With only a week until national elections in Uganda, a number of human rights advocates are concerned about increasingly violent rhetoric coming from the nation's leaders.
Ugandans were shocked last month when Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura was quoted by a local newspaper saying that if the opposition wanted war, they would give crime preventers — a youth force created to supplement the police — guns. Then, not long after, the secretary-general of the ruling NRM party, Kasule Lumumba, was heard on the radio telling citizens the state will "kill your children” should they protest election results.
Although both Kayihura and Lumumba say they were misquoted, many feel the official response to these statements has been inadequate.
Supporters of Uganda's main opposition presidential candidate Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party march through Gaba Road during a campaign rally in the capital Kampala Feb. 10, 2016, ahead of the Feb. 18 presidential election.
Patrick Tumwine, a program officer with the Human Rights Network — Uganda said such rhetoric has also been made by resident district commissioners, who are appointed by the president to oversee local communities.
“If this is not stopped, if the Electoral Commission does not come out strongly to condemn and also stop different camps and different candidates stop making hate speech and statements, these are likely to cause violence...The Secretary General of the ruling party NRM making serious statements, saying they will kill and shoot people...and the voice is not only hers, most of the RDCs in different parts of the country have made same statements. And so that is a cause for worry, stated Tumwine. “The Jinja RDC for example gave the same statements, warned people they would shoot their children if they took to the streets. So it's a threat that they're trying to do. Is it a warning? Is it planned?”
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Talk of war
The potential for violence, however, has been hotly contested by the police who say local media have misquoted and latched onto certain issues to inflate the problem.
“We really meet every other day to evaluate how our deployment actually is. Are there any early warning signs? And we've managed to carry out very very peaceful political activities,” explained Fred Enanga, spokesperson with the Ugandan Police Force. “As we talk now we've policed over 900 presidential and parliamentary campaigns and out of those we've had less than 10 cases where violence was registered...those ones who have fallen off are using the politics of fear and trying to discourage certain sections of the voters, please don't go there is going to be violence, you need to stock sugar, don't come out of your homes Even on social media which is very damaging.”
Yet controversial imaging in campaign ads, such as skulls, and talk of war have citizens on edge.
Human Rights Watch has called on President Yoweri Museveni and other high ranking officials to unambiguously call for peace and reaffirm the right to freedom of assembly. So far, the nation's leaders have not commented on the issue.