News / Africa

Uganda Crackdown on Opposition Mutes Protest Movement

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni talks during a news conference at the Nakasero State Lodge in the capital Kampala, Uganda, October 16, 2011.
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni talks during a news conference at the Nakasero State Lodge in the capital Kampala, Uganda, October 16, 2011.

Uganda's government has taken swift measures this month to thwart a resurgence of the so-called Walk to Work protest movement. The demonstrations have grown out of the frustrations some Ugandans feel about official fraud and mismanagement. The protests have led some to wonder whether Uganda could be the next African country to see its long-time ruler leave power.

As the eyes of the world were focused on the hunt for Gadhafi and liberation in Libya last week, Ugandans were worried about their own attempts at change. Governed by a president whose rule has spanned 25 years, many people here in Uganda are tired of corruption and rampant inflation.

The Walk to Work protest movement is meant to send a strong message to their President Yoweri Museveni - who since 2006 has won two multi-party elections - that enough is enough.

Movement kept down

Walk to Work encouraged people to leave their vehicles at home and walk, in protest against the rising cost of fuel. The protests were meant to be peaceful, but the outcome was anything but.

It began last April, when massive demonstrations turned violent and nine people were killed. This time, demonstrators on October 17 were met by tear gas and police batons, and a number of organizers were placed under house arrest or imprisoned on charges of treason. By the end of the week, with its leaders out of circulation, the movement had largely fizzled out. A rally planned for Saturday the 22nd, did not happen at all.

As political analyst Nicholas Sengoba explains, the government’s reaction was strategic.

“The government has taken lessons from May and April. They have stopped the main attraction points - that is the leaders - from either moving from their homes, or curtailed their freedom of movement. It is very difficult for people to organize when the leaders are incapacitated or immobilized,” said Sengoba.

Sidelining protest leaders

President Museveni has not publicly commented on the protest from last week. But police have. They say Saturday's rally was not allowed because the protesters failed to get proper permission. Prior to that, police have accused the protesters of disturbing the peace and some of attempting to overthrow the government by force.

Uganda's main opposition leader Kizza Besigye (2nd R, blue cap) and his supporters are blocked by policemen during a Walk to Work protest in the Kasangati suburb near Uganda's capital Kampala, Uganda, October 18, 2011.
Uganda's main opposition leader Kizza Besigye (2nd R, blue cap) and his supporters are blocked by policemen during a Walk to Work protest in the Kasangati suburb near Uganda's capital Kampala, Uganda, October 18, 2011.

Opposition leader Kizza Besigye was placed under house arrest last week to prevent him from walking to work. He says he does hope to create the sort of mass movement that drove dictators in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya from power.

“They may deprive me of my freedoms temporarily, but eventually we shall, I am sure, overcome this dictatorship, as indeed our fellow Africans are doing in other parts of the continent,” said Besigye.

Public discontent still simmers in Uganda. The country’s inflation rate climbed to more than 28 percent in September - the highest level in nearly two decades - making it difficult for many ordinary Ugandans to make ends meet. The country has also been rocked this month by several high-profile corruption cases, some involving the oil recently discovered in the west of the country.

Michael Mabike, head of the opposition Social Democratic Party, said the state has enjoyed an unfair monopoly of Uganda’s wealth.

“We believe that we’ve got sufficient resources to manage this country. But unfortunately, you are finding a handful of people benefiting more than the majority. Whoever has been able to make money in the last 25 years is in one way or another connected to the state or to the government,” said Mabike.

With long-serving leaders toppling across North Africa, many people are wondering whether Museveni could be the next to fall. Mabike said he thinks what happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya this year is the main reason why the Ugandan government acted so swiftly to silence last week’s protesters.

“Given what’s happening in the Arab world, the [Ugandan] government is panicking. The government is not taking any chance. That is why you are seeing that they are using Draconian measures to curb and crush any possible rebellion,” said Mabike.

But there are important distinctions between Uganda and what has happened in North Africa. Unlike the long time leaders of Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, Museveni can claim a democratic mandate from his people. And political analyst Nicholas Sengoba also argues Walk to Work has failed to generate the kind of popular momentum seen in North Africa. Conditions in Uganda are different than they are in North Africa, and real change will have to come from the ruling party itself, he said.

“The organization of the Arab Spring was not by politicians, but by civil society and individuals and people from within the middle class, the educated, the intelligentsia. Here, the mobilization is mainly by politicians, and they are not such a critical mass to create such a massive movement," said Sengoba. "My gut feeling is really that if there is ever going to be a change in Uganda, it is going to be from within the ruling party. They came on the wave of a revolution, and revolutions, as you know, get to a time when they eat their own children [consume themselves].”

Civil strife

Still, last week’s arrests of activists were enough to make many Ugandans nervous. Some, like this woman from Kampala, are concerned what will happen in case of a stand-off between supporters of opposition leader and one-time presidential candidate Kizza Besigye and the Museveni government.

“Of course Besigye has also people who support him. There are so many people that support him. So with time they are going to riot. So it will eventually result into a war. I’m afraid of this,” said the woman.

There appear to be no more Walk to Work protests planned in the coming days with several organizers still in prison. But, for his part,  Besigye vows to continue walking to work in the hope that people will join him.

You May Like

Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Accuses Russia of Territorial Incursionsi
X
Zlatica Hoke
August 28, 2014 4:07 AM
Ukraine says a key border town (Novoazovsk) and surrounding areas of in southeastern Ukraine have fallen under the control of Russia's military. President Poroshenko says "Russian troops have actually been brought into Ukraine." Despite repeated denials from Moscow, Ukraine accuses the Kremlin of providing weapons and fighters to separatists in eastern Ukraine, toward the Russian leadership's alleged goal of annexing that strategic territory. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Accuses Russia of Territorial Incursions

Ukraine says a key border town (Novoazovsk) and surrounding areas of in southeastern Ukraine have fallen under the control of Russia's military. President Poroshenko says "Russian troops have actually been brought into Ukraine." Despite repeated denials from Moscow, Ukraine accuses the Kremlin of providing weapons and fighters to separatists in eastern Ukraine, toward the Russian leadership's alleged goal of annexing that strategic territory. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid