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Belarusians can learn a lot from Armenia’s Velvet Revolution | Russia



In the last two weeks, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Belarus to protest against the widely disputed results of the country’s August 9 election, which handed President Alexander Lukashenko some 80 percent of the popular vote and a sixth term in office. A police crackdown on peaceful protesters in the days after the vote saw nearly 7,000 demonstrators arrested, and sparked allegations of abuse and torture at the hands of security services. The opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who refused to concede defeat against Lukashenko, was forced to flee the country two days after the election.

Lukashenko managed to remain in power for 26 years without facing a significant challenge to his authority by playing the West and Russia against each other. Despite this tactical jockeying, however, Lukashenko always stood closer to Russia, entering his country in Russia-led regional groupings. In 1999, when the then Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, was weak and his power was leaching away, Lukashenko even proposed to unify his country with Russia, with the hope that he would eventually emerge as the leader of the new union. The rise of Putin eliminated such hopes for Lukashenko, but the idea to merge Belarus and Russia remained under consideration. Indeed, Putin started pushing for a merger last year, partly as a way to sustain his own rule beyond 2024.

The Belarusian protesters are facing unique challenges, not only because they are revolting against a violent and highly authoritarian regime, but also because they are trying to trigger a democratic transition in a country placed firmly in Russia’s authoritarian security orbit. 

Among those with strong security and economic ties to Russia, Belarus is only the second state, after Armenia, where people have risen against their Kremlin-backed rulers. As such, Armenia’s “Velvet Revolution” in 2018, during which the masses successfully triggered a democratic transition through peaceful disobedience, offers a range of tactical lessons for both the opposition movement and the government in Belarus. 

Three key lessons emerged from Armenia’s democratic breakthrough.

First, the protesters in Armenia worked hard to keep the protests strictly local. They resisted attempts by the ruling forces to frame the protests as another Western-instigated “colour revolution”, which would have delegitimised the movement. To achieve a successful democratic breakthrough, the Belarusian opposition should mimic this approach, and capitalise on the grassroots nature of the protests. 

Second, the leader of Armenia’s protest movement, current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyansignalled early, clearly and consistently that the movement, if successful, would not lead to a shift in foreign policy away from Russia. This messaging played an important role in keeping the Russian soldiers in their bases during the revolution. While Armenia’s security needs are quite different from those of Belarus, protest leaders in Minsk could also benefit from managing Russia’s threat perceptions. 

Third, Pashinyan held formal and informal negotiations with incumbent political forces from the very beginning. As a result, Armenia’s protest movement unfolded within an imperfect but,  nevertheless, constitutional order. This ensured some level of political stability, increased the perceived legitimacy of the protest movement and emboldened more people to take to the streets – a key marker of successful disobedience campaigns everywhere. 

In many respects, the movement in Belarus is similar to Armenia’s Velvet revolution of 2018. Just like Armenia, Belarus is a former Soviet nation that still has strong economic, political and social ties to Russia. Both countries are members of Russia-centric regional organisations such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union, and they are both economically reliant on Russia.

But there are also some significant differences between the ongoing protests in Belarus and the Velvet Revolution that took place in Armenia. 

Unlike Armenia, there is not a strong civil society in Belarus. In the post-Soviet era, Belarus has always been under a strict dictatorial regime while Armenia has been led by what could be described as “soft authoritarians”. This allowed Armenia’s civil society enough space to organise itself and consolidate a protest culture through a long string of public protests before an opening for democratic transition appeared in 2018. Such processes are only beginning in Belarus. 

But the protest movement in Belarus is perhaps in a better position than Armenia’s in a few important aspects – Belarus is not involved in an unresolved regional conflict. In the region, dictatorial regimes often use prolonged conflicts to create a false dichotomy between security and democracy, and silence opponents. This tactic was used by Armenia’s pre-revolution rulers for years and is currently being used in neighbouring Azerbaijan by Ilham Aliyev to silence opposition forces inside the country.  

It is not surprising, therefore, that Lukashenko is trying to contrive an external threat where there is none. He has claimed, inaccurately, that NATO forces are building up in Eastern Europe, attempting to portray the protest movement in Belarus as a threat to its, and Russia’s, security. 

Another advantage the pro-democracy movement in Belarus has over the one in Armenia is the democratic character of its immediate neighbourhood.  As I have written elsewhere, the extent of regional connectivity in Russia’s vicinities can make or break the Kremlin’s incursions into its “near abroad”, be they military or hybrid. The democratic consolidation in, and regional ties between, the Baltic states, therefore, is an obvious political asset for the pro-democracy movement in Belarus. Furthermore, Belarus also shares a border with Poland, and therefore the European Union.

This is in sharp contrast to Armenia which is surrounded by authoritarian states, the sole exception being Georgia to its north. The Armenian pro-democracy movement formed a democratic dyad with Georgia, which helped it constrain Russian involvement and complete its Velvet Revolution. Intervening in Belarus would be much more costly for Russia, given the regional resiliency around Belarus from the Baltics to Poland. And unlike in Armenia, Putin’s past attempt to formally unite Belarus with Russia created a backlash among the populace in Belarus, exposing the disingenuous nature of Putin’s claims of “protecting” Belarus’s security and independence. Russian intervention in the context of post-election protests can revive such fears and push more people into the streets. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Another blow as Judge throws out Kiggundu’s lawyer Muwema



When court sat on Friday to hear the Kiggundu’s application to stop independent audit, he did not have a written application, and Justice Henry Adonyo instead ordered the plaintiff’s lawyer Fred Muwema to go make a written application seeking court to dismiss the audit and return to court on September 30 for a hearing of the application. But this adds more pressure on Kiggundu who is choking with the loans.

On 31 August, the judge ordered the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda (ICPAU) to carry out and independent audit into the accounts of the businessman and financial statements exchanged between the two parties, and present a report to court.

When asked by journalists why he has filed for an application seeking dismissal of the audit, Fred Muwema had this to say. “We are saying that let the validity and legality of those credit facilities (loans) be decided first before you can audit” He said.

The ruling on the application of the main suit to determine whether the businessman owes loan arrears to the bank is set for 5th October 2020, after which a date for hearing of the case will be set.


Hamis Kiggundu through his companies Ham enterprises and Kiggs International (U) ltd sued DTB branches in Kenya and Uganda for deducting money from his accounts something which the bank contends and said they only acted as per the loan agreement of deducting 30% from Kiggundu’s accounts to recover the credit facilities rendered to him between February 2011 and September 2016

But Court documents filed by the bank in their defense shows that Kiggundu, between February 2011 and September 2016, was granted various credit facilities by the said DTB Banks.

First, via Ham Enterprises Limited, Kiggundu obtained a loan of $6,663,453 and another Sh2.5bn from the DTB (U) to finance his projects in the real estate business.

Later, according to New Vision, he got a facility worth $4.5m through Kiggs International (U) Limited from DTB (K) and mortgaged his properties, which include Plot 328 located at Kawuku on Block 248 Kyadondo, three plots that include 36, 37 and 38 on Folio 1533 Victoria Crescent II situated in Kyadondo and land on Makerere Hill Road on LRV 3716 Folio 10 Plot 923 Block 9.

Documents show that as of January 21, 2020, Kiggundu was in default on payment obligations of $6.298m on the loan facility of $6.663m, as well as sh2.885b on the demand overdraft facility of sh1.5b and the temporary demand overdraft facility of sh1b.

The banks say that Kiggundu was in default on the payment of another $3.662m out of a total loan facility of $4m and another $458,604 on a loan facility of $500,000, as of January 21, 2020.

The DTB consequently served him with a demand notice to either pay up or lose the assets that he submitted as collateral security. The bank threatened to attach a plot on Makerere Hill Road and other prime commercial properties.

Analysts says that Kiggundu’s lawyer is playing delaying tactics aimed at stopping the independent audit as ordered by the court earlier. Kiggundu had wanted court to believe his own audit of loan transactions, but that would amount to injustice to the banks that gave him money-DTB Uganda and DTB Kenya.

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Minister Rukutana charged with attempted murder, remanded




The state minister for Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana has been remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district.

Rukutana appeared before Ntungamo Grade One magistrate Nazifah Namayanja this afternoon from where he was charged with seven offences related to attempted murder, assault, malicious damage, and threatening violence.

Rukutana was captured in a video that went viral on social media showing him grabbing a gun from one of his bodyguards and started shooting at a vehicle belonging to supporters of his political rival Naome Kabasharira. At the time of the incident, Rukutana had just lost the Rushenyi country NRM flag to Kabasharira.

The prosecution alleges that on September 5, 2020, at Kagugu village in Ntungamo district, Rukutana and others still at large assaulted Julius Niwamanya and threatened to kill or injure him together with three others. The others are Stuart Kamukama, Dan Rwibirungi, and Moses Kamukama. 

It is also alleged that Rukutana also willfully and unlawfully damaged a motor vehicle registration number UAR 840X Toyota Rav 4 type which belongs to Moses Muhumuza.

According to the Judiciary public relations officer, Jameson Karemani, Rukutana has not taken a plea of these charges against him since they can only be tried by the chief magistrate who was not in court today.

As a result, the magistrate decided to send him to Kyamugorani, awaiting his return to court on Tuesday.      

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Lira district headquarters closed over COVID-19




Lira district headquarters have been closed after one staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week. 

On Monday morning, district staff were blocked at the gate with only the deputy chief administrative officer, his secretary and the receptionist allowed access to their offices. 

Paul Samuel Mbiiwa, the deputy chief administrative officer says that only heads of department will be allowed at the headquarters while the rest will work from home. He adds that the restriction will help to curb the spread of the virus.

“You see corona is not a joke. We have taken a step at fighting it and that is why you are seeing the staff outside. Even in my office here I do not want people to come if there is anything we can discuss on the phone.”

Francis Okello Olwa, a senior community development officer who doubles as the district spokesperson says that the entire district offices will be fumigated and closed for two days.

Health authorities in the district are planning to take samples from all the staff because they could have interacted with the one who tested positive. Currently, there are 19 COVID-19 patients under treatment at Lira regional referral hospital.     

On Sunday four health workers at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Dr Patrick Odongo, a senior medical officer at the hospital also succumbed to the virus.  

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