In a page out of Museveni's book, police grill presidential challenger to Congo veteran Sassou Nguesso

The leaders of Uganda and Congo, in power for a combined 72 years, resort to time-honoured tactics while interacting with challengers to their rule.

REMINISCENT of the Ugandan election tribulations of former-ally-turned-challenger Kizza Besigye, Congolese authorities have released Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, a former army chief who is running against incumbent Denis Sassou Nguesso in presidential elections in March.

Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Nguesso, just a year apart in age and in office for a combined 72 years, would seem to be reading from each other’s survival book.

“He was questioned… in relation to a police investigation” for six hours Monday, Makoko’s lawyer Eric Yvon Ibouanga told news agency AFP, adding that he could not disclose details of the investigation.

Public prosecutor Andre Oko Ngakala ordered Mokoko’s arrest on Friday, reportedly over statements by the general that had been “widely disseminated on the street and social networks”.

Since February 13, when Mokoko held his first campaign rally, a video has been circulating on the Internet that appears to implicate him in an attempted coup.

The video, taken sometime in the early 2000s, has been denounced as a fake by Mokoko’s campaign.

Congo’s military chief from 1987 to 1993, Mokoko is currently special representative of the African Union Commission in the neighbouring Central African Republic.

He is a longtime ally of Sassou Nguesso but on February 3 he announced his resignation as the president’s advisor on peace and security, a post he had held since 2005.

On February 8 he announced plans to run in the March 20 election and challenge his former boss.

Nguesso, 72, first came to power in 1979 and ruling until 1992 when he lost elections. He returned as president in 1997 after a brief civil war and has since won two elections.

Besigye, who was Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni’s physician before challenging the long term ruler would probably identify with Mokoko’s tribulations.

‘Deja vu’

Uganda’s main opposition leader was taken by police on Monday to a city police station from his home where he has been under house arrest since Friday.

He has rejected the results of Thursday’s election won by Museveni, 71, and had called for a protest march.

Official results gave Museveni 60% of the vote against 35% for Besigye, who was arrested three times before, during and after the election.

Police said in a statement that any such march would be illegal, adding that with the start of the new school term Monday it would also “infringe on the collective rights of the parents and their school-going children”.

Besigye was placed under house arrest on Friday after police raided his Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) headquarters accusing party officials of planning to release their own tally of results, contravening electoral law. 

Police on Monday took Besigye from his home in Kasangati, north of the capital Kampala, to a police station in nearby Nagalama, according to city police spokesman Patrick Onyango. 

‘Like barracks’

Besigye’s wife Winnnie Byanyima, who is also executive director of the charity Oxfam International, tweeted a photograph of riot police outside the family home saying: “It’s like a military barracks. We want peace.” 

Besigye has now lost four consecutive presidential elections. Each time he has cried foul and each time street protests against his defeat have been crushed by security forces. 

Museveni, who has ruled Uganda since 1986, hailed his victory, and dismissed Besigye’s complaints and concerns of observer groups who have criticised the election as unfair. 

“The opposition are not leaders, they are just demagogues, liars, just talking, talking,” the 71-year old said on Sunday. “Those Europeans are not serious,” he said in reference to European Union election observers who said Uganda’s Electoral Commission lacked transparency and that police were heavy-handed in their treatment of the opposition.

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