Battle for Mogadishu; Ugandan family learns of son’s death from Internet

Mogadishu Skyline 2006
Image via Wikipedia

For the last two days, I have been trying to figure out the fate of one Ugandan peacekeeper in Somalia. Today is the sixth day of intense fighting in Mogadishu where the many soldiers from Burundi and Uganda have been killed and others captured by Al Shabaab.

This was after Somali government forces backed by African Union troops where Uganda has the bulk of the 8000 troops, launched a fresh offensive against Hard-line Al-Shabaab and seized some key bases in the capital Mogadishu.

In the Ugandan media, with all the election scandals going on, not much attention has been paid to the Mogadishu battle. Daily Monitor yesterday carried a story saying only two soldiers have so far been killed from the army side however Somali media claims at least 40 people, mainly soldiers were killed and 70 others wounded in fresh clashes of capturing positions in different parts of the Horn of African nation. Al Shabaab claim to be holding bodies of 20 AMISOM troops and number of others alive.

The lack of sources and reporters on the ground has made the Ugandan media deprive the Ugandan public  a clear picture of what’s going and many here don’t know the real human cost of this war.

I know the family of the killed peacekeeper and the relatives of the young man first got a phone call from Mogadishu from one of the peacekeepers saying he had been captured. So I tried to get the details of names of those killed, hoping he wasn’t among, in vain.

The  soldier at the end in Mogadishu said the 25 year-old soldier was with a group of 15 ,  11 of them were killed and four  others captured. It’s difficult to know the truth when you are in Kampala so I couldn’t get more details. The Ugandan military has so far said only two soldiers died in the battle. There’s belief among journalists here interested in the conflict that we can never  really know the actual number of those killed.­

After 48 hrs of searching for the truth, the relatives, whom I have talked to, later confirmed the death of their son through pictures on websites which are largely not visited by Ugandans. They  are holding a funeral without the body and no one from the military has contacted them.  Some bodies are still with Al Shabaab so it could be a long wait.

His immediate relatives saw gruesome images of the peacekeeper that Al Shabaab has availed to the media. Some of them show soldiers half naked, others with bodies being stepped on and there have been reports that many Ugandan and Burundian troops bodies have been dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

If you have followed the history of international interventions in Somalia you will remember that similar images of US soldiers being dragged in the streets during the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu evoked outrage in USA and led to the withdraw of troops from the Horn.

So looking at these images of Ugandan soldiers I wonder why we are not riled or even interested in what’s going on. I wonder why the war in Somalia is not so much a talked about here. When will Ugandan leaders say enough! We have done our part in Somalia.

Reading one blogger’s report from Mogadishu makes my guts stiffen. “Ugandan peacekeepers were kicked, dragged, stoned and spat on” and he talks of another Ugandan soldier whose body was left to rot in Mogadishu’s notorious Baar Ubax junction.

There have been pictures of Burundian soldiers (PoW) captured by Al Shabaab and others of dead soldiers. Some captured soldiers have been asked to give recorded messages to Somali media.

AMISOM spokesman, Maj. Barigye Ba-hoku was quoted talking to a Somali radio that “No one swims in the sea without getting wet. We are ready to face the consequences of Somalia battle – whatever the cost!”  Whatever cost?  May be this is what military propaganda requires but I believe Uganda should be rethinking about the Somalia mission. Somalia has an ineffective government and army. In fact many Somali soldiers have been trained here in Uganda but this is yet to bring about a difference. Other African countries have shunned the mission and the two east African countries could be stuck there for long.

According to a new report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) titled “Somalia: The Transitional Government on Life Support”, Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which Ugandan an Burundian forces are trying to help,  is too inept, increasingly corrupt and hobbled by President Sharif’s weak leadership.

The report released this week also did not get much media attention in Uganda.

The ICG report says the TFG has squandered the goodwill and support it received and achieved little of significance in the two years it has been in office. This explains why their area of influence in Mogadishu has been dwindling. The government is expected to deliver a permanent constitution before August 2011, when the TFG’s official mandate ends but ICG says is unlikely to be met.

ICG criticized the international community for pushing for the re-establishment of a European-style centralized state based in Mogadishu which they say will not work. And Uganda is stuck in this skewed international thinking of what a Somali state should look like.

“Since independence, one clan, or group of clans, has always used its control of the centre to take most of the resources and deny them to rival clans. Thus, whenever a new transitional government is created, Somalis are naturally wary and give it limited, or no, support, fearing it will only be used to dominate and marginalise them.”

The report indicated the current TFG is even less willing to share power than previous transitional administrations, which explains the recurrent tensions between it and self-governing enclaves like Puntland, Galmudug, Ximan and Xeeb and local grassroots movements like Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a (ASWJ).

The report suggested that recruitment of more AMISOM troops is not the answer to Somalia’s governance problems. President Museveni in the aftermath of the July 11 Kampala bombings was even writing opinions in regional press to drum up support for increase in troops. So far many African countries are unwilling to sacrifice their sons and daughters for a mission whose achievements are not very clear.

ICG called for more recruitment and coordination of the security forces of allied local administrations rather than looking on the outside.

And then the report had a warning “do not attempt a major offensive unless an appropriate accompanying political strategy has been develop.” Sorry, the offensive is already underway. It’s been called the deadliest batter in Mogadishu in the last months.

Museveni gets another five year lease in most expensive election deal

Last Friday,Ugandans went through their every five year ritual. But this time it didn’t come cheap. It was the most expensive presidential election in the country’s history which saw President Yoweri Museveni earn another  five year term to further climb the ladder of  the longest African serving presidents.

Ugandan voter displays a thumb marked after voting. 18/02/2011.Rosebell's photo.

Museveni won by 68 percent and his main challenger Dr.Kizza Besigye got 26 percent of the votes. Of the 13 million Ugandan voters, only 7 million came out to vote for their leader. Museveni had predicted an 84 percent win claiming his party had carried out a house hold poll. That is a figure he never even garnered when his popularity was its highest in the 1990.

As several election observer reports have indicated, Museveni used “the power of incumbency” to win the February 18 presidential vote. To understand well how and why Museveni won this vote, you must look at words of Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan journalist on the election. “NRM (Museveni’s party ) learnt that voter bribery is more efficient than violence,” said Mwenda.

And that’s what exactly happened. The votes were not just bought only a few hours to election but President Museveni , one can say,  broke into the national treasury to ensure he wins this vote.

There was the 20 million shillings given to Members of Parliament to supervise some inefficient agricultural plan in their constituencies, which is completely out of the mandate of a law maker anywhere in the world. We saw 13 political activists working with the ‘NGO Forum’ arrested for starting a campaign against this Ush 20 million that the government gave to MPs.

But the ultimate robbery from the national coffers came in form of a UGX 600 billion supplementary budget passed by a Museveni supporter -filled parliament 14 days to the election date. Of the 600 billion, UGX 79 billion went to State House. These funds and others acquired from different budgets enabled Museveni to distribute money to very tiny villages in Uganda.

In my home village of Kibona, Bushenyi district , a vote was going for about 30,000 shillings (13 USD). A relative told me, “Rosebell, for people whose monthly income is not even a dollar, they cannot  fail to reward someone who has given them 13 dollars.”

A friend who attended Museveni’s rally at Makerere University, one of the last rallies told me they were given 100,000 Shillings   (45 USD) for wearing Museveni’s yellow T-shirts and climbing on the trucks promoting the rally. In some parts people were paid as low as 500 Ushs (less than a quarter a dollar) to vote for the president. No opposition figure could ever match this kind of massive voter bribery.

The vote came at time when many had seen the news of events in North Africa and President Museveni had recruited and trained enough security to deploy even the most remote areas. For many Ugandans, this was the first time they had seen this massive deployment of troops. Although there were few incidents of clashes, the mere presence of security men brought fear among voters.

In Bugisu, confrontations between the security forces and civilians left a citizen dead and several others injured, including a journalist who was shot. Julius Odeke, a freelance photographer for the “Red Pepper” daily and “Razor” publication was admitted in hospital where reports show soldiers followed him and threaten his life!

One woman from Amuria told me that they were told “if you vote Besigye we will bury you with him. We will let the Karimojong ran your villages amuck.” This is in one of the areas that have suffered different wars and people have just started resettling for the first time in over 20 years. This woman told me such threats of war made many voters to cast their vote for Museveni or stay at home. The fear of what Museveni’s government would be capable of in case they didn’t win was high among many Ugandans.

There’s an African saying that goes “whoever argues with the King, stays longer on his knees.” This would be a perfect description of why President Museveni snatched some votes, more than he has ever got from Northern Uganda. People of northern Uganda are not foolish to just agree with Museveni’s regime arguments that they have brought them peace and that development is on the way. I do a lot of work in northern Uganda and one can’t say they have forgotten two decades of human rights violations from Museveni’s army or the highly politicized post conflict development plans that haven’t delivered much to a common man. One should not confuse their voting to mean they started a new page with NRM just like Andrew Mwenda claimed that we could see a Northern –Western partnership on the political map.

Northern Ugandans realised that Museveni would stay here by any means and they are better off not arguing with him. If they are good to Museveni, they too can snatch what they can from the national cake. So in the end Museveni got some decent support from an area that had two of their sons –Nobert Mao and Olara Otunnu – in the rae.

Opposition divided

Mwenda said, “the election was like a referendum, people came out to either vote Museveni or against him.”  And this is so true because having a fragmented opposition also helped Museveni win in many parts.  People were not totally sure of opposition plans but many went ahead to say no NRM. We also saw opposition making inroads in western Uganda which is seen as Museveni’s stronghold.

There were reports of ballot stuffing and Besigye presented ballot papers he claimed had been ticked before the polls opened, a claim that the police now want him to explain further. This claim was not paid attention to by many Ugandans until yesterday when we saw chaos during the Kampala mayor elections where thousands of ballot boxes with pre-ticked ballots were discovered by opposition groups. All the papers were ticked in favor of Museveni’s party candidate Peter Sematimba. Chances are high that the same method was used in presidential elections but Ugandans are no longer shocked by Museveni’s party stealing any election after all these are people who rig their own primaries. In fact in social forums Ugandans refer to the National Resistance Movement as the National Rigging Movement.

Five of the seven opposition presidential candidates, among them Inter-party Cooperation’s Kizza Besigye, Olara Otunnu of Uganda People’s Congress and Democratic Party’s Norbert Mao, have rejected the outcome of the ballot and vowed not to recognise “ Museveni’s illegitimate regime”.

The Inter Party Cooperation has called for countrywide protests in Uganda as Americans who have already congratulated their man call for calm. The UK has been more cautious given the different reports on different techniques used to buy this election.

Ugandans might not come to the streets to put up North Africa-like protest but they are deeply worried especially given Museveni’s pre-election statements. Museveni said if the East African Federation will not have been achieved by 2016 and if Uganda is not a Second World country by then, he will seek a ‘fifth term.’

Many are watching events in Libya and wondering whether that’s the path Uganda will take. Worries of Ugandans have been exacerbated by reports that the state broadcaster UBC TV has been stopped from coverage of Libya protests and firing of news editors.

We will wait to see how many will come out for the opposition protests and whether Museveni will “bang them into jails” as he promised last week.  Whatever happens Museveni has managed to buy himself time, many illiterate Ugandans decided to sell him the lease and I am sure he thinks he can renew that lease the same way after the five years.

Once Upon A Time

There was a point when Ugandans would be taken for a ride. The emperor would organize sham elections, his supporters (sycophants) would jump in the streets, hug and kiss each other for a victory well won (bribed). He would retire to his mansion with close family and friends. They would make merry, swing in their (our) chairs and plan to loot again.

His impoverished supporters would line the streets to catch a glimpse of their visionary (diversionary) leader snake through potholes. They would chant: “Our man, our savior.” Others would spice it: “Long live, long live to die on the throne.”

Thank Allah, Its 2021.

None of that madness will ever happen again. We forgive our comrades who followed him blindly. The emperor can no longer hold onto the throne, again. He’s a shadow of his 1986 days. Democracy has just left labor ward. Let’s give him a chance to grow. Enjoy his youth. And prosper.


By Bob Roberts Katende

Ugandan journalist

MS Journalism/ Public Policy at Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Ugandan women voices missing in media on election day

To Ugandan Televisions and other media!

The election results are slowly coming in. I have been glued to TV and radios all day trying to get different views. I have watched NTV, UBC and other TV stations and the only prominent female voice i saw was that of Presidential candidate Betty Olive Kamya. The TVs  tell me that Uganda has no females capable of analyzing an election. This blockage of women’s voices is not only on experts but also extends to journalist panels like the one on NTV. We are not seeing women’s voices on air.

This marginalization of women in our media especially when it comes to issues that are vital to the future of our country should not be tolerated. Ugandan media must give equal voice despite of gender. This further enforces stereotypes that women are not interested in politics. I wouldn’t expect media houses to be this discriminatory or ignoring women at such a crucial time in the country’s history.

Uganda’s traditional media comes of age increases online presence during polls; can they maintain the momentum?

Uganda held Presidential and Parliamentary elections today. I came into Uganda this morning from a meeting on freedom of expression in South Africa in time to cast my vote. I largely used online sources to monitor the events in three days before the election date.

In the last days, I have had chats with some Ugandan journalists trying to understand why they were not utilizing new media for news coverage and putting their opinions across even when price wars have forced Telecom companies in Uganda to provide free access to social networks like facebook. For the few that I spoke with they cited issues like lack computers for each journalist in a newsroom while mostly we agreed that Ugandan journalists are yet to fully appreciate the use of new media.

I am glad that some journalists did take a step and signed up on twitter while others increased their use of facebook for better discussions on the country’s political situation. The change in attitude however has not only been on individual level. In the last three days we have seen all leading media launch twitter accounts  among them @Newvisionwire @dailymonitor @observerug , @UBCnewsjournal.

We have seen newspapers and magazines push to get their share of attention online.  Uganda’s top tabloid @RedpepperUG launched their twitter account and they have joined The Independent newsmagazine @Uganda Talks  and @dispatchug to consistently update content from different parts of the country. While Red Pepper did a great job on the political reporting they never fail to insert in the sex aspects. Presidential candidate Olara Otunnu did not vote and not much is yet known why but one of the reactions was that the only unmarried candidate is good at abstaining.

Howver radio stations which are the major medium of mass communication in the country are yet to venture into online spaces or it probably their owners who are largely politicians are yet to wake up.

The most prominent elections hashtag #Ugandavotes has been vibrant in the last 48 hours and many Ugandans increased their presence on twitter. This could be a vital point for those interested in tapping into citizen journalism in the country. Most of these discussions are dominated by Ugandans telling their stories and also sharing their experiences with each other and world.

Traditional media in Uganda has largely not invested in new media; in fact few have a well working digital media department with well qualified people. Whatever happens in this election, we will be waiting to see if Uganda’s media keeps up the momentum and the use of new ICT tools to communicate to a largely youthful population using social networks.

Uganda civil society lists top security concerns ahead of poll.

Press Release!

A call to political leaders to prevent electoral violence

The Ugandan public has noted and observed through the media and other sources the potential for violence during and after the 2011 elections. The high expectation of violence has been caused by the possibility of electoral malpractices including the following:

 Some presidential candidates are making statements threatening peaceful assembly, association including the right to demonstrate;

 Weapons like arrows and clubs are allegedly being ferried into Kampala from various locations;

 ‘Crime Preventers’ have been hurriedly trained, they are ill-informed about the law and may be a source of violence;

 Some members of the Uganda Peoples’ Defense Forces (UPDF), Uganda Police and government employees especially RDCs have been seen to engage in partisan politics, which is a potential source of conflict;

 The Voters’ Register has inconsistencies such as multiple registrations and lack of photographs of voters.

 Millions of voters have no voters’ cards;

 The creation and promise of districts over the past few months could be interpreted as an attempt to manipulate the 2011 elections results;

 General lack of confidence by the public in the Electoral Commission, especially in regard to delivering free and fair election;

 The handling of historical issues, like the Traditional and Cultural Leaders Bill recently passed by parliament, is potentially divisive;

 Media houses and workers have increasingly been victims of state censorship and violence;

 Bribery and vote buying are rampant in these elections. The shillings 20 million irregularly given to MPs has been cited as good example of this malpractice;

 Some Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) including Human Rights Defenders working on elections have been intimidated.

 The government has failed to contain the mushrooming of militias like Yellow Brigade; Kalangala Action Plan; Red Brigade; Black Brigade; Kikankane; Mwoyo Gwa Gwanga; Hakuna Kulia; Hakuna Kulala; and Kiboko Squad;

 There is notable intolerance of the political actors and supporters on all sides.

The above suggests the potential for the current electoral process to plunge the country into a state of anarchy. For this reason we invoke the spirit of the 1995 Uganda Constitution, which requires that we recall our history and that we struggle for unity, peace, equality, democracy, freedom, social justice and progress. It is worth pointing out that the government of Uganda both under domestic and international law is duty-bound to protect all its citizens and their property using lawful means.

Now that the official campaigning is over, we address ourselves to the institutions and their heads below who have special responsibility not to lead the country down the terrible path of Uganda’s history, but to adhere to their public responsibilities and uphold their Constitutional mandate.

Ugandans are weary of state-inspired anarchy since the 1966 Kabaka Crisis to date.

 The President of Uganda and Commander in Chief of the armed forces, Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni;

 Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Eng. Badru Kiggundu;

 Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima;

 Inspector General of Police, Major. Gen Kale Kayihura;

 Minister of Security, Amama Mbabazi;

 All Intelligence Organizations and Agencies;

 The Judiciary;

 The Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda; and

 Members of Parliament.

Other individuals with special responsibility to ensure peace in this electoral period include:

 Presidential candidate of FDC/IPC, Rtd. Col. Kiiza Besigye;

 Presidential candidate of DP, Hon. Nobert Mao;

 Presidential candidate of UPC, Dr. Olara Otunu;

 Presidential candidate of UFA, Hon. Betty Kamya;

 Presidential candidate of PPP, Hon. J. Bidandi Ssali;

 Presidential candidate of PDP, Dr. Abed Bwanika;

 Presidential candidate, Mr. Samuel Lubega;

For emphasis, the Inspector General of Police is mandated under the law to protect peaceful assembly, association and demonstrations of citizens who may be expressing their discontent with outcomes of the electoral process or with any other issue pertaining to governance.

All Ugandans are also called upon to ensure a peaceful, free and fair election process.


Members of CSOs which have prepared this press release:

1. East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project

2. National Association of Professional Environmentalists

3. Human Rights Network – Uganda

4. Street Law – Uganda

5. United Religions Initiative

6. African Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims

7. Muslim Center for Justice and the Law

8. Uganda Water Governance Institute

9. African Institute for Energy Governance

10. Publish What You Pay – Uganda

11. Facilitation for Peace and Development



Militarizing Uganda; Museveni has succeeded

In my last post I talked about the heavy security deployments across the country. Here’s a video from citizen media.

These marches of soldiers and security men are a deliberate move to threaten Ugandans. These reminds of many old Ugandans of the dark past of the country and Museveni uses it to show that our security is only guaranteed according to his wishes. We simply don’t need all these security men in our neighbourhoods to feel secure in our country!



Uganda elections countdown; I am not a yellow girl

Uganda will hold presidential elections this Friday 18th February. The campaigns have been more peaceful and short of scandals like in 2006 when leading opposition figure Dr.Waren Kizza Besigye was arrested after he returned to the country, after years in exile in South Africa. The 2006 campaigns were also newsier journalists in a way that President Museveni, the incumbent then and now, decided to go below the belt and throw tramped up rape charges on his former doctor.

This year we have instead had increased reports of voter bribery right from the ruling party primaries and up to now. Many agents of different politicians will be distributing soap, sugar and all little household items to snatch the last vote. It’s elections democracy made in Uganda. The trend was set as far back as 1996 elections when I saw people traverse my village in the night giving people items to vote the incumbent. Since then, the bribery has become the ever present characteristic of elections in Uganda. The Electoral Commission will put out its warnings but we all know the truth and I will be waiting to see good reports on the extent of the bribery.

I will be casting my vote but I am yet to choose the party that will take it.

One thing is for sure I will not be looking at the yellow party- the ruling NRM because of very fundamental reasons. For many, it looks like I should be an easy catch for Museveni. I am from western Uganda which many people outside tend to accuse of benefiting from this regime and therefore ‘we reward Museveni handsomely.’  I went attended my university on a government scholarship at Makerere University and therefore in some circles especially Museveni’s supporters from western Uganda, I shouldn’t be that ungrateful – government money here is seen as the president’s.

But there other demographic factors that will make me not look at the name at the end of the ballot paper. I was just three years when Museveni took over power and therefore many people of my age don’t find his speeches , which usually begin with ‘when we came here in 1986’ relevant to our lives. I am one of those many Ugandans whom you can’t use the past of this country to control their future.

When you move around the country you will see posters and billboards of President Museveni holding young school kids sort of boasting for bringing free primary education (UPE) which in my view has so far only succeeded in giving us enough dropouts who can’t spell their own name.

My grandfather was a primary school teacher and he was one of the few that educated their daughters in my village. So since my education didn’t start with President Museveni’s arrival in 1986 I don’t find reason he should take my vote.

I have seen enough with lack of institutions in my country, a place where you have to bribe someone at every stage to get things done. President Museveni has successfully presided over the largest government and his ministers seek to loot the country any chance they get. He largely gives Ugandans what they want in form of districts, expanding his administrative positions to take care of people’s tribal sentiments but he will not give them one thing, a democratic Uganda.

I was raised to know that a person who doesn’t respect elders is worthless and a visit to the ministry of public service will tell you a lot about Museveni’s government. At this building old men and women who have served this country for decades are tossed up and down as they try to access their hard earned money (pensions) others are cheated by officials who offer them shortcuts. Many people whom Museveni found serving the country die without accessing their pension. It is only announced they will be paid a few months to the elections. The ministry is just a glimpse into this lootocracy.  A Parliament filled with Museveni’s backers has made it difficult to ensure prosecution of ministers that swindle government money. For anyone who cares about the future of this country, increasing the numbers of opposition members in the parliament is very vital.

I have consistently written about the crippled health system this country and how most Ugandans have to get their own money to buy drugs with hospitals that can’t even provide gloves to nurse delivering babies. And since President Museveni told Ugandans to produce till they can’t produce no more, the job of a midwife in Uganda is one of the most tedious and unrewarding ones.

We have also seen Museveni try to tell the youth in the last few days, through the New Vision newspaper, which largely leads with his stories that they shouldn’t vote the opposition for it will sabotage a government plan to give them jobs. I don’t think Ugandan youth are fools to think that what a man has not done in 25 years can achieve in 5 years.  Uganda produces about 400,000 graduates from higher institutions of learning every year but less than 50,000 jobs are created annually. President Museveni and his brother Salim Saleh have even gone into security business sending hundreds of Ugandan youth to Iraq and Afghanistan to reduce the numbers of idle youth. The truth is there’s no real plan for the youth and many will not be voting for the ruling party.

President Museveni has always taken the votes of old Ugandans by reminding them of the olden troubled days of Idi Amin. Most of Uganda has been peaceful at the expense of the north and some parts of western Uganda for the last 25 years. With the attack by Al- shabab on Kampala at the World Cup final in July last year, many Ugandans are soon realizing that the threat to their lives is no longer the rebels alone. But because many have for long trusted Museveni on security, few Ugandans bother to know or even ask why their sons are fighting in Somalia.

For a regime that has enjoyed such trust on security matters, there shouldn’t be thousands of police officers at every corner in Kampala right now. Ugandans have not seen such a number of security men and no wonder people are now anxious, buying sacks of rice, maize flour and other household items thinking violence might engulf the city after Friday.

President Museveni has tried to say the he has a drug for those looking to cause trouble but the anxiety of Ugandans is not about those people that the president alone seems to know. People are scared of this increased militarism and police in different uniforms at every corner you stop. Today I went out to Wandegeya, just outside the central business area, to a shop I usually visit and people who know me as a journalist were asking me what’s going on in the city. I told them I don’t seem to know more than what they you see. Many policemen with their AK47s on the backs, few Ugandans are feeling safe ahead of Friday. It’s this increase in security men in the towns across Uganda that is giving Ugandans nightmares about possible violence at the slightest protest of anything out Friday’s vote.

We wait for the next three days and see if every home will have a policeman attached to it in the name of security.

Why Some African leaders are smiling at the storm in North Africa

It’s been more than a month since protests that began in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid spread across North Africa and the Middle East. The protests in Tunisia were sparked by the action Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year old street vendor who on December 17, 2010 set himself on fire in front of the municipal building protesting his ill-treatment by local police who confiscated his merchandise.

By the time Bouazizi died on January 4, 2011, protests had gripped Tunisia, many Tunisians poured in the streets to challenge the regime of -President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Ben Ali was later forced to flee to Saudi Arabia, ending his 23 year old rule.

The Tunisian revolution, entirely engineered from within, spread ripples to the rest of the Arab world and protests have been going on ever since. Africans have largely followed the protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen and Sudan through different media. In Uganda where local TV stations air direct feeds from Al Jazeera and other international networks, many people especially in the capital have watched in disbelief. They have hardly seen determined people standing up to a regime without the help of a gun.

Many Ugandans in the social networks have facebook status and tweets warning or wishing the same could happen in Uganda. I have refused to be optimistic about the events in North Africa. However a good look at Zimbabwe, Angola, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville to Uganda  you would understand the excitement.

The first post I made when Ben Ali was ousted by Tunisians was “the African club of dictators has lost a member and they will be doing some rethinking.” May be I should have been more specific on which leaders. So far only Sudan’s Omar al Bashir, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika and to some extent, the self-baptised Africa’s king of Kings, Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi are feeling the quakes and tremors.

At  the African Union summit  in Addis Ababa, Tunisia was missing on the agenda but the AU president hailed the maturity of Tunisian people. The summit largely dwelt on the Ivory Coast election row where they are yet to reach an agreement.

The protests in North Africa have been largely around unemployment rate, corruption, poor living conditions and curtailing of freedoms of masses by the regimes. A look at the statistics tells you a story that would trick most of Africa into thinking they too could have a shot at bringing down their own dictators.

Almost two thirds of Egypt’s population has been born since President Hosni Mubarak came to power. Unemployment rate is North Africa has been high as their leaders live a royalty life. Corruption has been so rampant that the middle class in these countries never saw the reason why they paid taxes.  The living conditions in these countries for most of the population were terrible.  Only one percent of rural people in Tunisia have access to clean water and unemployment was at 14.2 percent as of 2009.

Compare the situation in these countries to Uganda you will find a lot of similarities.

About 77 per cent of Uganda’s population is youth. According to a 2008 World Bank report, Uganda has the highest youth unemployment rate and the youngest population in the world.

The African Development Indicators [ADI] report 2008/2009, showed youth have borne the burden of unemployment with the rate at 83 percent.

Corruption has been well documented and a few examples including the siphoning of the Global Fund money meant for HIV and Malaria interventions. More than $1.6 million was embezzled and misappropriated and we still can’t really point out to any recovery more than 3 years down the road. One of the ministers that was implicated in this corruption scandal once told me, on a flight to London, that the “President knew the where the global fund money went.” And later testimonies showed some of it ended up supporting the referendum in 2005.

This scandal that led to Uganda to be temporarily suspended from benefiting from the Fund did not cause much outrage and the ministers who were in charge are walking free in our streets. Capt. Mike Mukula, the junior health minister at the time has actually returned to campaign for a parliamentary post with a cynical slogan “We want you back” in Soroti Eastern Uganda.

There’s been evidence that a lots of funds meant for the hosting of 2007 the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting went missing. President Museveni ordered for arrests but we haven’t seen any big officials brought to book.

Just this month, members of parliament woke up and found 20 million shillings wired to their accounts for monitoring NAADs programs (an agricultural program that has largely benefits those who support the regime). President Museveni said that MPs needed this money ironically at a time of elections and the Ministry of Finance has come out to say the government is broke and will not easily fund certain sectors. The media continues the campaign  calling this a bribe and some opposition MPs have gone ahead to return the money to Parliament.

Talk of standard of living, Uganda having worse development indicators than the North African countries. Most Ugandans rely on out of pocket expenditure for their health, public health services are very hard to access and even when you get to hospitals there are no drugs. Soroti, a Regional Referral Hospital has only three maternity beds, it serves a population of over 20,000. The Universal primary education enrolled pupils and in the end we have produced half-baked primary education drop outs across the country with girls being affected most.

We cannot forget that President Museveni has been in power for now 25 years and he’s seeking re-election to step in the shoes of Mubarak.

This kind of comparison would one understand why some educated youthful Ugandans can have faith that la revolución will spread farther south of the Nile. This is not a wild expectation but looking on the side you would know well why Ugandans are not about to stand to President Museveni and his regime.

North African countries have a high literacy level over 70 percent and there are more urban dwellers in the north than in most of sub-Saharan Africa with a more exceptions. Most people who live in urban areas in Uganda for instance are more aware of the working of the state and they generally don’t vote President Museveni. So urbanization has a huge impact on how citizens relate to government and urban dwellers in Africa generally expect more from government.

Food prices have been a big factor in North Africa but we have not seen food prices threatening the survival of 80 percent of most Ugandans who live in the rural areas. Uganda is a fertile country and most people eat from their gardens. I grew up in a rural area and for me government means a few things. They do not relate hunger to government failures or lack of policies.  In the last twenty five years President Museveni has capitalized on this and made sleep (‘peace’) as the sole basic need Ugandans can demand for.

And like Ibrahim Sharqieh, the Deputy Director, Brookings Doha Center said, “the Tunisian model demonstrates, revolutions do not happen overnight.”

Many Ugandans especially the old have been psyched about the past of the country. They live in eternal fear that Museveni alone can guarantee a peaceful Uganda and he reinforces this daily with talk of when he came in 1986 and we –shall- deal- with –talk for every problem the country faces is from saboteurs.

Sharqieh further says “They (revolutions) require an accumulation of events before the environment ripens… They require momentum. Tunisians today recognize how the 1984 “bread revolution” has impacted their current uprising, as well as the 1988 Algerian uprising that collapsed the country’s single party system and introduced democratic reforms. Egyptians likewise recognize the significance of the April 6 price and wages demonstrations in 2008 and food demonstrations in 2007.”

Borrowing from Sharqieh’s analysis of theTunisian model, “an impoverished, educated people can more effectively organize violent protests and disrupt stability” than our largely uneducated psyched population.

Most youth in Uganda are also engulfed in the craze to acquire quick free money just like their fathers in power. They have not seen what effective institutions mean and the struggle to snatch what you can has not left us behind. There’s a lot of money being distributed now across the country as we near the voting day on February 18th. And the youth who could have made a difference are part of this crowd which sells their vote. I always ask, why should I sell my future to men who are the evening of their lives?  Most youth haven’t had time to stop and ask that question and reflect while others stay away from voting and engaging in any political thinking this guarantees their survival.

And also the heavy reliance on donor money doesn’t make an ordinary African question his government. Someone once told me “abo barya esente zabazungu gwe abifaakoki?” meaning they are eating white people’s money why do you care? So Africans still see funds as either government property or from a token to their government from western countries.

Also there was unity among the people across divides of religion and class, that division is still here in form of looking at everyone’s region and tribe.

Lastly the revolutions going in North Africa have been helped by the use of new media which has had a well reception in the whole of the Arab region in the last decade. In the rest of Africa, many youth have not seen a computer and while telephones have increased the participation of youth in freedom of expression, the youth can’t easily maneuver when government puts a crackdown. And those on social networks are not yet using them for the cases that affect their daily lives. In 2006, the government jammed radio stations which were airing election results and people had to rely solely on the Electoral Commission (EC) tally center. The EC, which has been ruled incompetent by the highest court in the land, to be the only source of information Ugandan’s democracy remains at the mercy of a few men.

Most people in Uganda generally are in two categories those that fear the regime and those that fear life after the regime. Those in fear are aware that they will be crashed because we have seen heavy military equipment (one usually saved for combat) in the streets of Kampala when the youth have come out to demonstrate in the past. Those who fear the life after can’t start imagining the scenario.

This happens in many other African countries where rulers have given themselves more years and abrogated constitutions to leave nations with a chance of having a life president. So for now I remain skeptical of my country seeing any of what’s on TV and I hope that these revolutions bring meaningful changes to these countries. That no one will hijack a peoples struggle just like it happened in Iran decades ago.