By Lisa Vives*
As Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni bore down on rights groups and the opposition, the European Union (EU) Parliament responded with the threat of sanctions against Ugandan individuals and organizations they hold responsible for abuses during the recent general election.
Museveni apparently sparked the EU backlash when he instructed the Ministry of Finance, in a letter dated January 1, to suspend the activities of the Democratic Governance Facility, a basket fund of European countries that bankroll most Ugandan civil society organizations that work on governance, rights and related themes.
The development is the latest in the fallout between the West and Uganda government that has seen President Museveni and a number of his senior officials castigating unnamed Western powers over what they call interference in the affairs of Uganda.
In a televised address about Uganda’s security following several reports of operatives kidnapping citizens, especially opposition supporters, Museveni accused foreigners of interference in the country’s affairs.
“I read in the newspapers about the EU Parliament sanctioning some Ugandans from travelling. For anybody to think that Africans are dying to go to Europe is something that shows a lack of seriousness. Well, personally I need a lot of persuasion to leave Uganda. Why would I want to leave Uganda?” he asked rhetorically.
On February 11, the European Parliament adopted a resolution deploring the January 14 elections which they called neither democratic nor transparent. They condemned the excessive use of force by the police and armed forces during the election and their growing interference in political affairs.
They called for all those arrested and detained for participating in peaceful political assemblies or for exercising their right to freedom of expression and association to be released immediately and unconditionally and have their charges dropped. The text was approved by 632 votes in favour, 15 against and 48 abstentions.
More than 50 people were killed in the melee that followed the arrest of presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, on Nov. 18, according to the State. Hundreds more were injured and thousands arrested during the elections.
The imposition of sanctions would be a major blow to Uganda government operations since the EU is Uganda’s biggest development partner and gives more than US$130,000 in aid annually. The EU individual members also give substantial funding to Uganda.
Early this week, the United Kingdom also cut funding to security forces and also promised to review aid to Uganda over what they called human rights abuses.