Opinion: I am re-reading the book Sowing The Mustard Seed, the autobiography of President Yoweri Museveni, for a multimodal project I am working on. On page 73 under the sub-title Fighting Amin (1972-6), Museveni tells of an incident during his exile and struggles (based) in Tanzania when he was arrested by Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) personnel . His transgression was that he had (obstinately) sneaked to Murongo area close to the border with Uganda to keep tabs on what was happening in Amin’s Uganda.
That was problematic enough to land him in trouble due to the fact that at the time the Mogadishu Accord had been signed by which Tanzania was mandated to recognize the Amin regime and to cease all support to subversive forces acting on its soil among whom 28-year old Museveni was prominent. This state of affairs had been occasioned by the botched September (1972) attack on Mbarara and Masaka by pro-Obote and FRONASA fighters; an invasion which went awfully wrong, leaving participants and their backers licking their wounds.
So, Museveni, very unwilling to give up the fight decided to continue underground activities and it’s on one such occasion that he fell afoul with the Tanzanians. I reproduce what he wrote about the incident as follows;-
“On one trip I made to Murongo shortly afterwards in an attempt to discover what was happening inside Uganda, I was arrested by the TPDF. I spent the night having water poured on me, after which I was badly beaten by a whole platoon commanded by someone called Kiswaga.
The Tanzanian army also had its origins in a colonial set-up, and that is how they punish people. They strip the victim to the waist and throw cold water on him. This is a kind of torture, for being half-naked the person becomes very cold.
All this happened in spite of the fact that I was travelling in a vehicle provided by the Bukoba Regional Security Officer. All the colonial armies in Africa were brutal, although only a few went to the extremes of Amin’s soldiers. Instead of interrogating somebody to detect inconsistencies in his statements, or locking him up in jail, they beat him up and tortured him, and learnt no information of any value.”
Why is this excerpt worth resurrecting? It relates directly with current affairs and the specter of fear and retrogression posed by reports that acts of torture in Uganda are more widespread than previously thought and in direct contrast to the beliefs of the head-of-state. Note that the commander-in-chief of TPDF at the time was President Julius Nyerere, a man whose sainthood is in the works.
Museveni describes the people who made life difficult for him at that time as “reactionaries” and, given his permanent admiration for the late Nyerere, must believe that the latter never sanctioned such schemes as torture.
This is a view that can be extended to the present situation to expose who is responsible for the gruesome acts that have come to be associated with Nalufeenya, a detention centre in Jinja, but which can happen anywhere where “reactionaries” are in charge; these are highly incompetent persons- criminally-minded, irresponsible and only interested in exhibiting personal authority and access to the martial code.
Applying grievous physical agony to squeeze confessions out of suspects is admission of failure to apply scientific methods to strike a chord with a subject and to get them to co-operate for greater good. Rather than exert pain, better results would derive from enticing them.
Still, the best is for investigators to employ hi-tech tools capable of tapping the mind of a suspect to get the truth-something like digital sensors attached to one’s head to detect their thoughts and reactions to questioning, if not tracing where they have been; or in the absence of these advanced methods, at least participating in designing them-most inventions come from within the military industrial complex.
But “reactionaries” can only wait for the white man to take care of this, too, and not try to do something progressive for once! When the “Nalufeenya” reports surfaced, Museveni wrote an open letter to security agencies warning them against the use of torture (to extract confessions from suspects), reasoning that the practice is “unnecessary, wrong and has possible mistakes that may interfere with the fight against crime.”
So, what the President thinks today is consistent with what he thought back in 1972 when the TPDF gave him “V.I.P treatment”-in Amin parlance-(or 1996, when the book was first published). To combat against any ill, the presence of the goodwill of the President- and in this case a former victim himself- makes matters easier.
One measure that should come into force immediately is to establish an anti-torture helpline and desk-affiliated to the Presidency-where any member of the public can report abuse they have seen or suffered. The problem deserves mainstream and institutional attention.