Tuesday 19 April 2011

Day One Walk to Pray and Day Three Walk to Work

The last two days were such a contrast in the Walk to Work campaign.  Sunday was peaceful and serene but Monday saw over 30 leaders and Walk to Work activist detained by police followed by riotous scenes in city suburbs and upcountry towns leading to over 100 arrests countrywide.  When we were planning the Walk to Work campaigns I had imagined days like Sunday 17th April, 2011 when we walked to Church without anyone seeming to notice.

I had intended to walk to Church with my two daughters until I witnessed police brutality in Kasangati.  On Thursday I was at Kasangati as the Red Cross evacuated pregnant women and children from the tear-gas filled hospital.  The scene was alarming and heartbreaking.  If I had doubts about the decision to leave my girls at home, they were wiped away by my visit to victims of Thursday’s violence in 6A and 3C at Mulago hospital.  The police does not hesitate to throw tear gas canisters into schools and hospitals or to open fire with live ammunition on unsuspecting civilians.  I wish those who actually throw the tear canisters and fire the bullets were allowed to visit Brenda, Geoffrey Kiboneka and Issa Dya at Mulago.  Perhaps they would not be so trigger happy after that.  

So on Sunday I walked with a few activists and we were amused by the complete lack of interest in our activities that day.  The preceding day on a radio talk show, an NRM Member of Parliament, Margaret Muhanga had arrogantly told me ‘We shall let you walk on Sunday because the shops are closed so you cannot loot!’  Such arrogance and attempts to criminalize activists have been the only consistent state response to the Walk to Work campaign.  Yet nothing is done to address the underlying issues of escalating food and fuel prices.
NRM leaders are in a state denial.  Wikipedia explains that denial is a defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.   The response of government shows that all three states of denial are in operation right now.  There are those in simple denial and are denying the reality of the unpleasant facts altogether.  Others are in the minimisation state whereby they admit the facts but deny their seriousness (a combination of denial and rationalisation.)  Yet others are in a state of projection where they admit both the facts and seriousness but deny responsibility. 
Denial is part of a grieving process in which the victim is subliminally aware that they have lost someone or something very close to their hearts.  Uganda’s government has started the grieving process for losing its legitimacy.   Denial is often followed by panic, anger and recklessness and that is what we witnessed for a second time on Monday 18th April, the 3rd day of the Walk to Work Campaign.

I joined other walkers including Hon. Cecilia Ogwal (MP), activists Sarah Eperu and Margaret Wokuri who were also walking to work along Jinja Road.  As has become custom, we found a wall of blue uniformed police constables blocking our path opposite Jinja Road Police Station.  I noticed they were now careful to include women constables after I publicly embarrassed the officer called Kamugisha who groped me last Monday.  They asked us to stop and accompany them to their station.  We put up stiff resistance and refused to budge unless we were lifted.  The women constables tried to oblige but found that it was not easy to lift a tall heavy woman like me off the ground, so they dragged us across the road.  I was particularly miffed by the way they handled Hon. Ogwal who was old enough to be their grandmother!  She did not put up any physical resistance but they dragged her nonetheless.

Inside Jinja Road Police station we were taken to an office and soon you would have thought there was a high-level opposition meeting taking place.  They had brought is in for ‘discussions’ so we were not in cells, instead we displaced the officers from their desks and took over their office.  Members of Parliament, a President of a political party, activists and journalists.  Lawyers who included The Lord Mayor elect, MPs and activists came in to represent us after we were told that we had become ‘suspects’ by the Officer in Charge of the police station.  He said he was holding us for holding unlawful society!  So much for walking to work!  We asked for walk permits for Thursday but he did not respond to our request. 

The police officers were mostly kind and as puzzled as we were with the situation at hand.  They allowed us to keep our phones and we received stories of riots at Kyambogo University and battles between police and the population in Kireka and Bweyogerere.  Later in the afternoon we were bundled onto a police bus and taken to cells at Nakawa court.  Chris Opoka suddenly burst into a rendition of the famous protest song that became a key anthem of the US civil rights movement: ‘We shall overcome’ and the police holding cell came alive with song and cheer. 

Shortly after our arrival at Nakawa Court we were whisked before the Magistrate and our charges were read to us:  Incitement to violence and disobeying police orders.  Nothing about unlawful society even if someone forgot to tell the prosecutor who claimed before court that our second charge was holding unlawful society – even if it was not on the charge sheet!  If this circus was not my reality I would have broken my ribs with laughter.  But my reality and that of many Ugandans has changed in the last week.  Four Ugandans are dead because of the violence meted out on peaceful walkers and bystanders in an unfolding, tragic chapter in my country’s history.

The good news is that grieving process ends with acceptance.  We can look forward to the State finally coming to its senses and accepting the fact that things have indeed changed.  Ugandans are no longer afraid of claiming their sovereignty even if it means risking their very lives in the face of state brutality.  On Thursday we shall walk again and see what more the state has in store for us as government leaders continue through the inevitable steps of grief.

Anne Mugisha
Democracy Activist

Thursday 14 April 2011

Walk to Work: Day Two April 14, 2011 - News links

Besigye Talks from the trenches

Walk to Work Campaign Updates

Was Besigye hit by Rubber Bullet?

Military Police closes in on Besigye

Chaos and Bloodshed i Kasangati

Bwaise in Flames

Uganda is akin to a Police State - Uganda Law Society

Uganda Opposition Leader Shot by a Soldier

Uganda Opposition Leader in Standoff with Police

Ugandan Police fires tear gas at food protest

Ugandan Opposition Leader Shot; Food Riots Escalate

Uganda Police beat a protestor

Uganda Opposition Leader Shot in Finger

Ugandan Police Fire Teargas in Hospital

Uganda Police Protestors Clash at Hospital

Kizza Besigye Wounded at Protest

Ugandan Police Clash with Food Price Protestors

Police tear gas Walk to Work Protestors

Uganda Police fire tear gas at Protestors

Uganda Police Fire on, Hit Top Opposition Leader

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Walk to Work: World Coverage and Responses

Justice will prevail, Kizza Besigye

Response to Walk to Work Campaign

A Road is not a Road - Charles Onyango Obbo

Donors Attack Government

Mao: My Arrest was Ridiculous

I am ready to Dies says Kizza Besigye

Besigye charged with inciting violence

Opposition insists on Walk to Work Campaign

Police arrest Besigye, Mao

Charges against Ugandan opposition leaders must be dropped - Amnesty International

US condemns the arrest of Besigye

Crispy's Reflections

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.

Walk to Work - Day One

Activists for Change - A4C, called on middle class Ugandans to 'Walk to Work' in order to show solidarity with the increasing number of people who have joined the ranks of hundreds of thousands of poor Ugandans that walk to work every day.  The new walkers can no longer afford the soaring price of fuel for their cars or the rising taxi and boda-boda fares.  An increasing number of Ugandans cannot afford even one meal a day due to the 40% increase in food prices caused by sky rocketing inflation.

Yesterday, when A4C launched its activities in Kampala, the message of solidarity with the masses was nearly lost in the violence that was meted out on walkers.  In all cases, walkers left their homes peacefully and headed to their place of work   Their walk remained peaceful until police intervened to stop their advance to town.  There was no provocation on the part of the walkers.  In all cases it was police which caused commotion in their effort to stop the walkers.  The irony is that these malnourished police constables who had orders to block and detain walkers seemed to be the ones in most need of A4C's actions.

When we were stopped along Jinja Road on our way to work, we were walking cheerfully, engaging in casual conversation, jumping over gaping manholes and paying scant attention to passersby.  I loved the anonymity of our activity.  No one realized that several opposition politicians and activists were walking by and a couple who did recognize us waved in friendly greeting and encouraged us in our 'Walk to Work.'  Everything changed when we were accosted by police constables demanding that we stop our walk and accompany them to the police station across the road.  We explained that we were simply walking to work and had no interest in paying them a visit.  Their commanding officer, Kamugisha, seemed to be tongue-tied, even embarassed by the nature of his assignment.  When we asked him for a warrant of arrest, he produced his Police ID card.  We burst out laughing.

We worked our way through the first police blockade but a few metres down the road they returned, now reinforced by more mean looking armed men in uniform but these ones were anonymous.  Their uniforms did not have a name tag like Kamugisha's, they wore the blue version of our military’s uniform and judging from the way they manhandled us I believe they were military men.  One of them shoved me backwards and Kamugisha touched my left breast, I pushed his hand away in disgust.  There was no female constable among them and no one had the right to shove me around or touch me.  I made a mental note to sue Kamugisha and his men.

Then I decided to stare down one of these thugs in uniform who was trying to block my path and realized that other than using brute force to restrain me; this poor young man could not look me in the eye.  I repeatedly asked him to look at me so I could talk to him, but he studiously looked away in shame.  My anger melted and instead I felt deep empathy for this man, barely in his twenties who obviously did not like what he was doing.  I managed to slip away from the drama but my colleagues were arrested and detained for several hours before we bailed them out at Nakawa Court.

State propaganda led by Uganda Police officers has dubbed our 'Walk to Work' activity a procession that could have ended in a riot because we were converging on the city centre from different directions.  I was astounded to hear a Police spokesman on UBC television demanding that we inform them of the 'venue' of our activities so that they could provide protection.  Well, that is a tall order since the middle class that is participating in the walk, lives all over the city and beyond.  In the evening during a popular talk show 'Hot Seat’ on Kfm, the Assistant Inspector General of Police said they were able to read our minds and they knew we wanted to cause chaos so they moved fast to save the city!  Even more astounding, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kale Kayihura told a press conference that our goal was to stage a demonstration at City Square.

Either the Police have very bad intelligence or it has very bad motives for trying to stop A4C.  Anyone who watched NTV and saw Hon. Odonga Otto, the only walker who was not accosted by police; would have told the IGP that our destination was Christ the King Church.  It was an open secret that we were headed to work after praying for our country at Christ the King.  The question that Uganda should ask is: Why is the government so jittery and suspicious of our legitimate and constitutional actions, that they panicked and caused so much chaos?  The IGP claims that he acted in the interest of Kampalans to protect their businesses from rioters.  He fails to see that it was the actions of his men that caused the riots.  He says he was working under article 43 of the Constitution which places general limitation on fundamental and other human rights and freedoms.

The IGP prefers to read only the first part of the article which states: 43. (1) In the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed in this Chapter, no person shall prejudice the fundamental or other human rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.  He is silent on the second part which states that: (2) Public interest under this article shall not permit—
(a) political persecution; (b) detention without trial; (c) any limitation of the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed by this Chapter beyond what is acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society, or what is provided in this Constitution.

Our contention is that the actions of the Police were tantamount to political persecution and they were neither acceptable nor justifiable in a free democratic society.  Police's demand that we seek authorization to walk to work is therefore beyond ridiculous: It is unconstitutional.  A good strategist would have told the IGP that if they simply ignored the 'Walk to Work', it would probably have fizzled out so fast and been forgotten by the next day.  Instead the actions of Police led to worldwide coverage of 'Walk to Work' making it a resounding success which we are now celebrating.   A4C will continue to defy unconstitutional police regulations. The police helped us in our recruitment efforts and we expect more walkers to join us this Thursday.  

Anne Mugisha
Democracy Activist

Saturday 9 April 2011

Walk to Work Routes

Look out for route leaders and join them in solidarity to walk to work on Monday.  The walkers will begin early with the aim of being in the city before 9:00 am, so be on the main roads from these locations as early as 7:30 am. Please let us know if you would like to lead a route.  Thanks! 

The Ground Rules: 
  • Peaceful, peaceful, peaceful
  • No provocation
  • Do not be provoked
  • Keep your actions lawful and orderly
  • Do not attract unnecessary attention to yourself
  • Obey any lawful instructions from the Police except any attempt to stop you from walking to work!
  • Enjoy yourself, share experiences with other walkers,
  • Tell your story on Facebook, Twitter and update it as often as possible
  • If you need legal help or first aid call ask any of the route leaders to help.  The legal team is headed by Abdu Katuntu

Gayaza Road to Najjanankumbi - Dr. Kizza Besigye, Hon. Semujju Nganda, Wycliffe Bakandonda

Mukono to Kampala - Hon. Betty Nambooze

Namugongo to Kampala - Hon. Alice Alaso

Naguru to Kampala - Hon. Abdu Katuntu

Bugolobi to Kampala - Anne Mugisha, John Kazoora, Owek. Bwanika Bbale

Ntinda to Kampala - Hon. Wafula Oguttu, Hon. Abia Bako, Dan Mugarura, Totelebuka Bamwenda, Ingrid Turinawe

Kyambogo to Kampala - Hon. Nandala Mafabi, Hon. Jack Wamai

Entebbe Road to Kampala - Hon. Odonga Otto, Hon. Beatrice Anywar, Hon. Hussein Kyanjo

Lubaga to Kampala ; Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, Owek. Joyce Ssebugwawo, Hon. Ken Lukyamuzi, Hon. Medad Ssegona, Hon. Mathias Mpuuga, Moses Kasibante, Muwanga Kivumbi

Kawempe, Bwaise, Wandegeya to Kampala - Asuman Basalirwa, Kibirige Mayanja, Salim Angoliga, William Kanyike, Hon. Latif Sebagala

On Monday We Walk

On Monday we shall have a unique opportunity to join thousands of Ugandans who walk to work every single day.  We normally drive past them in our cars, taxis or boda-bodas.  They are so many we hardly see them.  Life is such that the suffering of one person may break our heart but the suffering of many people overwhelms our sensibilities and we cope by becoming blind to the suffering.  Our interaction with pedestrians is usually limited to impatience as they crowd the roads to cross when we are in a hurry.  Sometime we slow down to apologize and sometimes we pretend not to see when the car tyre lands in a pothole splashing dirty brown water all over their clothes as they rush to work. 

On Monday we shall shine a light on the plight of those Ugandans who now more than ever cannot afford a taxi or boda-boda fare.  We shall show our solidarity with the parents who cannot put a meal on the table for their little ones due to the rise in food prices.  We shall do this simply by walking together with ordinary Ugandans to our place of work and then we shall repeat the exercise every Thursday and Monday until the government pays heed to our demand to intervene and guarantee affordable food and fuel prices.

On Monday we shall face our fears by walking in spite of the siege that has been laid upon our city for the last two months.  We shall walk peacefully with our brothers and sisters and with each step we shall become bolder and empowered.  We shall break no laws by walking to our place of employment, we shall walk together because it is our constitutional right to associate with those we please as long as we do not jeopardize the rights and freedoms of others.  We know that those who are afraid of or demonstration of compassion and empathy with our fellow human beings are those who have reason to fear.  They are the ones with the power to provide solutions but they have neglected to use that power.  Instead they will spend a quarter of our national budget on fighter jets to protect themselves from imagined enemies, even as our children go to sleep hungry.

On Monday we shall measure our worth as a people and as individuals by seeing how many cared to walk in empathy and compassion with those in need.  We shall know our determination and courage to face those who would besiege our city to keep us silent in the face of suffering.  Our courage will come not from our individual determination but from our collective resolve to face our fears and conquer them.

On Monday we shall be so glad that you will be walking by our side.

Anne Mugisha

Friday 8 April 2011

Activists For Change - A4C

Activists for Change - A4C, is a nonviolent and peaceful platform for democratic change in Uganda.  We act within our constitutional rights and responsibilities.  We are guided by the desire of the majority of Ugandans to exercise their democratic right to elect a government of their choice.  Political leaders, activists and civil society will act together to implement programs in a non-partisan space in order to raise awareness of ordinary Ugandans to their rights, responsibilities and duties as citizens.

In order to effect democratic change of government we will mobilize the masses and set in motion a process to remove obstacles to free and fair elections through peacefully dismantling pillars of the authoritarian regime and erecting the pillars of democratic rule.