A group of supporters of Ugandan opposition party National Unity Platform (NUP) have piled pressure on Mr Frank Rusa, the Country Director of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD), accusing him of conflict of interest.
The NIMD is a Dutch prodemocracy organization which funds among others, the operations of the Inter-Party Organization for Dialogue (IPOD), a body that unites all parties with representation in the Ugandan Parliament.
Mr Rusa has served as the NIMD Country Director since 2018, but some NUP supporters are currently pushing for his resignation.
These claim that Mr Rusa cannot be impartial in uniting warring political parties in Uganda, having previously “served the NRM government” as the Head of Legal Department at the Electoral Commission in the mid-2000s.
Yesterday, Wednesday, the NUP supporters staged yet another protest outside the head offices of NIMD in The Hague in the Netherlands.
These claim that NIMD under Mr Rusa has often whitewashed the brutal treatment of opposition supporters in Uganda and made flattering reports about the country’s democratic processes.
Mr Frank Rusa has been the NIMD Uganda country director since 2018
In yesterday’s protest, the group called out the NIMD for keeping silent about opposition supporters that are currently languishing in prisons in Uganda.
They also carried placards with names of some of the said detained opposition supporters.
The protest was a culmination of weeks of barbed email correspondences between the NUP supporters and NIMD leaders including Mr Rusa himself, and his boss Thijs Barman, the organization’s Executive Director.
The protesters outside the NIMD offices on Wednesday
In some of the emails obtained by ChimpReports, the NUP supporters Nico and Hellen accuse NIMD on trying to hide the fact that Mr Rusa previously worked with the Electoral Commission before he was hired by the Dutch organization.
Initially, these say, NIMD through its ED Thijs Barman denied that Rusa worked with the EC, before he eventually acknowledged it when evidence was presented to him.
“I have been informed that Frank Rusa was a loyal member of the NRM before he joined the Electoral Commission,” alleged Mr Nico in one of the emails.
“NRM members are placed within the EC organization to protect the interests of the dictator. Head of Legal is actually quite an important role.”
Mr Rusa however, insists that his stint at EC was not a political appointment, but purely technical.
In fact, he says, he was forced to resign from the position back in 2006 when he supported the presidential nomination of FDC ‘s Col Dr Kizza Besigye while he was remanded to Luzira Prison.
“About my previous work with the Electoral Commission, yes, I served as the Head of the Legal Department of the Electoral Commission between 2003 and 2006. That is a technical advisory position (This was not a political appointment),” he wrote.
“…I left the Electoral Commission in 2006 after a public disagreement with the then Attorney General over the eligibility of Dr Kizza Besigye…to be nominated as a Presidential candidate while he was facing criminal charges in Ugandan courts. My argument then was that he was innocent until proved guilty and therefore was eligible to be nominated. The Electoral Commission then heeded my advice and Dr Besigye was nominated for President while he was in jail. That led to my pre-mature resignation from the Electoral Commission in 2006.”
“My public commitment to democracy at this point was widely applauded leading to my nomination as a Draper Hills Democracy Fellow at Stanford University in 2012 and later as a Reagan Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment of Democracy(NED) in 2013. I therefore take exception to your continued unfounded allegations about me,” he added.
On his part, Mr Barman the NMID Executive Director dismissed the allegations of the NUP group as “mistrustful” and also defended the integrity Mr Rusa.
“Frank has been a civil servant of the Electoral Commission. You don’t understand, but most people will easily see that there is a difference between a civil servant and a Member. Most Electoral Commissions have a Board consisting of Members who are appointed for a fixed period, by the authorities and this happens in various ways depending on the countries. These Members are not civil servants. And civil servants are NOT Members,” he said.
This is not the first time that the NIMD leadership has been at loggerheads with NUP members.
In July last year, Mr Barman accused the NUP leadership, which is not a member of IPOD, of trying to force his organization to take part their “street activism”
NUP Supporters clashed with Mr Thijs Barman at his office last year
While the organization strives to strengthen democracy in countries around the world, Mr Berman said their mandate is only limited to facilitating dialogue between democratic players but not siding with either side.
At the time, a group of NUP leaders including MPs from Kampala had marched to his office in protest.
In a heated exchange, the group accused the NIMD of “legitimizing, funding and providing support to the Ugandan dictatorship”
But in response, Barman told the protesters that it was not the role of his organization “to pursue social justice on the streets with you, even though we believe in that social justice,”
“Ours is to be an impartial facilitator of dialogue and encourage all players to participate and set their objectives. For this this dialogue to be successful; we need to be prudent and actively participate in it.”