Besigye arrested again, US issues warning on protest crackdown, Uganda Civil Society wakes up

After spending Easter in a jail, Uganda’s opposition leader Dr.Kizza Besigye was granted bail with ridiculous conditions that he would not participate in walking to work for seven months. The abuse of judicial power was at display as the magistrate put a price tag on Besigye’s freedom. As it would turn out Besigye’s freedom was short-lived as the military and police blocked his car this morning, not even 48 hours had passed after he was granted bail. The military blocked Besigye’s car at the roundabout in the city near Uganda’s national referral hospital Mulago, smashed his window screens, pulled him out and loaded him into a van. This is the fourth time this month that Besigye has been violently arrested amidst protests of  high fuel prices that have tested President Museveni’s democracy rhetoric. Unlike in the past three instances, today Besigye was simply driving to the bank and the police told he was not allowed.

Shortly before his bail application hearing the U.S government had issued a warning to Ugandan government over the clamping down on people who are seeking to protest peacefully.

Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental human rights and a critical component of democracy. We renew our call for the Ugandan government to respect the opposition’s right to express its viewpoints and citizens’ rights to demonstrate peacefully and without fear of intimidation.

This warning came as the police paraded hired, jobless Ugandan youth before cameras claiming they were getting money from the opposition to take part in the walk to work campaign. The infamous head of police Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura personally brought these youth who were visibly confused uttering inconsistent statements about the Walk to Work campaign. Instead of moving to address the issue that the opposition has capitalized on to rally Ugandans, government has concentrated on using force and violence targeting opposition leaders.

In the North western part of the country, the army issued statements claiming that a group of people had gathered arrows and bows to attack a military camp in a bid to portray the Walk to Work campaign as a ploy by opposition to topple government. It has even been rumoured that the opposition leaders are likely to face treason charges.

The government has gone as far to accuse the religious leaders of being partisan after they called for sanity to prevail. The government in Uganda seems not ready to listen to anybody, its eager to crash anyone giving a divergent view.

Today the civil society organizations under the NGO Forum have come out, after three weeks of silence, to condemn government response to Walk to Work, called for concrete actions to address high fuel prices, food insecurity and allow freedom of expression.

The organizations called on government to put an end to the “ increasingly burdensome political bureaucracy and instead redirect those resources to fulfill the promise of improved service delivery as stated in the NRM Manifesto for 2011-2016 and articulated in the National Development Plan.”

Among others they say:

Government must release all political leaders arrested for participating in the ‘walk to walk’ protests as they have not violated any provision in our Constitution, but have been victims of a number of unconstitutional provisions in some of our laws.

Government must have its priorities right. Given the dire situation, government must stay its lavish expenditure on consumption such as the Ushs 3 Billion budget for the Swearing in Ceremony and halt payment of Ushs 1.8 trillion on the 8 Fighter Jets till such a time when it is affordable to spend on them, and instead direct those finances to respond to the immediate food and fuel crisis.

Government must increase its budget and leadership in the agriculture sector in order to increase agricultural output and productivity, through, inter alia, investing in modern agricultural production methods, rain water harvesting technologies and alternative methods such as irrigation to save the country from being overly dependent on the vagaries of natural weather. This will also go along way in creating employment.

The Government must review, update and implement a food security policy that will ensure that commercial export objectives are not promoted at the expense of domestic food security needs.

The government must transparently expedite oil production, meaningfully inform the public and ensure that value addition is carried out in Uganda to reduce on dependency on oil imports.

The Government must stop its present attitude in dismissing or suppressing dissenting views and recommit to creating a space for genuine dialogue amongst key stakeholders in political and civil society, as well as the private sector on historical and contemporary challenges facing the country; political, economic, social and others.

Above all, the President must take stern action against corruption, which is increasingly becoming Uganda’s number one development challenge.

Organisations also called on the opposition parties behind walk to work campaign to work within constitutional means and inform police of their activities to prevent any possible loss of lives.