For challenging Museveni’s monopoly on voter bribery Zaake lies on verge of death
By Edith Wandera
The first questions that came to the mind of anybody who on 27 April saw footage of Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake’s appearance before court were why and how he got into that condition in the first place, and why anybody in their sane mind would subject a person in that state to a tortuous, forty mile journey to pay lip-service to justice.
The legislator was in such a bad state the court refused to try him. Instead it ordered that he be given access to medical treatment. He could neither walk nor sit upright unassisted.
Read also: Museveni’s undocumented Covid-19 deaths
His appearance in court in Mityana was intended to circumvent an earlier order in the day, to release him by a Kampala court. Rather than comply, the 28-year old parliamentarian was subjected to a painful 70 km journey, just to demonstrate Museveni’s capacity to subvert justice while appearing to defer to it.
The journey itself was designed to be painful. Although the convoy of vehicles to Mityana had a properly kitted ambulance, Zaake was instead squeezed into the back sit of double-cabin pick-up truck.
Zaake’s arrest on 19 this month had been non-confrontational and was captured on camera. He was handcuffed and driven off to an unknown destination. The Zaake who turned up in court however was in deep pain, his body bore extensive evidence of physical torture and he could not open his eyes.
A medical report authored earlier in the day by a police doctor for his referral to St. Francis Hospital in Nsambya revealed that he was suffering chemical conjunctivitis – a reference to the introduction of harmful chemicals into his eyes. This could have only happened during his detention, or enroute to Kampala.
To understand Zaake’s problem, one has to go back to how Museveni sees the Covid-19 crisis. While leaders elsewhere approached it as a health and economic crisis, Museveni saw an opportunity to feather his nest while also making political capital. Primarily that meant using state resources to bribe his way into hungry voters’ hearts.
Days before his government could marshal a sensible response to the plight caused by his lockdown orders, politicians were responding to need by distributing food within their constituencies. Enraged, Museveni on 30 March ordered police to arrest anybody distributing food and have them charged with “attempted murder.”
While it would most probably be difficult to sustain in court, such a charge would still achieve the purpose of locking off his opponents for at least 6 months without the benefit of bail. With an election due in February, people like Zaake would even be lucky to secure nomination to contest in the polls.
To prevent opposition MP’s from directly interacting with voters that are angry at the pain Museveni’s measures have inflicted, he ordered that all donations of food should be handed over to the national task force. In short, he wanted his opponents to bankroll his campaign without the benefit of recognition.
Like many MP’s from rural Uganda, Zaake faced a big dilemma. His Mityana constituency is fairly urban but Museveni’s relief effort is focused on greater Kampala, which he has consistently lost in all elections and where he now believes the food relief might change his fortunes.
On April 13, parliament allocated each MP 20 million shillings so that they could directly intervene in their constituencies. The money was wired to the MP’s accounts on 17 April. A couple of days later Zaake set about distributing food relief to his constituents. In this he was not alone.
In Sembabule District, NRM Woman MP Anifa Kawooya also distributed food to residents. Other ruling party MPs have been doing the same. Yet it is only Zaake who that was picked upon. His present troubles are just another date with Museveni’s agents. In August 2018 he was arrested in Arua alongside Robert Kyagulanyi and 30 other people.
That time Zaake was so severely tortured that security agents who thought he might die drove him from Arua to Kampala and abandoned him outside the entrance to Lubaga hospital deep in the night. Later, when he miraculously survived the ordeal, they charged him with escaping from lawful custody.
Zaake and Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine are marked men by Museveni because they tap into the well of discontent in a key electoral demographic. In Arua, they may have escaped by a mere stroke of luck. Even the case in which they are charged with stoning Museveni’s convoy has suffered a quiet death. The state apparently lost interest.
But ever the schemer, Museveni sees an opportunity in the Covid-19 crisis. It could even be said that he anticipated Zaake’s actions when he baited him and his like by banning food distribution. Kyagulanyi resisted the temptation but with the mind of forces that have been deployed against him by Museveni, Zaake may not have had much choice but to stick his neck out.
Whether he escapes death this time around is purely up to the Almighty.