Rebecca Kadaga, Uganda’s Speaker of Parliament in a sharp rebuke to the country’s military ruler Gen. Yoweri Museveni has called for an investigation into the torture of an opposition member of Parliament. Meanwhile the torture victim, Francis Zaake, has broken his silence and described how his abusers, while stomping on his head while in captivity, forced him to swear that henceforth he would support Gen. Museveni, his wife Janet, and the son, Gen. Muhoozi Kaenerugaba.
It’s believed the aging dictator—he’s estimated to be anywhere from 75 to 80 years old—has been grooming the son as a successor.
He is facing serious challenge from a new powerful voting bloc —youthful Ugandans who represent 80% of the population—under the People Power umbrella. Zaake, who was arrested and tortured for distributing food to his starving constituents during the Covid-19 lockdown, is one of the voices of People Power. The most well known face of the movement is another member of Parliament, Robert Kyagulanyi, a.k.a. Bobi Wine. Both Zaake and Wine were first arrested and tortured in 2018 when a politician whom both campaigned for defeated Gen. Museveni’s candidate for an open Parliamentary seat. Zaake is 29, while Bobi Wine is 38.
Uganda heads to the polls next year. It’s widely believed that the youth movement will help People Power and other opposition groups defeat Gen. Museveni comfortably. Most Ugandans ridiculed the recent public relations gimmick by Gen. Museveni when his aides distributed a doctored video showing him performing push-ups as a desperate scheme to appeal to young voters. He’s ruled Uganda since seizing power in 1986.
It’s unusual for the Speaker of Parliament, Kadaga, who belongs to the dictator’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, to publicly demand for an investigation into the abuse of a high profile politician. There could also be outside pressure. The United States and the European Union (EU) have already called for a probe. The U.S. provides the Museveni regime with nearly $1 billion in annual aid while the EU provides tens of millions of dollars. Human Rights Watch has also called for an investigation.
Gen. Museveni has not made a public statement since news of Zaake’s torture hit the headlines of all the Ugandan newspapers. Kadaga, who visited Zaake at Lubaga Hospital in Kampala, has called for the arrest of a district police commander named Alex Mwiine, who coordinated the kidnap of the member of Parliament from his home. She’s demanded an explanation into the abuse by Thursday from the country’s Internal Affairs Minister, Gen. Jeje Odong.
“It's clear that he was beaten and battered," Kadaga said, after visiting the torture victim. “Zaake told me that paper spray was sprayed directly into his eyes. He was in police custody for several days and they must account for his injuries." She added, "This is a violation of human rights and it is unacceptable.”
After her visit with Zaake the speaker posted a statement on her Facebook page: "I’m saddened to hear about acts of torture that continue to be meted on some Ugandans; it’s sad that this was reportedly inflicted upon an MP. When Zaake was arrested, he seemed to cooperate and walked himself to a van; it was shocking to see him days later being carried to court on a stretcher writhing in pain. I am a strong advocate against human rights abuse and this among other incidents, I intend to take up with relevant authorities.”
The only relevant authority in Uganda is Gen. Museveni. No one would dare torture a member of Parliament without his blessing. Speaking from his hospital bed, for the first time since he was kidnapped on April 19, Zaake, who occasionally broke down into tears, said the people responsible for his abuse were, in addition to Alex Mwine: the regional police commander Bob Kagarura, the resident district commissioner Isha Ntumwa, Amos Kagoro of the special forces command, and several others. He described how he was pummeled with gun butts.
"They crashed my ribs and banged my head on the floor, as arrogantly as they could do,” Zaake said, noting that the operatives spoke in Runyankole, a language spoken from the region where Gen. Museveni hails from. They mocked him, telling him to call “your Katikiro or Kabaka of Buganda to help you" Zaake said. The Katikiro reference was to the traditional parliament of Buganda, the largest region in the country; and, the Kabaka is the hereditary king of Buganda.
Gen. Museveni’s ethnic bigotry is unparalleled in Uganda and his military operatives were echoing their boss’ sentiments. Zaake said while he was crying and being assaulted yelled at him that “‘you Baganda and other tribes will never lead this country, because it has its own'." He said his tormentors also said “..if you don't leave the First Lady, president Museveni and the most respected first son…you will loose your life next time." Gen. Museveni’s wife Janet is the Minister of Education, and the son, Gen. Muhoozi is a senior presidential advisor.
Zaake revealed that he never even physically left his home to distribute food to his constituents. He said after he packed the food—rice and sugar—into bags with the help of two of his employees, the free food was distributed by motorcycle taxi riders, known as boda bodas, from house to house in his neighborhood.
"I was very mindful of the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health regarding distribution of food items,” Zaake said. Zaake said he was taking a shower when the government operatives broke into his house. He barely had time to dress before they barged into his bedroom and kidnapped him, leading to the torture that’s now landed him in hospital.
The severe retribution is because the regime is playing food politics. As Ugandans starve during the lockdown, Gen. Museveni wants it known that his regime is the only source of distributed food, especially for urban residents.
This article was originally published by Black Star News.