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Uganda

Following the Arab Spring example

by Merle Becker

In brief

Opposition leader Besigye after an eye injury, being arrested in May

Opposition leader Besigye after an eye injury, being arrested in May

Uganda’s „Walk to Work“ protests ­escalated in May. The military, under leadership of President Yoweri Museveni, is increasingly using violence against a few hundred people who take part in peaceful marches to point out social problems.

Uganda’s „Walk to Work“ protests ­escalated in May. The military, under leadership of President Yoweri Museveni, is increasingly using violence against a few hundred people who take part in peaceful marches to point out social problems.

In February, Museveni, a former guer­rilliero, was re-elected to his fourth term as president with 68 % of the vote. It is debateable whether or not this election was democratic. Early in the election campaign, international observers reported that Museveni was using his power to weaken the opposition. During the early May incidents, several people died and many more were injured from tear gas, water cannons and firearms.

In 1996, Museveni allowed elections for the first time after a ten-year tenure. In the meantime, he has ruled for 25 years. This year, seven candidates ran against Museveni. His strongest opponent, Kizza Besigye, won 26 % of the 14 million votes. He later told his supporters to “Walk to Work” on Mondays and Thursdays as a sign of protest against rising food and fuel prices. As head of the Forum for Demo­cratic Change (FDC) and organiser of the march, Besigye was arrested several times since April.

High military spending

Besigye has repeatedly criticised Uganda’s high military spending. At the end of April, soldiers broke his car windows, sprayed him with tear gas and put him behind bars. The opposition leader was released on bail, and had to be taken to a hospital in Nairobi because of eye injuries. On his return trip to Entebbe, Uganda, Kenyan Airways at first did not allow the politician on the flight, arguing the Ugandan government would not grant landing approval with him on board. The Ugandan government denies this is so.

Four weeks after the start of the campaign, many courageous people were walking to work twice a week. Most of the cabinet members refuse to comment, but some critisise security forces’ violence. In May, Kampalan shopkeepers threatened to close down if food price inflation ­continued. Members of Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, demand that the government investigate the deaths of unarmed citizens during the protest marches. At least nine people have been killed since 11 April. More than 100 were injured and some ­
600 arrested.

Rival candidate under house arrest

In late May, the opposition leader was ­detained under house arrest. Museveni, moreover, was trying to get a law passed so protesters would no longer be granted bail. In the past weeks, security forces attacked more than 20 Ugandan and foreign journalists, according to Reporters without Borders, the France-based internatinal non-governmental organisation. Apparently, the president considers the media enemies too.

Merle Becker