Uganda suspends over 50 civic groups charging non-compliance

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FILE – In this Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 file photo, security forces gather on election day in Kampala, Uganda. Authorities in Uganda have suspended Friday, Aug. 20, 2021 the work of more than 50 civic groups, ranging from rights watchdogs to women’s groups, over alleged non-compliance with regulations, dealing a blow to hundreds of thousands of people who directly benefit from the activities of such groups. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Authorities in Uganda have suspended more than 50 civic groups for allegedly not complying with regulations, dealing a blow to hundreds of thousands of people who directly benefit from the organizations’ activities.

The suspensions, which target agencies ranging from rights watchdogs to women’s groups, were announced Friday by the government’s Non-Governmental Organization Bureau. Prominent rights group Chapter Four Uganda and election observer group CCEDU are among 15 facing indefinite suspensions over allegedly failing to file annual returns and audited accounts.

The suspensions take immediate effect and will be enforced, the NGO Bureau said in a statement.

The government’s action will renew fears of an assault on civil society that grew before a charged presidential election earlier this year. Many of the affected groups have been in limbo for months, unable to carry out their regular activities after authorities suspended the operations of a leading donor known as the Democratic Governance Facility, or DGF.

“Unfortunately, in our failing democracy, anything can happen,” said Dickens Kamugisha, whose group advocating good energy governance is among the suspended. “This is all part of the political harassment of citizens and the NGOs.”

He said he had expected the suspensions to happen sooner after the DGF’s troubles as well as multiple attacks on the offices of civic groups seen as critical of the government.

DGF was launched in 2011 by Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Austria, Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the European Union as a five-year program to support government and non-governmental groups working to promote human rights, strengthen democracy and improve accountability.

Renewed in 2018 and with offices in the Danish embassy in Kampala, the capital, the fund says it aims to encourage Uganda to be a country “where citizens are empowered to engage in democratic governance and the state upholds citizens’ rights.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, a U.S. ally who has held power since 1986 and was reelected in January, has repeatedly accused unnamed Western nations and groups of interfering in the internal affairs of the East African country.

Museveni won the Jan. 14 polls with 58% of the vote while his closest rival, the singer and lawmaker known as Bobi Wine, had 35%, according to official results. Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, claims that he won the election and that Museveni’s victory is fraudulent.

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