By P. Onyait-Odeke
Recently, walking to work became the new phenomenon in Uganda’s Politics; a country where the population is experiencing a steadily rising inflation that has caused fuel & commodity prices to escalate. From 11.4 to 14.1% in just one month the cost of living is so high that the majority of the people are finding it hard to feed.
Just two months back, president Museveni beat the opposition with a large margin in an election where the opposition cried foul claiming that the election was marred with massive bribery of the electorate, intimidation of voters, rigging and unfair play by the incumbent as cited in the Common wealth election observers report recently released. Unlike in previous elections where opposition resorted to the courts of law to sort out election irregularities, after two attempts, they seem to have noticed that the courts of law may not offer them justice anytime soon. In a new strategy, opposition for the first time united around a common goal and initiated the “Walk to Work” demonstrations protesting against the sky rocketing prices of fuel and basic commodities.
The protests that have been on for over five weeks now were violently quelled by government which received a lot of disapproval and condemnation from the legal fraternity and the international community. The demonstrations saw many protestors in hospitals, while some people unfortunately lost their lives from stray bullets. Very absurd was the death of a one year old baby by a stray bullet in Masaka a town south west of the country. Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested and detained inclusive of the leader of the main opposition party FDC’s Dr. Kizza Besigye who was inhumanely arrested when his car was vandalized and he was diced in pepper spray affecting his eye sight then bundled on a police pick-up truck. Earlier, his finger was shattered by a bullet – a fracture he is still nursing. Norbert Mao the Democratic Party leader was arrested for 2weeks and tried in court with a lot procedural breeches making his trial illegal and a nullity. As much as the government seems like its panicking, I would like to point out one of the major issues the opposition should urgently address.
What is killing the Walk to Work?
Undoubtedly, the protests were an excellent idea where the Ugandan opposition rallied around an issue of common interests that affects the Nation as a whole instead of rallying around individuals and personalities. Even though the Idea isn’t original, the fact that it works is what mattered the most; participating in an activity that isn’t illegal but drives a point home. The biggest problem with the protests is their violent nature. As much as they claim to be peaceful, we have seen shops looted, businesses abandoned government cars set on fire among others as certain elements use the confusion to perpetrate crime. Many more people have died than government is willing to admit. Violence in the 21st century will never be a solution in cases of this nature. You cannot fight a government armed with all manner of ammunition with stones and barricades- as always this will only lead to a blood bath with many Ugandans involuntarily sacrificing their lives. One may be quick to blame the government for the violent and barbarian methods of crowd control but borrowing from Ghandi, the best weapon we as Ugandans have is Non Violence – there is nothing more shameful than attacking an unarmed nonviolent man. Imagine if police came to disperse a crowd and they all sat down shooting into the crowd would be very inhumane. Unfortunately these traits of violence seem to be rooted deep in our political history and if the opposition doesn’t address the issue of violence, the protests might take a U- turn making them look bad and trashing all the efforts and sacrifices made so far. This is definitely going to be test on the opposition – Ugandans and the world will be keenly watching how they manage the protests which will be a key determining factor in the struggle.
Winning or Losing:
First and foremost, the opposition should denounce all forms of violence and criminal activity during the protests giving the people non-violent alternatives and sharing with them what they should and shouldn’t do during the protests. They should clearly state that any individuals who engage in any form of violence or crime shall be disowned and are not a part of what the cause is trying to achieve. This will involve sensitizing the people about the negative effects of violence and why they shouldn’t be a part of it.
The opposition should also make it clear that in this cause, people will get injured and some will die but that is the price we are paying for the freedom of our country from bad governance; even though it would be ideal that no people die, there are some things we can’t avoid. We can’t have the omelet without breaking the eggs. It gives the people courage if their leaders are taking the front line and putting their lives in harm’s way like everyone else
As accountable leaders, they should take responsibility for all their actions even when things go wrong. The opposition should keep a record of all deaths during the protests and should offer any possible help to the grieving families in their time of despair. Further, they should recognize the dead as people who sacrificed their lives in the struggle. This is an uphill task; I call it “the African mystery of incumbency” and let not the opposition take it lightly for the way they handle the current situation greatly depicts how they would they manage the country should they get power.
The author is a planner and strategist at Platform Revolution. You can follow his other writings on his blog at http://onyaitodeke.blogspot.com