Please refer to the last Sunday Monitor story of 27th April titled ‘How I beat Museveni Security,’ in which a young girl, Brenda Atwijukire, 14, delivered a letter to the president at an event of Ntare Old Boys in Mbarara about a fortnight ago.
The story in my view was more of a frivolous and humorous fairy tale, designed to entertain the readers, rather than the laid-back and dismissive picture painted of the president’s security detail that could have motivated the authors.
In Atwijukire’s case, security became aware, in reasonable time, about her intent and could have stopped her if they absolutely had to. However, just like in similar incidents before it, the SFC has always exercised great restraint even in the face of unwarranted provocation, and this particular situation did not require anything different.
It is imperative to note that in recent times, a few individuals have attempted to force their way to the president during public functions for various personal reasons (Wavamiizi, in Kiswahili), and the slightly greater publicity accorded to the Ntare incident may only have served to encourage others to attempt the same in future.
The Daily Monitor has particularly always exhibited double standards in these situations. Last year during celebrations to mark Heroe’s Day at Butalangu District headquarters in Nakaseke, a young woman made a sweeping dash for the President as he sat in his car to take off at the end of the function. She was blocked off by the guards and ended up in an undignified hit on the ground. Images of the woman on the ground were the following day splashed in the paper’s pages and by inference SFC condemned for using ‘excessive force’ on an ‘unarmed civilian.’
However there is the real danger that these seemingly innocuous maneuvers by some civilians could be simulated by far more dangerous individuals such as assassins or terrorists to deadly effect: On the afternoon of 21st May 1991, ex-Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on the campaign trail for re-election at the time was assassinated by a lone female suicide bomber after presenting him with a garland, killing him instantly. Fifteen other people, including the suicide bomber Dhanu, died in the attack.
Whereas it is true and expected that there are a number of ordinary Ugandans who wish to interact with the President for various reasons, it is also true that the President, despite his intensely busy schedule, accords time and opportunity to meet with such people on an almost daily basis either at his office in Kampala or during his regular upcountry trips.
Therefore, ambushing the President at public functions for whatever reason should not and must not be encouraged for two main reasons:
Firstly, we are living in times of hyper-active terrorism threats, whose weapons and methods of operation know no bounds. It is vital and paramount therefore that all members of the public, every single one of them, comply and obey security measures put in place at all presidential public functions, not merely for the safety of the president, but also for the safety of the general populace always in attendance at such gatherings.
In that respect, the SFC will remain firm and uncompromising; though it would be much better if everyone cooperated and realized that ensuring security is fundamental and the core business of us all during public meetings.
Secondly, in my view, Ugandans are lucky that theirs is a people’s president; available, friendly and approachable. But this president is also a revolutionary and an army General, warm and compassionate to his people, and markedly different from many of the civilian presidents the world is used to. Yet from casual observation, it can be argued that security for the latter type is always far more uncompromising, rather than would have been expected the other way round!
Therefore, any citizen with a genuine concern, or an important issue for that matter, can reasonably expect to meet with the president through normal channels if they wish to do so. What they need to do is to liaise with their local leadership who are always in touch with presidential aides whenever the Head-of State is visiting anywhere in the country. If you have reason and belief, you can meet your president – but in an orderly, respectable, and acceptable way.
The Writer is the Special Forces Command Spokesman/PRO