The making of Frankenstein’s creature - Beaking Kenya News

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Thursday, 11 February 2021

The making of Frankenstein’s creature


Uganda is still being convulsed by its violence-marred January 14 elections. President Yoweri Museveni was declared winner, setting him on an eighth term in office (two of them unelected).

His closest rival, the youthful MP and leader of the National Unity Party Robert Kyagulanyi (a musician-turned-politician more popularly known by his stage name Bobi Wine), rejected the outcome as rigged. He took the matter to court, where it will probably suffer a very Ugandan fate. Expect no 2017 Kenyan-style surprise, where judges nullified the presidential election.

One of the big international stories about Uganda now are the wave of abductions, especially in Wine’s southern Uganda stronghold. Last week, he released a harrowing report alleging arrest, torture and disappearance of 3,000 of his supporters.

There are daily videos of unsettling arrests by security offices in unmarked vans, which the people now call “drones”, and horribly tortured opposition supporters fighting for their lives in hospitals. There are also several videos of mothers crying and making emotional appeals for the return of their loved ones.

Trauma and horror

Last week, the Minister of Internal Affairs, General Jeje Odongo, acknowledged in Parliament that, indeed, security people were driving around in “drones” seizing people but said they were “overzealous” soldiers and the government would investigate and deal with the problem.

He denied that thousands had been disappeared, saying 44 people have been reported kidnapped, although, significantly, he noted that 31 of them are yet to be traced.

Whatever the truth, despite the trauma and horror of these kidnappings, they are as Ugandan as the Maasai blanket is Kenyan. During the rule of the peculiarly cruel military dictator Idi Amin regime (1971-1979), security forces turned it into a chilling art form.

A big film on Uganda of the Amin period is incomplete without a scene of an Amin victim being grabbed and thrown in the boot of a car.

Many Kenyans who were killed or disappeared in Uganda during Amin’s rule, like Kung’u Karumba, a businessman and one of the “Kapenguria Six” — the prominent Kenyan nationalists, including father Jomo Kenyatta, arrested and tried at Kapenguria in 1952-53, imprisoned and released in 1961 — or Makerere University student Esther Chesire, in all likelihood were seized and taken to their end in a car boot.

Kidnaps and killings returned

In the 1960s, there were a few reported cases too. After Amin was ousted by a combined force of the Tanzanian army and Ugandan exiles in 1979, there was a brief period of peace before the kidnaps and killings returned.

High-profile Ugandans were again killed and disappeared as one faction of the transition government, the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF), tried to discredit the government and portray it as unable to govern.

It was the environment in which the December 1980 election was held, and stolen, sending President Yoweri Museveni into the bush to start the guerrilla war that brought him to power in 1986.

Among other things, his movement swore to end the kidnappings and disappearances of the time. It is ironical that today, and on a few occasions during his rule, his security services have reached into that cherished repertoire of Ugandan terror.

Kidnappings and disappearances have a specific attraction and their deployment usually reveals a lot about how the Ugandan state (possibly all states) view the opposition. They are a favourite tool when a government or leader views the opposition as urban, and strong or growing among the middle class. Urban folks and the middle class desperately need closure, and are demobilised by disappearances.

African peasants cope differently, which is probably why rogue security forces create the same paralysing anonimity by massacring and burying them in mass graves.

Ugandan feminist, journalist and political activist Stella Nyanzi is a tough woman. She has been beaten and jailed several times. In February last year, she was released from prison after an 18-month sentence for insulting President Museveni.

Dr Nyanzi vied for Parliament on an opposition ticket in last month’s election and lost. A few days ago, she fled to Kenya to seek asylum with her three children. In a telephone interview with CNN, she alleged that her partner was abducted and tortured after the contested elections.

“I fled to get my voice back. I fled to get my mind back. I fled to get my freedom back,” Dr Nyanzi said, explaining that her partner’s was one of several abductions of people close to her, triggering her flight.

This fearless woman was finally broken by abductions. This time, though, as one might interprete from Gen Odongo’s statement, there might just be one difference: There are widespread reports, denied weakly by authorities, that some of the abductions are feeding extortion rings as relatives pay large amounts of money for information on or release of their loved ones.

The Ugandan soldiery has been pampered as the keepers of the order for so long that some people are beginning to fear it’s becoming Frankenstein’s creature.

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