My name is Oyeki Gerald. I’m a social movement conceptualist, and a pro-change political activist currently aligned to the National Unity Platform political formation where I’m the Election Management officer in charge of Northern Uganda. I also belonged to the Uganda Young Democrats, a robust socio-political youth formation grounded in Makerere University, and the Acholi Students Movement, a socio-cultural forum of students belonging to the Acholi ethnicity in higher institutions of learning across Uganda where I served as Speaker. I was also a digital Communications Assistant for the Leader of Opposition, Betty Aol Ocan from 2017 to April 2020.
As an Election Management Officer, together with a team, we developed an Election Management infrastructure in the region which include candidate identification, recruitment, and voter civic education, recruitment of polling volunteers, as well as Election Day coordination and supervision to ensure a transparent, free and fair participation in the voting process. I’m also responsible for documenting incidences of human rights violations for further action by law implementing organs and other relevant actors within Northern Uganda.
a) On Human Rights Violations
On 3rd September, 2020 myself and four other colleague were arrested and detained at Patongo Central Police Station, Agago District PS on charges of ‘unlawful assembly,’ while I had gone to train the candidates for Local Government elections. While there, the Officer in Charge of the Station attempted to grab the red beret off my head while remarking ‘You are the people bringing lugezigezi here,’ to mean ‘you are the people bringing trouble here.’ I wrestled him away with a question, ‘Under what designation are you putting us in- as the Police or as an NRM Mobiliser?’ He backed off and let me be. We were later released on police bond after more than 48 hours in captivity (https://www.facebook.com/oyeki.gerald.7/posts/1273444509668260 )
On 19th September, 2020, while traveling to Lira District from Arua District with three other colleagues for a candidate’s training exercise, a plain clothed operative trailed us from Kamdini trading Centre in Oyam District till Lira. He tried to slow us down from a dark spot at about 7pm. It was raining heavily. Our instincts told us otherwise. We decided to speed up and branch off at a fuel station with light and human presence. The man claimed that we were over speeding and caused a stone to hit his windscreen from our hind tyre. There was clearly no visible crack on his windscreen. We continuously begged for pardon. He spewed several complaints at us, threatening that ‘You are the reasons why the Kanyamunyu’s shoot people dead. They tell you to stop and you refuse to do so,’ despite us explaining to him that there was no way we could have stopped at such a dark spot for our own safe. He wasn’t shy to show off the AK47 that lay at the hind seat of his premio as numbers started building up around the car, prompting him to stand down on his guard and ‘forgive us.’
On Saturday 17th October, 2020 at about 11am, individuals whom we now highly suspect to belong to both the Security space and are allied to the NRM Candidate for Gulu East, Nancy Atimango attacked the NUP regional office and destroyed the banner belonging to H.E Kyagulanyi Ssentamu Robert. They shamelessly tore down all posters belonging to our NUP Candidates within the City and replaced them with those of Tibaharura and Nancy Atimango. A similar event happened in Moroto District campaign materials branded with NUP were torn apart without justification.
On 10th October 2020, I was intercepted together with the Deputy President and some members of the local team as we moved to supervise the readiness of the venue for the Kyagulanyi Campaign. This was by a group of about 30 bamboo wielding military and plain clothed men. While in detention, an officer stated that ‘we are arresting you to save your lives.’ We were charged in court for contravening COVID-19 guidelines and released on bail. We later learnt that the arrest was ordered by the Regional Police Commander, a one Nkore with the intention to sabotage mobilization activity for the Kyagulanyi through the campaign period (https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10160404511618012&id=130737598011)
On the morning of 5th November, 2020 the police and military raided the Karamoja Regional National Unity Platform Office, caused havoc and beat up party supporters. They went as far as searching candidates’ homes, and vandalizing any NUP paraphernalia. (https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10160382430308012&id=130737598011) Related to this, on the 13th of November, 2020 during his campaign trail, the security ordered that a radio talk show be postponed to a later time than scheduled, a proof of the State’s continued interference of NUP media engagements within the Region (https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10160408222838012&id=130737598011)
On 7th December 2020, the National Unity Platform Northern Region Offices in Gulu were attacked and vandalized while colleagues and I were in office at about 11:00am. I was brutalized and my gadgets stolen in the process. We lost several party items in the process. The police remained reluctant to follow up the incidence after the attack (https://www.independent.co.ug/nups-office-in-gulu-attacked/ ).
Two weeks later, on December 26th, 2020, the Lango subregional office was raided by youth whom we later learnt were under the instruction of the National Assembly Deputy Speaker, Jacob Oulanya. They burnt party materials infront of the office, and made away with key party materials like party cards, only to be convened later by Jacob Oulanya whose comments suggested satisfaction with the vandalism (Attack on Bobi Wine’s National Unity Platform – Daily Monitor )
On 10th December, 2020 while Kyagulanyi made way to campaign in the Elegu border town of Amuru District, the police brutality blocked him from proceeding, pelting teargas, bullets and all sorts of brutality onto the procession. A young woman’s leg was shattered and later amputated as an impact of the canisters from the security. This is only one of the incidences caught on camera of NUP leaning supporters bearing the brunt of the security forces in the Acholi subregion. While Kyagulanyi campaigned in Nwoya district, his one of our coordinators there was targeted. His nephew’s left eye was shattered by a teargas canister that was directed at him(https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10160484651483012&id=130737598011 ).
Earlier on, one of our coordinators in Nwoya district intimated to me that on the morning of 5th December, 2020, a bullet was planted at the veranda of our district cordinator who is also a local government candidate in the district. This followed several threats from the area GISU warning the district coordinator to defect or face death. Nwoya District is the base of the infamous Gen. Charles Otema Awany, accused of large grabbing and intimidation of government dissidents within Acholi sub region. During the Election period, Gen. Otema was assigned in-charge of the Crime Preventers Unit, a paramilitary outfit not provided for in the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (Mobilisation, documentation of Reserve Forces in western Uganda kicks off – PML Daily ), (UPDF soldiers shoot four people dead in Nwoya – Daily Monitor )
b) On Polling Irregularities
On 3rd January 2021, I was assigned to Acholi East in the Districts of Pader, Lamwo, Agago and Kitgum for the purpose of vote protection across 770 polling stations.
There were 6000 polling station across the region. We were able to identify agents for majority of the polling stations few days to polling. It was enormous, logistically tiring being a movement that had to rely on donations of well-wishers, no monthly contributors, neither did we have contributions from the Interparty Dialogue. It was all commitment from people. I think we were well able to identify volunteers to execute those tasks. Unfortunately, a few days before polling the long hand of state took course many of our agents were threatened and we were frustrated in distributing polling material.
The state assigned the military to manage the process. It was not an election, this was a military operation from the state. Northern Uganda had the most ruthless of them; General Salim Saleh was stationed in Acholi-west, in Gulu City at the Military Barracks General Gutti, the chairperson of the General Court Martial was stationed in Karamoja. Gutti is responsible for sending most of NUP supporters to Kitalya Minimax prison. There was General Jackson Kayanga for West-Nile and Col. Sam Engola in Lango sub region. Their specific assignment was that vote protection was sabotaged, and that the votes were rigged for General Museveni, but also to ensure that if voting process took place, the voting material would be confiscated, in particular the DoRs for NUP agents.
A number of our technical supervisors in Karamoja were either compromised or detained. That was all under the command of General Gutti. A meeting was held few days to voting at the home of general Gutti, we had an informer that provided this information. First there were instructions that NUP supporters where either detained or shot, however this faced resistance from local NRM parliamentary candidates who said they couldn’t shoot our own people. That’s why there were not that many worrying election violence incidences from Karamoja but there was a lot of rigging. Karamoja had the highest rigging machinery beacuse on pollling day, we didn’t have agents at majority of the polling stations. They were intimidated or being arrested.
For the other sub regions, most rigging was done at the technical level, at the results transmission level. A case in point is Chua West in Kitgum where our registrar reported to me directly that a polling station at Mucwini, he was followed to his home by state agents on voting night, his house was broken into, and the DoR form was taken among other properties of his. The results were rigged at the level of transmission of the district tally center. There was another vote doctoring unit within the state structure that relayed results to the National Electoral Tally Centre. For example the results for Omoro distrit were declared before the collection of DoR forms was complete by Electoral Commission. At the time the results were being counted in Omoro, they were announced at the national tally center. They were predetermined results that were being read.
With respect to our results from Northern-Uganda. Most results were doctored with the intention of covering up for the losses in Buganda/Busoga sub-region by the regime. It’s not by coincident that such errors are uploaded. There’s no way there is a one-side system error, so it was intentional. We do not know exactly how many of our polling agents were rounded up. We do have information some have been killed or have disappeared. Confirming this information has been challenging since many are on the run.
Initially, the state did not appreciate our organizational capacity. On polling day I was supervising 770 in Acholi-East, in districts of Pader, Lamwo, Agago and Kitgum. We had a challenge with Lamwo District where Hillary Onek, a minister within the government intimidated or compromised a significant proportion of our polling agents.
In the course of vote protection through to 15th January, 2021, I kept switching locations because of suspected monitoring by the State. I left Kitgum on the evening of 16th January 2021, with at least 70% of the Presidential DoR Forms, and made way to Kampala to deliver them to the headquarters.
Prior to setting off for Kampala, majority of these forms were snapshot for backup to be uploaded onto the UVote app. I was intercepted on the morning of Sunday 17 January by plain clothed security operatives, abducted, and the forms were confiscated. I suspect that my telecom line was being monitored and that’s how I was intercepted. Earlier on, prior to polling day, another colleague with whom I was supervising the region was arrested a few days before election and he was asked how the transmission of the UVote app worked and where the servers were located. He was released from detention on condition that he would immediately vacate his duty station and never return there.
I was intercepted at about 8:00am with 503 declaration of results (DR) forms for presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu, a security team of over 30 rounded up my hotel room and bundled me and two other colleagues who were accompanying me into a ‘drone’ van. A drone is the van used for the recent kidnaps and abductions of opposition leaning strategists, tactician and supporters in Uganda. This was a combination of both plain clothed and police uniformed mean looking gun-wielding personnel that confiscated the forms and ordered us into the drone. They claimed that we were operating an illegal tally center. We were driven to a place that I wasn’t familiar with; a unfinished building with a larger number of plain clothed individuals wielding guns. While, there, we were separately interrogated. I was interrogated on the election, the DR Forms and my knowledge of the plan to ‘remove the dictator,’ as most of our campaign had postulated. While in detention, my full identification was captured into the abductors’ database. They kept emphasizing that I must immediately cease what I’m doing and that their eyes are on me.
On the same day, I was transferred to Wandegeya police station at about 4:00pm and temporarily held there. A file was opened up against me (falsification of results, case ref: gef.002/2021), and released at about 9:30pm upon filing the charge against me. I spent the night at the Gaddafi mosque for fear of my life where we were escorted at about 10:15pm.
In the following days, I kept receiving mysterious phone calls without clear caller identification. The callers would sometimes use parody names as though to capture my attention. These similar phone calls have been made prior to the disappearance of a number of colleagues as a mechanism of tracking their exact locations.
For fear of my life, I fled to safety on 31st January, 2021.