Uganda prepares new measure targeting civic groups

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KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — The Ugandan government has drafted a new bill to punish "errant" civic groups that meddle in domestic politics and promote "bad cultures," a senior government official said Tuesday, warning that groups deemed anti-government risk being driven out of this East African country.

The measure comes two months after Uganda enacted a harsh anti-gay law amid Western condemnation and as the country's longtime president prepares to seek another term in office.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's government has had an increasingly difficult relationship with non-governmental organizations, especially Western ones, and has accused some of talking politics and of trying to promote homosexuality among young Ugandans.

Under the new measure, which is under consideration by the Cabinet, civic groups risk losing their licenses if they engage in activities other than those officially declared to local authorities, said James Baba, Uganda's deputy interior minister.

If the measure is passed by parliament, civic groups will be required to declare all their sources of funding to local authorities, their programs, as well as how their money is spent, he said, charging that some groups are actively involved in political activism. He did not name those groups.

"Do we interfere in UK politics? Do we say who should be their prime minister? Why should they tell us who our president should be? And there are some NGOs which are here promoting bad cultures like homosexuality," he said.

Democracy campaigners here warn that Uganda's government is actively tightening the space for the political opposition to challenge Museveni, who took power by force nearly three decades ago and remains firmly in charge. Critics point to a succession of measures taken by the Museveni administration to silence dissent as he tries to put down a potential revolt within his ruling party ahead of elections in 2016.

The government recently passed a law giving the police unprecedented powers to veto public rallies, effectively killing a protest movement that once appeared to threaten Museveni's authority. Influential officials within the ruling party have endorsed a measure aimed at promoting Museveni as sole candidate for president in the next elections. Museveni faced a likely challenge from his ambitious prime minister.

Now civic groups are being targeted because they can stand "on the same platform with opposition politicians" to demand good governance and an end to corruption, said Jacqueline Asiimwe-Mwesige, a Ugandan lawyer and prominent activist.

"The narrative is that (civic groups) are problematic," she said.

Museveni, who has held power since 1986, once was widely seen at home and abroad as a reformist leader who could break with the authoritarian tendencies of past Ugandan leaders.

But that reputation has suffered over the years — damaged by accusations of nepotism, electoral fraud, corruption, and even rights abuses. Now he is frequently accused of trying to rule for life.

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