News / Africa

Besigye Prevented from Returning to Uganda on Eve of Inauguration

Uganda's opposition leader Kizza Besigye talks to the media at Jommo Kenyatta International Airport, in Nairobi, May 11, 2011
Uganda's opposition leader Kizza Besigye talks to the media at Jommo Kenyatta International Airport, in Nairobi, May 11, 2011

Just one day before Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is sworn in for a fourth term in office, opposition leader Kizza Besigye was barred from re-entering the country Wednesday.  He later said he was cleared to return but was still in Kenya late in the day. 

With Uganda in the midst of civil unrest over the rising cost of living, the country’s police and armed forces are tightening security in Kampala for the inauguration ceremony of President Yoweri Museveni on Thursday.

Tuesday saw a new and unusual tactic employed to quell the “Walk to Work” protests in Kampala as Uganda’s police drenched protesters with pink paint and once again arrested opposition leader Norbert Mao.

The latest move, however, came Wednesday morning when opposition chief Kizza Besigye was barred from returning to Uganda after a week spent in a Kenyan hospital.

Besigye spent the majority of Wednesday seated in a VIP lounge at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta airport after being told to exit Kenya Airways flight 410, which was scheduled to arrive in Uganda just after 9:00 a.m.

Kenya Airways said it had received information that the plane would not be allowed to land at Entebbe International Airport if the opposition leader was on board.

Officials from the Ugandan government have denied a role in barring Besigye's return to Kampala.

But Wafula Ogutu, a spokesman for Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change rejected the denial.

“It is a lie. He was seated already in the plane. The air hostess who went to offload Dr. Besigye told him that her chief executive had received a request from the Uganda government - or information that they would not allow the plane to land in Uganda if Besigye was aboard,” said Ogutu.

It now appears that Besigye will be allowed to return to Uganda, but may not arrive until Thursday. There is speculation among Uganda’s opposition parties that the leader was barred to prevent any unrest during Thursday’s inauguration ceremony. With Thursday declared a national holiday, opposition groups said the “Walk to Work” demonstrations would become “Walk to Pray” demonstrations instead.

Besigye told reporters at the Nairobi airport the protests would continue whether or not he was present and Ogutu told VOA there were plans for a response to Besigye’s detention.

“We haven’t decided what to do but definitely there will be something. We can’t just let it pass like that. And hopefully Dr. Besigye will be allowed to come back tomorrow, which I think is not unlikely. It just further confirms that he is undergoing political persecution from the government of Uganda,” said Ogutu.

Besigye has been arrested multiple times for leading the “Walk to Work” every Monday and Thursday since April to protest the rising cost of food and fuel in Uganda. The demonstrations have been met with overwhelming force by the Ugandan police and military and have been declared illegal by President Museveni. The president will take his fourth oath of office Thursday, extending his tenure as president to over 25 years.

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