Is Uganda on a steady road to a police state?
By Crispy Kaheru
There’s been a lot of talk on the key laws that parliament passed or considered to pass prior to the 2011 general elections. Taking stock of the laws passed or brought before the Parliament of Uganda during the fore said period, you will discover that most of them reflect a deep distrust in the inherent fundamental freedoms and liberties of the people. Laws including: The NGO Registration (Amendment) Act 2006; The Access to Information Regulations 2007; The Proposed Public Order Management Bill 2009; The Press and Journalist Amendment Bill 2010; Regulation of Interception of Communications Act 2010; and The Institution of the Traditional and Cultural Leaders’ Bill 2010, are seemingly an attempt to purge critical voices. However not all the new laws are bad but their lack of efficacy seems to be very apparent. Actually someone would not be far from the truth if they observed that most of these laws were introduced simply to make a political point and not to make anyone's life better or simpler or freer.
Demonstrated by the clamp-down on some ordinary Ugandans who were walking to their places of work in Kampala, one would be right to conclude that those with dissenting views or those who lie on the opposing side of the political divide are subject to extraordinarily high rates of surveillance and arrests than never before. This means that our country is living under a level of surveillance that can only be characterized as a police state. Unfortunately, in this burgeoning police state, who does and doesn't receive justice, is determined by the ‘big man’ and his underlings.
Whereas what is happening is a good learning experience to inform how we gradually define our democracy, government ought to steer clear of elements of actions or inactions that propone extreme domestic surveillance of its own ordinary citizens. We don’t want to be trapped in a situation similar to that of the Nazi Germany or worse still, regress to the subjugation that came along with some of the post-independence regimes in Uganda. In Nazi Germany, the police were allowed to arrest people on suspicion that they were about to do wrong. This gave the police huge powers. All local police units had to draw up a list of people in their locality who might be suspected of being “Enemies of the State”. The lists were passed on to “the Secret Police”. This Police had the power to do as it liked. Actually clearly put, anybody who was deemed to be a political threat was a candidate to the list of those to be arrested. There are specks of evidence to conclude that Uganda seems to be treading on the path where the police is the master card to subdue any sort of citizen discontent. Citizens’ common sense has been stolen. In its place there are the new laws that have overthrown the long tradition of pragmatism and replaced it with a “legalistic” approach to everything.
The citizens detest a situation where cruelty substitutes for justice. Recent and on-going rhetoric of indifference advanced by some government officials on the current unpleasant cost of living situation and the retching of the citizens’ debate on the same simply demonstrates that government doesn't like its people and doesn't want to help them but rather suppress them against speaking out on what they feel.
Time immemorial through now, young people are generally taught a celebratory history of the civil rights movement and the politics of nonviolent resistance centered on the icons of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. This is a call to government: When the good citizens start to practice the good things they have been taught by their good teachers in the good schools, they should not be ruthlessly gagged but rather listened to and empathized with.