Uganda Could Be Adding a New Tool for Repression to Museveni’s Kit

Uganda Could Be Adding a New Tool for Repression to Museveni’s Kit
Ugandan security forces patrol opposition neighborhoods after President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was declared the winner of the country’s most recent presidential election, in Kampala, Uganda, Jan. 16, 2021 (AP photo by Jerome Delay).

KAMPALA, Uganda—In the bustling Ugandan capital of Kampala, armored military vehicles share the crowded road with white Land Cruisers driven by NGO staffers and luxury sedans ferrying government officials behind tinted windows. Motorcycle drivers weave through the narrow spaces that are left, always dangerously close to crashing as they rocket over deep potholes. The smell of petrol sticks to the air, and in the late afternoons and early mornings the traffic is so thick that it slows to a standstill.

It is this chaos the Ugandan government would like to control. A new transport monitoring system, which began rolling out in Kampala in November, will soon allow authorities to constantly observe every vehicle in the country, tracking the movements of cars, buses and motorcycles in real time via mandatory, digital license plates. Dubbed the Intelligent Transport Monitoring System, the controversial project has been loudly criticized by human rights activists as a violation of the right to privacy. Standoffish government representatives have brushed off their concerns, maintaining that surveillance is vital for safety.

Road assaults have long been a concern in Uganda and especially in Kampala. Following a series of high-profile drive-by shootings involving unidentified figures riding motorcycles, President Yoweri Museveni unveiled his nine-point security plan in 2018. Among its goals was the installation of electronic license plates, allowing the police to trace vehicles that might have been present at crime scenes. An assassination attempt several years later against the minister for works and transport, Gen. Katumba Wamala, only deepened the government’s resolve to implement vehicle tracking.

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