Whipping dissenting people with wire cables, sticks and shooting at any stubborn elements is a picture the current #COVID-19 lockdown in Uganda illuminates for the 2021 Uganda Presidential elections.
The Local Defence Unit paramilitary militia has been undergoing massive training at various military bases and keenly supervised by President Yoweri Museveni.
More than 24000 have been trained but have been idle waiting for the right time.
However, implementation of the #COVID-19 lockdown measures gives an insight into what to expect during the 2021 presidential elections, which by current actions of Museveni show it will be a tight race.
So far one of the main Presidential hopefuls Lt. Gen. Henry Tumukunde has already received the first punch in the face for declaring interest in the Presidential office by ballot or other means and wishing that Rwanda helps effect regime change in Uganda.
On March 30, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni appeared on the state broadcaster looped to other private electronic media and announced a 14-day strict lockdown two weeks after the first Covid19 case was reported.
Uganda’s southern neighbour, Rwanda, which had reported the first #COVID-19 case in the second week of March, was already systematically implementing measures that emphasized hygiene, restricted social gatherings, and movements then a full lockdown on March 21.
Other countries in the region hadn’t taken these measures seriously.
Several public gathering points had been installed with white-coloured modern and mobile hand washing sinks.
Back up North, Uganda was being criticized for poor handling of suspects under quarantine of which they were charged $100 per day.
Uganda government argued that the travellers were rich and could have acquired #COVID-19 through loitering around the globe.
Instead of paying $1400 to remain in quarantine without food and monitoring from a medical staff, some people bribed their way out and mingled into the general population.
Some travelled deep villages in the countryside.
The Ugandan state-owned publication (The New Vision) indicated that government had mishandled the #COVID-19 prevention exercise and commended Rwanda’s systematic and organized handling of the pandemic.
Commending Rwanda was not the best decision The New Vision would have made at a time the two neighbouring countries are investigating each other for a pack of accusations mediated by Angola and DRC.
“But who is in charge of this Newvision? Is this a government asset or what?? How dare they praise another state before our great Ugandan state?” Uganda’s first son General Muhoozi Keinerugaba fumed early March.
The Lockdown in Uganda was met with stiff resistance from the citizens across the country.
Museveni suspended all other institutions and directed Residence District Commissioners (RDCs) to run districts assigned to them.
These are the only officials who provide laissez passes to anyone seeking to move out of their house.
President Museveni ordered the paramilitary Local Defence Unit to panel beat those resisting #COVID-19 directives especially in the capital.
Several vendors embarked on a cat and mouse chase game with the LDUs.
The LDU has been around as early as 1987, a year after Museveni captured power. There was no law for its legal establishment. It operated in an extralegal manner.
It is through the Local Defence Unit apparatus that Museveni’s son Gen. Muhoozi Keinerugaba was first introduced to paramilitarism before later joining the regular army UPDF.
The LDU had for many years disappeared from the radar under their maroon uniforms.
However, the outfit has since resurrected and so far recruited 24,000 of them which critiques argue will be very crucial in influencing the forthcoming presidential elections.
Resistance to measures against #COVID-19 has presented President Museveni with an opportunity to deploy the LDU, displaying their wrath as he assess the terrain ahead of the 2021 Presidential elections.
Unlike the Uganda Police which Museveni accuses of being infested by weevils, he considers the LDU as a very important coercive instrument that will serve the ultimate 2021 purpose.
However, Museveni says the LDU are a militia group created to fight criminality across the country.
The biggest pockets of political resistance to Museveni regime include the Central, Eastern and Nothern regions.
It is from these regions that opposition parties have a stronghold and therefore recruitment for this new all-green LDU draws members including some parts of Eastern Uganda.
Since there is no law establishing the LDU militia, Museveni ordered that it operates under the Uganda Army UPDF.
“You are required to remain patriotic, maintain discipline, tolerant and loyal in execution of their duties and putting Uganda above self,” Brig Gen JR Ruheesi, the Commandant of Kaweweta Recruits Training School told graduates last year.
On March 31, a day after Museveni announced a lockdown, Brig. Richard Karemire, the Ugandan army spokesman, announced that the Police, Army, and armed LDU, coordinated by the Ugandan army, would conduct patrols to help enforce the directive.
Since then, a section of Ugandans have undergone untold suffering largely at the hands of LDU’s excessive force, including beating, shooting, and arbitrarily detaining people across the country.
According to rights groups monitoring the activities of the LDU during this lockdown, members of the LDU used wires and sticks to beat people especially; vendors, motocycle taxi operators, and people found walking aimlessly.
Reports also indicate that the LDU storm people’s homes ransack them and demand for bribes from motortaxi operators.
Alfred Ssembajjwe, a Ugandan journalist testifies his ordeal that befell on him, “We fell into the trench.”
“My knee got injured and my foot was torn. They told me I have to pay Shs250,000 to release me and the boda boda (motorcycle taxi).”
On March 26, Police shot two construction workers, Alex Oryem and Kassim Ssebudde, who were riding a motorcycle taxi in Mukono, outside of Kampala.
On March 28, six Police officers shot at a group of people in Bududa, in the Eastern region of Uganda, injuring one, allegedly to enforce the ban on public gatherings.
By the end of the pandemic, Museveni will have drawn considerable lessons on how best to deploy and handle the forthcoming elections that are widely expected to be characterised by violence.