Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Reform Agenda

With the Supreme court's finding finally in, we knew that the last bastion for getting justice for the wrongs of the 2001 presidential elections had fallen.  But we remained both hopeful and defiant.  Addressing journalists shortly after the ruling, Besigye said to the president-elect:   “We are ready to enter dialogue with you and your government about how to undertake the necessary reforms to move the country forward…should you choose the path of repression, you will face stiff resistance.”  We had been robbed in broad day light and the highest court in the land had told us basically to go deal with it.  The lack of party structures to organize any meaningful response to what just happened became even more apparent and more damning.  Anything we could do or say as the EKBTF was in the name of the candidate and now there was no candidate, no platform, no structure through which to organize sustained action to express our displeasure at the numerous injustices that were inflicted on those who wanted change in 2001.  Our isolation was complete.  

In order to continue working as a legal entity we needed to be registered as some kind of organization but we were sure that the government would never register an NGO in the names of Reform Agenda so we created a company limited by guarantee in the joint names of Sam Njuba, myself and a third person whom I now cannot recall.   At this point we still hoped to continue working peacefully for reforms to dismantle the monolithic Movement system, which the elections had clearly revealed to be the only political party that could legally operate in Uganda.  Through our peaceful activities we would advocate for constitutional changes to reintroduce a multiparty democracy and develop the structures that were required to organize action for change.  But even as were thinking of this, the State was getting ready to frustrate any attempt we made and the focus was on Kizza Besigye.  And so the harassment begun.  
As we were leaving court the Prosecutor's Office served KB with summons to appear before a judicial inquiry into the purchase of junk helicopters in Belaurs in 1996.  Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye who at the time the helicopters were procured was the army's Director of Engineering and Logistics had been one of the military officials that travelled to Belarus with 'experts' to inspect the helicopters.  What a medical doctor was doing on that team is something I still wonder about to this day.  The report of the inquiry which leaked to the public in later years stated that airforce officers who carried out the initial inspection of the choppers were not qualified. When they went to Belarus, the logbooks were written in Russain which only the late J. Muwanga, the flight engineer could understand. Moreover they did not carry out any tests due to bad weather.  Nonetheless, one Col. Masaba recommended that the government purchase the helicopters, saying they were still in very good flying condition, had a long life and were worth more than the offered price of USD $ 1.5 million each. 
According to STAR (Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative, a World Bank and UNODC initiative; the Ministry of Defence then entered into an agreement with the private company Consolidated Sales Corporation (CSC) to supply the helicopters. The Ministry was informed by the promoter of the corporation, Mr Emma Katto, that this was a British Virgin Island incorporated company. It came to transpire later that Consolidated Sales Corporation never actually existed at the time when the supply contract was signed with the Ministry of Defence. It was registered in Uganda several months after the contract for the helicopters was signed. It was also revealed that while CSC had described itself as the seller and supplier of the helicopters, it was a mere broker with no direct links to the supplier in Belarus. It was established as a profiteering company that purchased the helicopters from Belarus through a series of middlemen, and in turn sold them for a hefty profit.
The inquiry also revealed some startling information about corruption networks in Uganda. Mr Katto, the middleman, admitted that he had lobbied top army officials, including the Minister of Defence, Mr Salim Saleh (who is also the President’s younger brother).  They promised (and he received) a US$800,000 commission for supporting the award of the helicopter contract. Salim Saleh later confessed to his big brother, the President, that he had received the bribe and the president advised him to give it to the army for special operations in the north. The commission of inquiry also got to know that the procurement transaction of the defective Mi­24 helicopters cost the government US$ 3,495,955 in commissions (or bribes.)
STAR goes on to state that: 'The commission of inquiry recommended the prosecution of Salim Saleh along with the other individuals involved in the corruption scandal. The Cabinet furthermore endorsed this recommendation in a Government White Paper following the report, stating that “all officials of the Ministry of Defence, the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF), the Bank of Uganda or any other person implicated should be held accountable for causing financial loss to government or corruption”. The Cabinet also referred the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), while military personnel including the president’s brother implicated in the scandal were to be subjected to disciplinary action in accordance with the Army Statutes of 1992. The cabinet also ordered the Attorney General to lift the CSC corporate veil and proceed personally against Emma Katto, his wife, their overseas partners, Max Waterman, Chris Smith and others who offered the bribes to the army officials, including the president’s brother. However, the Director of Public Prosecution withdrew charges against Salim Saleh for his role in the junk helicopters because he “could not find any evidence linking Salim Saleh to the junk helicopters scandal”. It should be remembered that Salim Saleh not only confessed to his brother in private but that he subsequently acknowledged in public his receipt of the money during the commission of inquiry, which was a public hearing. The President also confirmed Saleh’s confession during the president’s testimony at the commission of inquiry.'
Yet with all these people named, shamed and forgiven, the government now decided to highlight Kizza Besigye's role as one of the army officers who went to Belarus on a ruse to give a veneer of legitimacy to a crooked deal that had already been sealed by the corrupt dealings of those very close to power.  So a few days after court gave its ruling in April 2001, I went along with KB to the International Conference Centre where he appeared before Justice Ssebutinde to defend his actions as former head of logistics for the military.  KB told the Commission that he could not accept responsibility for the purchase of defective combat helicopters because he believed he was not in a position to block it.  He said that Amama Mbabazi, then state minister for defence, was intent on buying the helicopters and discouraged any deviations.
The offices at Crest House had been shut after the elections and 'The Reform Agenda,' a phrase we had coined to describe those who wanted change became the unofficial name of those who continued activism post-election.  Kizza Besigye found a smaller office in Bukoto, Kampala and he spent many days meeting people who still believed something could be done to reverse the injustices of the past month.  I worked at the Bukoto offices because I too could not find the wherewithal to tear myself away from the hope and optimism that we had stirred in the electorate.  The days ahead were both exhilarating and dramatic as we faced the wrath and fury of the State.  The only indication I got at the time that KB may have other plans because he knew what was coming was on March 17, 2001, five days after the presidential election when security operatives, acting on the orders of Noble Mayombo, Chief of Military Intelligence, ordered Besigye off a South African Airways flight at Entebbe Airport as he prepared to leave for a 'short holiday.'

At 50 I know that the fruits of activism are not enjoyed after a few weeks, months or years. It takes individuals standing up and fighting for change to create an environment that generates the energy that will make change inevitable.
feeling motivated

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