Oda, the West Nile and Madi West constituency representative on November 16, 1962.
“Let us only turn to the Uganda Argus of the October 23  which reported, ‘DP man dies in Gombolola prison’. Francis Kanani, a Democratic Party supporter, died in the Kapepa Gombolola prison, Bulemezi at the weekend after having been arrested along with nine other DP men. He had been beaten after his arrest.”
“The next report given by the same paper was on the 25th of the same month: ‘DP victims of Bulemezi violence’. Fresh reports of violence against Democratic Party members have been received by police from Bulemezi and Gomba.”
Second UPC era
It is important to note that during the Idi Amin era, 1971 to 79, there was no Parliament, hence no Opposition MPs. But those thought to be a threat to Amin’s life presidency where usually eliminated.
During the second reign of the Uganda Peoples Congress, from 1980 to 1985, Opposition MPs were again harassed.
At least three DP MPs were murdered in broad daylight in State-inspired extrajudicial killings.
They included Prof Joseph Ruremenkuba Muhangi (MP for Bushenyi North) who was killed on the Kampala-Masaka highway on April 16, 1981, and George Bamuturaki (MP for Kabarole North West) who was gunned down at Kisementi in February 1982. The other was Sebastian Ssebuggwawo, a Democratic Party member representing Mubende West.
But this did not deter the MPs and citizens from opposing the UPC government which finally fell in July 1985.
The Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), Special Force and the National Security Agency (NASA), the equivalent of the Internal Security Organisation (ISO), were the lead agencies in tormenting Ugandans.
An MP who suffered at the hands of these security officers was Mpigi Central constituency representative Kafumbe-Mukasa who was flogged at a military roadblock.
Despite Kafumbe-Mukasa identifying his tormentor as Staff Sergeant Sokolo, nothing was done to bring the soldier to book. The issue was debated on the floor of Parliament but the intimidation of Opposition MPs did not stop.
Sebastian Ssebuggwawo was the last MP to be assassinated before the UPC regime fell.
He was killed on May 31, 1985, by the notorious Sokolo and a one Captain Babu according to an eyewitness account.
Four days after the murder of Ssebuggwawo, the members of Opposition in Parliament wrote to president and commander-in-chief Milton Obote, demanding the arrest and prosecution of Staff Sergeant Sokolo and Captain Babu for the murder of the Mubende West MP.
They also gave the president an ultimatum of Thursday, June 13, 1985, to respond to their demand. “If our demands are not met, we and the people we represent reserve the right to take any appropriate political action,” the letter warned in part, adding that “Mr President, this is indicative of a state of total anarchy in a country which you currently lead.”
Obote was toppled on July 27, 1985, before responding to the Opposition MPs.
Under the NRA government, Opposition MPs in the 5th Parliament were also detained by the army in the 1990s.
The National Resistance Congress (NRC) members included Daniel Atubo, the Otuke County representative, Zachariah Olum representing Nwoya County, and Andrew Adimola representing Gulu Municipality.
They were arrested in northern Uganda, accused of treason, jailed at Gulu Military Barracks before being incarcerated at Luzira Maximum Security Prison. The charges were finally dropped and the accused freed.
In September 2017 during the contentious debate on the removal of the presidential age limit, Special Forces Command soldiers stormed Parliament and violently arrested MPs amid protests. Some of the MPs arrested during the operation included Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze who is still receiving treatment for the injuries sustained during the arrest.
Then recently the 10th Parliament was suspended under circumstances similar to those of the UPC days.
Deputy Speaker Parliament Jacob Oulanyah on August 28 prematurely adjourned the House following the arrest and alleged torture of MPs Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, of Kyadondo East and Francis Zaake of Mityana Municipality.
The two MPs were on August 13 arrested and allegedly tortured by security forces on the last day of campaigns in the Arua Municipality by-election. Thirty three people arrested on that day have been charged with treason after the President’s car was allegedly stoned.
Two weeks later, Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga wrote to President Museveni demanding an explanation on the arrest and torture of MPs and civilians. (NMG)