By James Karuhanga
 Senior Researcher, Uganda

Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies

  Early last week, about 76 opposition MPs including independents walked out of parliament protesting the detention of suspected members of the rebel People’s Redemption Army (PRA). Professor Ogenga Latigo, leader of opposition in parliament and Vice President of the main opposition party – the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC)–led the walk out.
 

Latigo explained that the opposition was united in protesting against the continued detention of 11 suspected members of the PRA. The opposition also protests against forceful break up of opposition rallies by police – which they consider an abuse of human rights.
 

‘‘We must show our maximum displeasure and contempt to what is happening,’’ Latigo told parliament. He stressed that they (opposition) would withdraw their services from the house, ‘‘until these unfortunate happenings are resolved.’’
 

The speaker of parliament, Edward Ssekandi was taken by surprise yet compelled to go on conducting parliament business. It is important to note that business at parliament will go on since it is a question of overall number of parliament members present and it is not determined by political presentation.
 

Parliament had just re-opened after a month of recess and high on the agenda among other issues was the approval of the government’s proposal to deploy peacekeeping troops in Somalia. The speaker was quick to point out that parliament was not to blame for the development.
 

‘‘The fault is not with parliament,’’ Ssekandi said shortly after the walk out, ‘‘I regret their walk out but we should respect their decision,’’ he said, while continuing the plenary session.
 

The Minister of State for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, also the Deputy Attorney General and a Member of Parliament (MP) called for patience since the cabinet was to discuss the matter and explain to the parliament and public the next day.
 

This comes in the wake of the continued detention of the PRA suspects and incidents involving the police and two major opposition political parties. Police last week used tear gas to stop political rallies by the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and the Democratic Party (DP) in Kampala and Luwero districts respectively.
 

The 22 PRA suspects were charged with treason along side Dr. Kizza Besigye, the FDC leader. Besigye however is out on bail. On 16 November 2005, some of the suspects were granted bail by the High Court but were re-arrested on orders of the army’s General Court Martial (GCM). Three others were recently granted amnesty by the amnesty commission but 11 others are still in prison. Two weeks ago, the Constitutional Court ordered their release – declaring their trial by the General Court Martial illegal.
 

MPs interviewed by the GLCSS had various opinions on the turn of events.
 

‘‘I don’t understand why they walked out – the issue of the court has been the concern of everybody in the country,’’ Nokrach W. William, MP for People with Disabilities explained. He was however, concerned by what he considered as government’s lack of clarification on the issue.
 

‘‘I think the government has not yet come out to make a case – government has not come out openly to inform the public about the situation,’’ he added. ‘‘They [the opposition] did well to make the statement but it was not good to walk out without getting a feedback – they should have waited for a feedback.’’ Nokrach was not alone in criticizing the opposition’s action.
 

 ‘‘It was premature for them to walk out because the minister of internal affairs and the Deputy Attorney General were present to issue statements to the effect,’’ Woman MP Tororo district, Grace Oburu urged.
 
Major James Kinobe, Minister of State for Youth and Child Affairs and an ex-official MP viewed the walk-out as unfair and a defeatist action by the opposition. While he also agreed that they should have waited for the report to come out, he considered their move, ‘’a political gimmick.’’
 

GLCSS interviews in Kampala revealed that although many people sympathized with the PRA suspects, they believe the opposition’s actions are partly an effort to disrupt the government’s hosting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November. What has happened in just one month, January, might be a significant pointer to what is to be expected on Uganda’s political scene this year.
 

Opposition to maintain boycott
 

On 31 January, opposition MPs vowed to maintain boycott of parliament until the government addresses their demands. The MPs for the second day running refused to attend the plenary session although they are in their offices at parliament.
 

Their offices at parliament are open and they continue participating in other parliament businesses like attending sessional and sectoral committees.
 
The oppositions is determined to continue the boycott and even stage rallies until its demands are met.
 

PRA suspects’ remand warrant extended
 

A day after the opposition’s walk out, the PRA suspects were supposed to appear in court but their lawyers refused to attend and the suspects also refused to proceed without legal representation. This forced the judge to adjourn court and the remand warrant extended to 1 March. The lawyers refused to enter court in protest of the suspects’ continued detention.
 
There had been a delay in proceedings in the morning when prison authorities failed to bring the suspects to the court. The lawyers maintain that as long as the suspects are still detained, they (lawyers) would not represent them. The extension of the remand warrant means more political tensions might ensue throughout February because of the suspects’ case.
 

On 12 January, the Constitutional Court ruled that the suspects were being illegally detained. The court also ruled that the High Court decision to release them on bail be effected but efforts by defense lawyers to obtain a court order were reportedly frustrated. They instead obtained a production warrant which is being challenged by government.
 

Just two weeks ago, the Constitutional Court ordered their release – declaring their trial by the GCM illegal but the prison authorities did not release them. It is reported the Attorney General who doubles as the Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Prof. Kiddhu Makubuya, explained (in a 29 January statement) that production warrants  issued by the High Court had no legal basis since records do not show that the suspects’ lawyers did apply for the execution orders of the Constitutional Court.
 

 

 

William Church is director of the Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank with offices in Central and East Africa. You may contact William Church at wchurch@glcss.org. GLCSS trains African journalists, offers an on-site internship to foreign African studies students, and manages an exchange program with journalists from the United Kingdom, the United States and Europe.
 

 

 

 

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