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A minister stormed my office and warned me against highlighting UPDF violations on L. Victoria, says Kadaga

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PARLIAMENT | A minister walked into Speaker Rebecca Kadaga’s office to warn her off discussions related to alleged human rights violations committed by soldiers on the fishing communities around Lake Victoria.

In a peculiar but unsurprising revelation on Monday, Kadaga said the incident happened at a time, last year, when Parliament put pressure on the Executive over the mistreatment of members of the fishing community by Uganda People’s Defense Forces.

Sendo Cleaners

“Last year, when I complained about the harassment of members at Lake Victoria by the UPDF, there is a minister who came to my office telling me to stop talking about the army, that we are spoiling their name,” Kadaga, who was  speaking during the ecumenical prayers held at Parliament on Monday, said.

She did not name the minister in question but sources say the minister is one with a military background and a bush war general.

In February 2017, President Museveni deployed the UPDF Marine Unit on Lake Victoria ostensibly to combat illegal fishing that he said was draining the vast and resourceful water body of fish.

However, amid success levels, the operations of the UPDF soldiers have been met with trepidation as incidences of high-handed handling of situations — including shoot to death of fishermen — have been widely reported since then.

Many fishermen accuse the soldiers of working for certain vested interests against the locals and molesting those caught fishing at certain positions on the lake.

Museveni was in April last year drawn into an apology during a visit to Bugiri when he was mobbed by complaints from residents around landing sites.

“I decided to deploy army officers because the marine police was defeated by fishermen and had become fish thieves. But it is very sad because I hear complaints that soldiers are caning you but the canes came after resistance from fishermen to stop fishing young fish, which was killing the country’s economy,” Museveni said.

After receiving several complaints, in September last year, Kadaga directed the Committee on Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries to visit the fishing communities and investigate allegations of torture meted out on them.

During its fact finding visit to the fishing communities in Buvuma, Mayuge, Namayingo and Busia, the committee reported widespread cases of violation of rights of fishermen.

“An alarm was sounded from the fishing communities in 21 districts in or bordering water bodies. The challenges included confiscation of boats and vehicles by enforcement officers, a ban on smoked fish, torture, harassment by beating and in some cases killings. There were also allegations of arbitrary arrests and detention, extortion and general disharmony among the fishing community,” said committee chairperson Janet Okori-Moe.

It was during the debate on these allegations against the UPDF that Kadaga received the “rude” visitor at her office asking her to shut up since some members of the ruling class were uncomfortable with her stance considering her to be pushing the debate rather than smother it.

“I told him, ‘you man, tell them to stop their atrocities that is when I will stop talking and I chased him out of my office,”’ Kadaga said.

“You can imagine someone coming threatening the Speaker not to talk. I want to say, for me, I will continue talking about corruption and atrocities.”

She castigated some ruling party faithful of seeking to protect the image of NRM and military at the expense of Ugandans who are ostracised by rights violations.

Kadaga, herself a senior member of the NRM party, said: “Unfortunately, there are people in this country who think that if you belong to a particular political party you shouldn’t speak about corruption, that if you are a leader in this country, you shouldn’t speak about corruption, that we are spoiling the name of the party, spoiling the name of the country.”

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