High fuel prices protests; a real test for Museveni regime

Uganda police has again arrested three opposition leaders as they tried to continue the Walk to Work campaign. The campaign was started by a group called Activists for Change protesting the high fuel prices. They called for protests for a month every Monday and Thursday for Ugandans to walk to work. On April 11, Kiiza Besigye, Norbert Mao and other opposition parliamentarians were blocked from walking to their offices, arrested and later charged with inciting violence and disobeying lawful orders.

Today, UPC’s Olara Otunnu and several other Ugandans from different political parties joined the protest.

For the first time, Uganda’s opposition moved beyond the politics of attacking Museveni and chose an issue that concerns most Ugandans whether you are in Museveni’s party or not. The high fuel prices have driven food prices up and many of Uganda’s urban poor can hardly afford a meal.

The police on ‘orders from above’ blocked the walks before they began and in their brutality was once again on display as they arrested the politicians. In Gulu, three people died from bullet wound when the government ordered the military to come in to stop Mao from walking in the streets of Gulu. The brutality with which the government reacted to Ugandans expressing themselves brought back the sound of the gun to Gulu, a place that for  20 something years was the epicenter of the brutality of both by rebels and government soldiers in the war on LRA.

In Kampala, the receivers of  police brutality included primary school children. Our police has no problem putting teargas canisters into schools . As long as Besigye is  nearby, the rest of you are collateral.

Asked about the police brutality and possible future charges, Museveni said he is a potential Nobel Peace Prize candidate for the way his party has dealt with security issues. This I assume was an attempt by the president at being cynical amidst protests that his ministers labelled “an attempt to topple government.”  They are referring to attempts on regime change because of what has gone on in North Africa.

Last week Museveni’s regime used the cover of security to order TV stations not broadcast live coverage of events and one TV station was reportedly switched off for 15 minutes. His regime also went an extra mile to order Internet Service Providers to block social media networks like twitter and facebook where people were reporting the events. It looks like only the government run Uganda Telecom effectively complied with the directive. These current protests clearly are not aimed at regime change but raising issues that affect Ugandans despite Museveni’s worry –looking at Libya and Egypt.

Museveni called the press to him home village miles away from Kampala –another unnecessary expenditure for newsrooms- where he never offered any solution to issues that the protestors are riding on. Museveni was quick to divide Ugandans into farmers and urban dwellers and then threw Besigye to the equation.

 “When food prices go up, yes people in towns suffer but farmers are very happy. Farmers are wondering what Besigye is talking about. That prices have gone up is good for them.”

These protests bring back the opposition in the limelight after a lost election that was largely due to massive voter buying and lack of organized opposition. Just when the ruling party thought they had him dealt a blow, Besigye comes back strong relating to issues of ordinary citizens that makes it difficult to point an accusing finger that this is a stint of ‘power hungry man.’

President Museveni who is preparing a huge banquet for African dictators to attend his swearing in ceremony on May 12, didn’t see any problem with food prices. His reaction shows he is still stuck in 1986. Most of us in urban centers are sons and daughters of farmers he claim are benefiting from the current situation.

Most Ugandans I know who live in cities strive amidst unemployment and high prices to send money back to villages where the farmers live. If you want to know this visit a local mobile money transfer agent. People are sending as little as 5000 Shillings back to their relatives who depend on them for healthcare, school fees e.t.c. The dependence rate is so high in Uganda that Museveni cannot deceive us that the problems of those living in the urban centers do not related to those of a farmer in Bushenyi. I am a daughter of farmers who are interested in my wellbeing but even the money they earn from a farm is not enough for them to send a part to their daughter in Kampala and also cater for their needs. What affects those living in urban areas especially the unemployed youth, affects the farmer too.

Museveni said:  

In the long run, the solution to all this fluctuation is irrigation which we shall embark on in the 3rd or 4th year of the new government. We will first deal with electricity and want to increase the supply to 3,800 megawatts by 2016. Then work on the roads before launching irrigation.”

Of course he assumes in the next four years Ugandans will have forgotten these words just as he assumes we forgot that in his 2001 manifesto he promised ten times that he would not run again for presidency.

With unemployment levels going up and Museveni’s government more interested in amassing wealth, the discontent will continue. One journalist friend who is covered last week’s protests told me some youth were yelling to opposition members “don’t even ask us to walk, give us guns”. This kind of desperation must be turned into something positive and we hope the opposition will continue to cultivate the spirit of non-violent protests which is very lucking much in our history. It’s only through well organized non-violent actions that Ugandans will learn to stand up to their rulers. Another Museveni with his 27 men fighting to ‘liberate’ Uganda will not work for us as we have already tested.

I doubt Museveni can imprison all three opposition leaders although there are early indications that he may prefer more treason charges for Besigye in particular. Whatever Museveni chooses to do with the leaders of Walk to Work campaign, so much has changed since he bought the election and the challenges facing urban dwellers will be a thorn in the side of the president for the next five years as long the opposition can continue to wisely choose issues that affect ordinary Ugandans and rally the masses.

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