On January 15, 2021, just a day after the chaotic Uganda general election, a newspaper headline hit the waves of Kampala and the world: “We’re impressed with Uganda poll, says EU.” On reading this article myself, I was first shocked, I thought maybe it was propaganda.
Feeling not convinced, me and my team hit on the task to find out the facts behind this article which we thought was not true. The statements were said to have been made by the Head of the European Union Delegation in Uganda, Ambassador Atillio Pacifici. Could a person of his diplomatic hierarchy really feel impressed about the elections in Uganda? Again, we had no proof of this.
To start with, Ugandan general elections and the entire process was marred with undepictable violations of Human Rights and it was so far from democracy. During the election campaign, presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu alias Bobi Wine and other opposition candidates were banned by the Electoral Commission chair who is appointed by the president from holding campaigns in eleven districts including the capital Kampala, citing surge in covid-19. But also in other parts of the country, where the opposition were free to campaign, a lot of resistance was exhibited by incumbent President Museveni with the support of the army and other security agencies. Towards the elections, over 100 members of the Kyagulanyi team were arrested and falsely charged in court martial yet they are civilians. On January 8, 2021, 49 of the over 100 arrested Bobi Wine supporters were arraigned before the General Court Martial and charged with being in illegal possession of ammunitions.
Our team tried to reach the EU offices in Uganda and the Ambassador to clarify his view on the Ugandan polls in general and to ask for an official statement of the EU. It took three days for the press advisor, Mr Emmanuel D. Gyezaho, to email us a copy of the delegation’s Twitter statement of January 16. These few words are by no means convincing and had already sparked a debate on Twitter about the position of the EU before.
Today's @dailymonitor headline, based on remarks by Amb @APacificiEU taken out of context, give a misleading view. The EU has not deployed an Electoral Observation Mission to Uganda and has not made an assessment of the way the polling day has been run.— EU in Uganda (@EUinUG) January 16, 2021
However, we didn’t want to settle for less, we went ahead to contact the author of the above-mentioned article, published in the newspaper “Daily Monitor” on January 15, Ms. Irene Abalo Otto. We wanted to hear from her side of the story given the fact that this article was raising a lot of controversy and yet the EU in Uganda was not coming out with an official statement. On talking to Irene she confirmed that yes the Ambassador indeed made the statement however in the context of the day of the Elections. Providing us with video footages we can now listen to the Ambassadors statement we are shocked at the limited perspective.
Ambassador Atillio Pacifici, Head of the European Union Delegation in Uganda,
visiting the Kampala Electoral Commission Talli Centre in Kololo Independence Ground, January 15th 2021
Video: Irene Abalo Otto
Let’s look at the day of the elections, drawing back just a few day to the elections, the Ugandan Government deployed the army in all parts of the country with very heavy war machinery. This was intended to frustrate and intimidate voters. Still just few days to the election, the American Embassy past a statement confirming that the Ugandan government had refused to accredit the election observers from America, adding up to the voice of the European Union who had earlier on withdrawn from observing the elections in Uganda. Furthermore, there was a total internet shutdown to the public on Wednesday night, the eve of elections. Social media platforms got blocked by government, as if not enough, the government shut down the entire Internet in Uganda. On the Elections day, some opposition election agents where refused to reach the election grounds, others who were able to observe the elections were arrested after getting Declaration forms. Others were made to disappear, and others tortured. In some parts of the country the army took over the entire elections thus giving room for vote rigging in favor of Museveni. On the same election day, opposition candidate Bobi Wine is put under illegal house arrest. These and so many more were not noticed by the Ambassador? How can it be that someone like him expressed himself in such an undifferentiated manner and praises himself after he has visited a few polling stations in the best developed parts of Kampala, which might not offer him a realistic picture. How about the other parts of Uganda who reached there and who observed the elections in those parts? The EU officially indicated that they were not observing the elections in Uganda, who are these 63 staff mentioned by you and what’s their role? “We were very, very impressed. … What we see is very good” he said, speaking in plural what means he is also talking for the other diplomats having been there with him.
This has left us asking, are these the values the EU stands for? Whose values is Mr. Pacifici representing? Does it hurt to talk the truth and express what really happened before, during and after these elections?
Ambassador Atillio Pacifici, Head of the European Union Delegation in Uganda, with
Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of Uganda, November 8th, 2017.
Countries have come out calling for the election audit in Uganda, the EU is quiet, is this a deliberate move to side with the oppressive government? Countries in the EU for example Germany, France, Italy among others are well known for emphasizing Democracy, rule of law and respect for Human Rights, is what happening in Uganda the true definition of our values?
Until now, Bobi Wine is still under illegal House Arrest with no food or medical care. Efforts by the United States Ambassador Natalie E. Brown to visit him and provide him with some basic support was denied by the government. Comparing to the EU her government found very clear words: “We are deeply troubled by the many credible reports of security force violence during the pre-election period and election irregularities during the polls.”, published the U. S. Department of State on January 16th. “We reiterate our intention to pursue action against those responsible for the undermining of democracy and human rights in Uganda.“
The silence of EU officials is devastating. It confirms Museveni’s belief that what he is doing is right.
The world is watching and the world is wondering about the European Union silence.
Co-author: Irene Abalo Otto, @AbaloIrene1