The Price of Walking to Work in Uganda

21 04 2011

Over the past few months, fuels and commodity prices have continued to sky rocket in Uganda. This has raised a lot of concern as the business community has continued to lose confidence in the ever diminishing value of the Ugandan currency. For the ordinary Ugandans who do not run businesses the rising cost of living with no significant changes in income has escalated fear as they feel the pinch of high food prices. The opposition leaders quickly reacted to this situation with a convincing statement that linked the increasing fuel and commodity prices to the poor government policy. The opposition leaders claim that the government has the power to reduce fuel prices through subsidies.

A Police officer carries away a sign post used by protesters to elaborate commodity prices

The government however remained quiet amidst the allegations. Following the silence of the government the opposition leaders continued to lobby the government to reduce fuel prices claiming that this would help stabilize the commodity prices in the country. They also threatened to launch a peaceful demonstration which they called the “Walk to Work” campaign – calling upon people to leave their vehicles at home and walk to work to boycott use of fuel as a way to provoke government reaction. The opposition leaders issued a public statement which was aimed at informing the general public that the Walk to Work campaign was to commence on Monday 11th April and that it would go on every Monday and Thursday of the week until the government addressed people’s demands.

On Sunday 10th April, the press statement broadcast over Television by the Inspector General of Police – Maj. Gen. Kale Kaihura assured Ugandans that demonstrations like “Walk to Work” were not going to be allowed in Kampala. He continued that the Uganda Police and other security agencies were on alert and committed to protect the people of Uganda and their property. He therefore urged the people not to worry but turn up for work the following day.

On the morning of Monday 11th, the opposition leaders started their walk to work (from their homes) as they had earlier communicated. They were however voluntarily joined by “stray” people in the walk. Even though some of the people joined in protest of the high prices, others were just taking that opportunity to hang around the popular opposition leaders who included – Dr. Kizza Besigye (Forum for Democratic Change), Nobert Mao (Democratic Party) among others. Before they got too far, the police and military intervened with blockades and ordered the opposition leaders to retreat.

A live coverage on NTV and NBS (local televisions) shows peaceful protestors being dispersed by police with use of teargas, rubber bullets and gunfire. This brought an end to the peaceful demonstration giving birth to a heated up scuffle between the police and protesters. The angry protestors were reacting in self defense to resist arrest and beating administered by the police and military. Protesters reacted to the excessive force by throwing stones and setting up fires in the middle of the roads. Many people sustained injuries from the rubber bullets, gun shots and others were beaten by the police. A number of opposition leaders were arrested that same day even though some of them were released on bail.

The police and military quickly got on top of the situation and a few hours later the situation was back in control. However for the opposition leaders’ plans to continue the Walk to Work on Thursday of the same week were still in order. Police remained ready with blockades on the roads. As soon as the opposition leaders connected to the main roads from their homes the military intercepted and tried to arrest them. The angry protesters this time came in handy to protect the opposition leaders and fellow protestors from the military and police brutality. The heated up arguments turned into arrests for the unlucky opposition leaders. This is the third time the opposition leaders are being arrested with in just a period of 8 days.

By day two of the Walk to Work campaign, the protests had already spread to several parts of the country – apart from Kampala district, media houses reported demonstrations in Masaka, Mbarara, Kayunga, Mukono, Gulu, Soroti and Wakiso among other districts.

Even though some of the leaders remain behind bars, the ones who were released have assured the general public that tomorrow they will Walk to Work!

In his Nation address, the incumbent president of Uganda (Museveni) highly criticized the opposition for inciting violence. He advised Ugandans not to join the Walk to Work campaign claiming that the opposition leaders are just being selfish and trying to topple his government. “My farmers are actually very happy about because they are reaping highly from the high commodity prices” said the president.  In his speech this afternoon, Museveni has advised the Boda Boda riders in Kampala not to boycott the Walk to Work campaign tomorrow. He has promised to give the Boda Boda drivers’ association Ugandan Shillings 200 million.

Museveni’s national address mainly focused on accusing his political rivals, this has raised concern among many of the Ugandans as seen in the comments here:

The opposition leaders maintain that the Walk to Work protests will continue tomorrow – that will be day 3!

The future of commodity prices in Uganda remains uncertain.

Summary of Other Stories that are making headlines on the Walk to Work Protests in Uganda