Many arrests accompany a controversial constitutional vote in Uganda. Opposition members were prevented from leaving their homes.
While Yoweri Museveni addressed the UN General Assembly, Uganda’s opposition called for protest Photo: dpa
Samanja Rahma’s hands are shaking. The spokeswoman for the Ugandan human rights group Action Aid stands outside the gate of her office building. Police cars are parked in the courtyard. Men wearing sunglasses despite the rainy weather walk around busily. One of them is filming the contents of a container.
With a search warrant, the units, commanded by two officers of the Special Forces, had stormed the premises on Wednesday. They held the employees there until after midnight, Rahma reports. Phones, laptops and documents were seized.
Police, military police and special forces deployed across the country to arrest opposition figures. The occasion: On Thursday, Uganda’s parliament was to vote on a constitutional amendment that would abolish the maximum age of 75 for presidential candidates. Otherwise, President Yoweri Museveni, now 73, will not be able to run in the next elections in 2021.
His ruling NRM (National Resistance Movement) party, which has an absolute majority in parliament, signed off on this last week; the vote was a formality, and Museveni flew to the UN in New York.
There are so many security forces around parliament that traffic came to a standstill
But then Uganda’s opposition mobilized. On Saturday, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations called on the population to stand up to protect the constitution. On Monday, the first protests broke out on the campus of Makerere University. Police immediately moved in and arrested ten students.
Since then, police and military have been posted at Kampala’s most important intersections and water cannons have been parked. There are so many security forces around parliament that traffic has come to a standstill. The generals then struck a blow the night before the vote. Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago was taken from his home by police officers. The headquarters of the strongest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), was surrounded and sealed at dawn. Numerous opposition MPs were prevented from leaving their homes.
Police chief Kale Kayihura justified this, saying that they had information "that some groups wanted to exploit the protests to foment chaos and violence." That same morning, the body of a woman is found in a bush on the outskirts of Kampala. It is the 23rd victim of a serial killer who has been on the rampage for weeks. He tortures women and skins them. The police seem incapable of tracking down the perpetrator.