By Stephen Lwetutte
LONDON-UNITED KINGDOM/NEWSDAY: For several days now since 3 August 2021 when the news of his apprehension came to light, there has been a frenzy of activity in print, electronic and on social media surrounding the whereabouts and status of prominent Turkey-based opposition blogger Fred Kajubi Lumbuye, who was reported to have “disappeared” under suspicious circumstances. The Uganda government, sending mixed messages, first confirmed and welcomed Mr Lumbuye’s arrest before issuing ambiguous statements and finally announcing the details of his extradition and imminent arrival in Uganda to “face the law” according to Foreign Affairs State Minister Okello Oryem.
However, the Minister has since either gone mute or remained non-committal about the latest developments surrounding the blogger, beyond claiming that the state had him in custody and that he would be produced in court. Witnesses and contacts on the ground in Turkey, though, dispute the government version and insist that Fred Lumbuye is still in Turkey after allegedly the underhand and clandestine plans hammered out between the turkish and ugandan authorities to unlawfully extradite Mr Lumbuye.
It is believed that these plans have not entirely been abandoned, which is why the government is still insisting Mr Lumbuye was returned to Uganda and they are holding him with neither the Turkish nor Ugandan authorities allowing due access to him, not even providing photographic evidence about his state and welfare. This is very worrying since torture and ill-treatment in custody are common and widespread in both Turkey and Uganda. Death in custody is not uncommon either.
Mr Lumbuye came to prominence as a leading and fearless Uganda anti-government blogger who specialized in supposed undressing of the first family, alleged unmasking of high-profile corrupt practices, and reported assassinations and assassination attempts. The purview of his assault has also engulfed targets within the administration and royal family of Kingdom of Buganda. Although he is and has been by far not the only one to be critical about all these institutions, the eerie accuracy of many of his stories have raised eyebrows.
It has resonated far and wide and meant that a huge following and viewership both in the diaspora and in Uganda for his presentations has been generated. In the process, he has been venerated and vilified in equal measure. It is against this background that the government of tyrant Museveni’s hand was forced to attempt to muzzle him by getting him returned to Uganda to almost certain death. Mr Lumbuye has previously reported he was aware of plans to harm him and was taking necessary protective measures.
Having muzzled, subdued or effectively controlled the media in Uganda, President Museveni feels he is hopelessly outgunned by the opposition beyond his Uganda jurisdiction, that he is helpless to act. He feels that, after the adverse publicity generated by the abductions, extrajudicial executions, torture, political incarcerations of opposition activists that has echoed round the world, he has to act to control and limit the damage, by going after the likes of Fred Lumbuye.
Museveni’s tactics of doing so, however, have instead exposed him further locally and internationally as a tyrant, the safety of whose opponents anywhere in the world cannot be guaranteed – except that he lacks the real capacity to carry out his antics in democratic efficient societies, if the clumsy handling that the Lumbuye debacle has become counts.
Mr Lumbuye’s already heightened fame has grown several fold within days, such that there is hardly anyone who hasn’t seen or heard of him. His case has brought home to the diaspora to what extent the regime is prepared to go for its survival. Many are now reconsidering or shelving travel and investment plans in Uganda in the current political climate.
It would appear that space for independent opinion, the right to freedom of expression and dissent has decidedly shrunk in Uganda today. With rampant corruption, impunity, anarchy and the collapse of constitutional order, the situation is likely to get worse for any meaningful investment and business activity to happen there. Lumbuye’s role in exposing this state of affairs cannot be overstated.
The Uganda government PR disaster regarding Mr Lumbuye’s reported detention and extradition to Uganda has dealt it a near fatal blow and it will not recover from it any time soon. The younger generation comprising such luminaries of social and political activism such as Fred Lumbuye, former Member of Parliament and legitimately elected President of Uganda, H.E. Kyagulanyi Ssentamu (Bobi Wine) and team, and host of other brave political activists offer distinct inspiration for the future of our motherland in the medium and long term. Fred Lumbuye, also popularly referred to as teacher, and colleagues firmly now joins the leading pack.
As every cloud has a silver lining, the adverse measures taken or instigated by President Museveni against Mr Lumbuye have backfired to raise his profile further that his role in a future Uganda and his place in history are now guaranteed. For now, the country and the world are working tirelessly to secure his safety and prevent him falling into the jaws of tyrant Yoweri Museveni – the world is anxiously awaiting confirmation that Mr Lumbuye is safe and sound, and to congratulate him on his narrow escape, praying and hoping that Uganda will one day be free and democratic.
The writer is a Multilingual Human Rights Practitioner, formerly at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London for over 20 years and now Legal and Human Rights Consultant.
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