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KAMPALA/JUBA - 13 Jan 2021

Uganda assures South Sudanese of safety on eve of elections

Ugandan Ministry of Defence and UPDF spokesperson, Brigadier Flavia Byekwaso
Ugandan Ministry of Defence and UPDF spokesperson, Brigadier Flavia Byekwaso

The Uganda People's Defence Force has assured South Sudanese and other foreign nationals residing in Uganda of heightened security ahead of the elections scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday 14th January 2021.

Fears of election violence have been rising as Uganda heads to the ballot. These elections have been highly-charged after one of the bloodiest campaigns in years, as veteran leader Yoweri Museveni seeks a sixth term against a singer-turned-lawmaker half his age, Robert Kyagulanyi who has won the hearts of thousands of youth across the country. At least 54 people died over two days of protests in November. 

The Ugandan Ministry of Defence and UPDF spokesperson, Brigadier Flavia Byekwaso, told Radio Tamazuj today that South Sudanese across Uganda should remain calm, as the army secures the country.

“Everyone will be protected; Uganda is not on fire. Going to the ballot boxes doesn’t mean that security has relaxed. Actually, as matter-of-fact security has beefed up,” she said. “We have put security in a multilayered kind of arrangement. We have made a good assessment of the threat. We know where the crime is likely to be high. We have deployed to respond to all situations as efficiently and effectively as possible. 

Thousands of South Sudanese reside in different towns in Uganda, while more than a million South Sudanese are in settlement camps in the country.

Byekwaso says, “In our considerations, we take care of everyone irrespective of where they come, who they are. So as much as all the efforts that we put in place to make sure that Ugandans are safe and that means that includes whoever is in Uganda.”

The army official did not shy away from cautioning people during the election day. She said despite high-security arrangements, there is still a possibility of chaos in different places.

“I would wish that we have restricted movement, not that we are going to refuse them to move but it would be better and good for them to remain where they are. Because we don’t know what will come up. The best is for everyone to stay where they are for a day or two,” she advised.

She also said that areas with a huge concentration of people may be hotspots, but assured that they have deployed and are ready to ensure the situation remains under control.

“By the way, we assess threat levels, we know where the threats are, we know in what kind of percentages if I may use that word. We know and therefore we have deployed where we know that trouble might come up,” Byekwaso said.

South Sudanese activist, the Executive Director of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization Edmund Yakani in a statement yesterday urged Ugandan political parties and citizens to honor the principle of non-violent elections for the sake of maintaining peace and stability.

Yakani stressed that Uganda should ensure the protection of refugees, as it hosts the largest number of refugees in the region, as a principle of non-violence and the responsibility to protect. 

“Refugee camps should be treated as non-partisan entities by all Uganda political actors being the government, political parties, and citizens. All human rights values for people during the electoral process situation should be applied to the refugees in Uganda from various neighboring countries,” reads part of the statement.

Yakani further called on the refugees to ensure they steer clear of the election’s activities in Uganda. “It is a high time for the refugees to distance themselves from the politics of Uganda general elections. The chance of some political parties will attempt to use refugees for political gain around elections should not be ignored. Refugees require to remember that they have an obligation to avoid all forms of political engagement around Uganda's national general elections,” he stressed in the statement.

South Sudanese refugees who spoke to Radio Tamazuj complained of lack of food, and harsh situation saying the prices of goods have gone up in the wake of the elections.

One of them in the Kiryandongo Settlement camp said, "There are security fears. We do not have food. Many people are leaving the camp because of hunger. If you sleep hungry and there is no food nor water, all you think of is going back to your country. Most of these people are now stranded at the border because we hear the border is closed."