Uganda Besigyed or Community Besieged?
Recent protests in Uganda have turned nasty as the police arrested Dr. Kizza Besigye, Uganda’s opposition leader, on several occasions during his Walk to Work campaign. Dr. Besigye recently lost elections with a paltry 26 percent to President Yoweri Museveni and pundits had begun writing his political obituary.
While rejecting the result Besigye called for anti government protests against electoral fraud which reportedly no one showed up for. However, riding on the discontent of the populace about rising fuel and food prices, the good doctor launched a ‘Walk to Work’ campaign that was meant to be a Gandhian procession of civil disobedience, in order to pressure the government to act on improving living standards.
The governments focus seems to have been squarely on President Museveni’s upcoming swearing ceremony which is to cost the tax payer Ush 4 billion ($ 1.3 million). The riots have caught the state unawares, especially in light of events in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and Ivory Coast. This has resulted with the state reacting with extreme high handedness particularly towards Dr. Besigye whose differences with the President are said to cross over to the personal.
Police beatings and harassment of Dr. Besigye and a handful of his supporters seem to have unnerved the region somewhat. Critics have likened police actions to those of the dark days under Idi Amin. In a private visit to Kenya, President Museveni insisted that Besigye had broken the law in not coordinating with the police as he had done during the elections; that the focus for Uganda should be the implementation of the mandate given to him; and the region’s young people should set their eyes towards the creation of an East African Federation.
It is interesting that the President would focus so much on the question of the federation yet it is this particular regional goal that is being threatened by the actions of his security agencies. The East African Community (EAC) has been dominated by government centric institutionalization through fast tracking and expansion programmes of the Community, that it is oblivious to the construction of shared values that is taking place within regional civil societies.
The East African Federation will not only be about the majestic political and institutional superstructure that will unify the region. It will also involve the protection of human rights and the practice of democracy. Thus it should provide the opportunity for the member countries to break from their past poor records of governance while entrenching practices of civil liberties, constitutionalism and peaceful transition of power in the community. Ultimately the federation should aim to enable a re-creation of better experiences for its citizens.
Therefore the incidents that have surrounded the Walk to Work campaign highlight a serious misnomer within the Ugandan state that is set to delay regional integration efforts considering current and future challenges in the construction of a federation.
So, as the drama unfolds in Uganda, as seen from the beatings of Dr. Besigye; the arrest of the Kenyan activist who was ‘ushered’ out of President Museveni’s talk in Nairobi; and the fact that at the time of writing Dr. Besigye had been barred from travelling to Uganda until after the end of the presidential swearing in ceremony later in the day, East Africans should probably wake up to the fact that democracy in the region will only come collectively.
Image by dispatch_ug