AT KAMPALA, October 18th 2011
Let me start by thanking all of you who stepped out in the face of intimidation and threats from the highest office of this land to the lowliest security official and walked to work these past two days. I know the tremendous courage it took to do the most ordinary and mundane of things: To walk to work. Your cause for a better Uganda was almost lost in the noise of propaganda that followed our decision to declare the Walk to Work Week. The panic caused by your commitment to change is testament to your courage and dedication.
I would like to address some key concerns relating to the Walk to Work Week. The first being the concern that children were doing exams and they would be disrupted by our activities. We took this into due consideration, because parents’ failure to meet their children’s education needs has been at the center of our campaigns. Yet the Inspector General of Police using a letter from a dubious group known as the Parent’s Brigade decided to clamp down on our rights. The brigade alleged they had information that participants in Walk to Work intended to take cover in schools when pursued by anti-riot police. It is very revealing that the IGP was willing to take action based on the word of this dubious Brigade. It is also revealing that both the Police and the Brigade worked on the assumption that walking to work is a chaotic activity that attracts anti-riot police.
Activists For Change is a pressure group that is founded on the principle of nonviolent action. Our activities are peaceful and we disassociate ourselves from any group that uses violent methods to achieve its objectives. We decided to go ahead with our Walk to Work week because we were confident that we would conduct ourselves peacefully and because we were not prepared to concede our constitutional rights and freedoms. But there was another reason why we went ahead. In our past dealings with the Police, they have found any and every reason to frustrate our activities. Since we launched A4C last April we have had to carry out our campaign in spite of the police and not because of their cooperation.
The launch of A4C in April at Christ the King was disrupted and we had to quickly find an alternative venue at a hotel. Our first activity, Walk to Work; was fought tooth and nail by government’s security and PR apparatus. The government was jittery and imputed reasons to our actions that were borne of its fear of a peoples’ revolution. We defied their illegal attempts to muzzle us and went ahead with the first phase of Walk to Work. As a result they used disproportionate force to clamp down our activities causing death and injuries as well as bringing this country into international disrepute. When we launched the ‘Light a Candle’ campaign to honor the dead, it ended with the staccato noise of gunfire that has become the unfortunate finale of A4C’s peaceful events. Soon thereafter we tried to join North Africans to celebrate the fall of dictators and once again Police refused to grant us permission. We were labeled terrorists in what is an obvious design to criminalize our peaceful group.
These past experiences were instructive to our decision to go ahead with the Walk to Work Week. We realized that there would never be a ‘right time’ for A4C events. There would always be an excuse to stop our activities. Such government interventions to frustrate the work of activists for change everywhere are not surprising. Martin Luther King famously said: "The time is always right to do what is right." And Samantha Booke, frustrated by segregated education system, not unlike the one we have here with UPE and Private schools said:
A concern that is ours as activists is the abductions, detentions, illegal arrests and trumped up charges. In two days of the campaign we already have over 50 people arrested across the country for an array of charges ranging from vagabond to treason; all because they walked or planned to walk to work. On Sunday security agencies swung into action with a sting operation at Katonga Road where a meeting of activists was taking place. Plain clothes security officials surrounded the offices and started picking activists who were leaving the meeting. Alan Mutagubya, Martin Mayanja and their colleagues were bundled into a van and ‘disappeared.’ By Sunday evening a full scale panda gari operation was underway and we received SOS calls from Francis Mwijukye and Sam Mugumya saying they were picked up and did not know where they were being taken. On Monday morning after discovering that activists were being held at Jinja Road Police station , Jenny Lubega and Nakabugo Farida took them water and food, only to be apprehended and kept behind bars! Reports started coming in that activists who were walking to work were being arrested country wide.
On Monday our lawyers saw the charge sheets of our colleagues at Jinja Road Police station that stated crimes of incitement to violence and unlawful assembly. But today we learnt that the charges had been changed to treason. We learnt also that the government is leaning on officers of the judiciary to proffer serious charges that will make it difficult to grant bail and if bail is granted then stiff monetary conditions should be imposed. This afternoon the Inspector General of Police released a statement to bolster the trumped up treason charges. He claimed that Ingrid Turinawe chaired a meeting in which she told her ‘commanders’ to overthrow the government by stopping the movement of vehicles at Kisekka market! If it were not such a serious offense with a death sentence hanging over our colleagues; we might even have found it hilarious. In the space of three weeks we have been accused by the Inspector General of Police of crimes of terror and treason. We appear to be the biggest threat that the government is dealing with right now and Kayihura’s determination to criminalize us has made him blind to the ludicrous nature of his allegations. We would not be surprised if he tried to concoct evidence to support his absurd claims because the police is infamous for framing suspects and Kayihura’s allegations are regarded by most people with the deepest contempt. They have not forgotten Elizabeth Kutesa a senior police officer who distinguished herself as a forger.
Police has the technology to tap our phones and record our conversations but it is interesting that Kayihura would withhold such information until ‘Walk to Work Week.’ And release it only after he was stuck with suspects without an appropriate charge! Rather than call press conferences to spread lies and preempt the work of court, the police should play its role, which is to gather evidence and take it to court to be tested. Yet when our colleagues appeared in Nakawa court for arraignment this evening, the court was unable to proceed because the Police file was ‘missing.’ Our colleagues have now been detained longer than the mandatory 48 hours before arraignment while police engages in PR and political gymnastics.
Ugandans and the world know that this government exists on a life support system which comprises the military and the police. We are not afraid to repeat here that a government that represses its people loses its legitimacy and is not fit to rule.
We are only half way through the Walk to Work week, and the events of this week so far have given us much more reason to walk. We therefore urge you to continue supporting the cause of economic justice and responsive government by walking to work every day this week. As expected the Police has set conditions to make our rally in Kololo nearly impossible. We are considering converging at an alternative venue which we shall communicate in due course.
For God and my Country!
Hon. Mathias Mpuuga (MP)
National Coordinator, A4C