Ugandans Walk in the Footsteps of Gandhi and King


KPFA Weekend News Anchor Cameron Jones:  Ugandan opposition leaders were arrested while peacefully walking to work this week in to protest rising fuel and food prices that have pushed many Ugandans to the edge of survival.  Images of Monday's protest looked much like those of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955, which resonated throughout the U.S.A. and sparked the American Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King.   However, on Thursday, police fired tear gas and live ammunition on demonstrators in both Kampala, Uganda's capitol, and in Gulu, a commercial center in Northern Uganda's indigenous Acholiland, where three protestors died.   KPFA's Ann Garrison has more.  


KPFA/Ann Garrison: Commonwealth observers reported multiple voting irregularities, voter intimidation by the military, and widespread voter bribery in Uganda's February elections.  Some observers then predicted uprisings like those in North Africa, but protests were quickly contained by the Ugandan Police, which has since banned demonstrations and warned that they will use force in response to any attempt to demonstrate. 
Almost as soon as the election was over, fuel prices soared, triggering steep hikes in the the price of basic necessities like soap, rice, and cooking oil. Opposition leader Anne Mugisha explained what the food and fuel price hikes have meant for the majority of Ugandans: 
Anne Mugisha:     The price of essential household items have become unaffordable for most Ugandans. The price hikes have meant that children cannot pay their school fees, and schools cannot give school children enough food.  People who want to save a little money for a meal at the end of the day can only walk to work.  This inspired middle class Ugandans to walk to work, and walk to church in solidarity with all those Ugandans suffering because of high inflation.  It was a simple way of demanding that the government intervene to lighten their burden. 
KPFA:  You've said that President Yoweri Museveni already triggered inflation by printing money to buy votes in the February election.  And that he just spent $740 million dollars, 25% of Uganda's annual budget, on jet fighter bombers, and that he's now preparing to spend $12 million on his inauguration.   Given all this, what would you ask him to do about food and fuel prices now?
Anne Mugisha:  Well, if he can't sell the jet fighter bombers back, he could at least spend a lot less than $12 million on his inauguration while some poor Ugandans are eating termites in desperation.  All this fighter bomber jet and inauguration money should be going to buy food and fuel reserves so that Ugandans would not be so vulnerable to global price fluctuation.   He should reduce Uganda's fuel taxes, which are the highest in the region.  They drive up the cost of everything, including food.
KPFA:  You've done a lot to encourage nonviolent protest in the tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.   Could you explain how you imagine this working in Uganda?
Anne Mugisha:  Yes, it's Yes,  pretty straightforward in theory but each struggle is defined by its own peculiar circumstances.  We have reached a point of acknowledging that change of government will not come to Uganda through elections.  We plan to keep peacefully defying unlawful rules and regulations of the state and involve more and more people, so as to democratize the process of change.  And of course we are inspired by Dr. King and we know that we too shall overcome.
KPFA:   Anyone watching these protests is of course asking whether they might lead to regime change, as recent protest has in North Africa.   Is this conceivable in Uganda?
Anne Mugisha: Well it can't be ruled out.  The parallels are quite apparent:
We have a President who has been in power for 25 years and is now trying to amend the retirement age for a President in the Constitution, so that it goes beyond the 75 years limit.    
We have a restless population that believes that the government should be doing more to create jobs, to manage inflation and to fight poverty.  
We have an opposition that believes it has been rigged out of victory at every general election held under this regime. 
We have an enormous gap between the few rich and the majority poor. 
The country is ripe for a revolution but I cannot tell how long it will take.
KPFA:   Ugandan opposition leaders who walked to work this week will be walking to pray in Ugandan churches.  They ask Americans to urge their government to be consistent in its advocacy and support for democracy and stop supporting dictatorship in East/Central Africa.    Ongoing coverage is available on Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper and NTV-Uganda, both of which can be found on the Web.
For Pacifica/KPFA and AfrobeatRadio, I"m Ann Garrison.


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