With great consternation, I have learnt of the indefinite closure of 54 civil society organisations by the Ministry of Internal Affairs over what the Ministry claims to be “non-compliance issues”. I condemn this ban in the strongest terms possible, as it has a chilling effect on the legitimate exercise of citizens’ constitutional right to participate in the affairs of their government.
Most of the affected organisations such as Chapter Four Uganda, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS), Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), and the Citizens Election Watch-IT, among others, have been working to deepen constitutionalism, democracy, human rights, and public accountability in our country.
In the recent past particularly during the 2021 electoral period, some of these organisations were raided by security agencies, and/or had their bank accounts arbitrarily frozen by the Financial Intelligence Authority. Chapter Four’s Nicholas Opiyo, who was doing work around the November shooting-deaths of over 100 unarmed citizens by security forces, was abducted and a slew of charges eventually preferred against him.
In the previous election cycle, NGOs including Action Aid International and GLISS suffered a similar fate when they were raided by the Military who seized their property especially communication devices. A few months ago, Gen. Museveni unilaterally ordered the closure of the Democratic Governance Facility, Uganda’s biggest donor fund, on false rumours that it was funding me. The DGF had been meeting a huge chunk of the budget of several government organs and agencies such as the Judiciary and the New Vision, as well as hundreds of civil society organisations such as the African Centre for Treatment & Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV) and the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU).
Considering the work that the affected organisations have been involved in, including that of defending the rights of poor and underserved citizens, it is quite evident that this latest crackdown on the civil society is politically-motivated. The regime considers as “anti-government” civil society’s work of checking government excesses and influencing public policies. Apparently, this work is tantamount to colluding with the opposition.
I stand in solidarity with you my fellow citizens in the civil society during this trying moment and support all lawful efforts you are taking to resist undue encroachment on your constitutional space. Challenges like these are only testament to the importance of your efforts in establishing a more just and accountable society.
Fellow citizens, like I keep saying, every citizen and sector of our society will eventually taste the bitter wrath of dictatorship. With each passing day, the regime operates with even more impunity as it now has very little, if anything, to lose. Unfortunately, we will continue suffering this oppression until the day we decide that enough is enough!
Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu
President, National Unity Platform