Opposition leader Kizza Besigye has warned the international community against lavishing President Museveni with praise over his handling of refugee issues, but instead called for scrutiny of his military adventures in neighbouring countries, saying they trigger instability.
“In helping these refugees, the international community must be very clear in how they deal with the Ugandan regime; they should be clear to treat the [ruling National Resistance Movement] junta as the arsonists, not the ones who are extinguishing the fire,” Dr Besigye said in reference to regional conflicts and next week’s international refugee solidarity conference in Kampala.
The Museveni-led government, he told a press conference yesterday, should be “condemned, isolated and that is what will discourage other arsonists in the region.”
The government, however, dismissed Dr Besigye as sour grapes and speaking for the sake of “political expediency”.
“We should not allow Besigye to distort history for his political expediency,” said Col (Rtd) Shaban Bantariza, the deputy executive director at Uganda Media Centre, a government communication clearing house.
He added: “The UN, all other people and [international] agencies respect Uganda for being the first country on the continent to host one million refugees”.
Refugees in Uganda
Uganda currently hosts 1.2 million refugees, according to UN refugee agency figures, and three-quarters are South Sudanese nationals displaced by renewed fighting since 2013.
The South Sudan refugees are being hosted in camps in Uganda’s Arua, Yumbe, Moyo and Adjumani districts that are closer to the restive northern neighbour and where natives across borders share heritage.
They live on land provided at no cost by host communities, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) alongside other humanitarian organisations offering food and non-food relief while Uganda government is responsible for security, maintaining law and order.
At yesterday’s press conference in Kampala, Dr Besigye said it was an “insult” to both refugees and their hosts to see international players fraternise with Mr Museveni.
The President, he alleged, is a warmonger in the region, citing his decision as the Commander-in-Chief to deploy the Ugandan military in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997-2003 and, before that, to fight alongside the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) until South Sudan gained independence.
When war broke out in Juba, the South Sudan capital in December 2013, UPDF deployed troops, saying it needed to protect Ugandans and other foreign nationals as well as avert a looming genocide. Some, however, interpreted it as an attempt to prop up President Salva Kiir’s government then threatened by his sacked vice president Dr Riek Machar.
That power contest exploded into a civil war, cooling and accelerating, according to the engineering of protagonists, regional and international actors. Dr Besigye, who has stood and lost four elections to President Museveni, said the Ugandan leader is “confusing the international community” and “posturing as a champion of refugees” by presenting himself as a “partner in solving the problem, that he is primarily guilty of creating”.
He also blamed the antagonistic positions of other regional neighbours for exacerbating the fighting in South Sudan, Africa’s youngest nation born amid mass goodwill and ruined by greed of its leaders.
Next week’s solidarity conference on refugees, which is intended to raise $2 dollars, will be attended, among others, by the United Nations secretary-general António Guterres.
Mr Guterres, as the then head of the UN refugee agency, visited Uganda in 2005 to flag off repatriation of South Sudan refugees, and he will be returning 12 years later, next week, as the UN secretary-general to confront a worse refugee crisis.
Land-locked Uganda has hosted refugees, mainly from Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Somalia, for decades and some of its citizens, particularly those in West Nile, fled to then Sudan and Zaire (now DRC) in their time of need.
“We hope and really pray that the secretary-general of the United Nations [as well as] the UN refugee agency will not insult the refugees who are suffering and certainly the people of Uganda who are hosting; shouldering this burden, by coming to masquerade with arsonists as their partners in this matter,” Dr Besigye said.
Meanwhile, Dr Besigye has renewed calls for an independent inquiry into the conflicts in the country arguing that the role of the state in the killings in Kasese, Buganda, and in the contested Amuru-Adjumani border area of Apaa and other places discredit it from making any such investigation.
He said there was “interesting” and “intriguing” similarities exhibited by the hacked bodies in Apaa and Kasese incidents.
“One wonders if this Apaa thing is part of the wider terror campaign that is engrossing our country,” he said, adding: “It would appear there is some kind of pattern that is emerging driven by all kinds of circumstances but with the same kind of result chilling fear in our population.”
He said he was alarmed by the reports of conflict in Bukedi sub-region between the Jopadhola and the Itesot.