Democracy & Freedom of Expression in Uganda – A BIG JOKE!

7 08 2013

Uganda has a unique culture where people convene for anything and when people convene they talk about anything and everything – food, beer, money, corruption and politics. This happens everyday in bars, markets, mosques, churches, and weddings and along the streets.

Together with friends, we have managed to pull-off some of the most fruitful tweetups in the country. We basically convene a group of 15 to 20 tweeps at a coffee shop to discuss topical issues and inform our Twitter conversations.

Yesterday the parliament of Uganda passed the controversial Public Order Management Bill amidst serious criticism from human rights activists, opposition members of parliament and the civil society.

“The objective of the Bill is to provide for the regulation of public meetings, the duties and responsibilities of the Police, the organisers and participants in relation to public meetings; to prescribe measures for safeguarding public order without compromising the principles of democracy, freedom of association and freedom of speech.”

The Bill defines a “public meeting” as a gathering, assembly, concourse, procession or demonstration of three or more in or on any public road.

A few months ago anti-riot police was used to forcefully end two meetings – one convened by gay rights activists and another by the Black Monday Movement. Both meeting were held in closed places. This Bill posses a greater threat that police will actually continue to break into “private” spaces human rights activists use to convene meetings.

This Bill is actually NOT only the end of the road to public protest and freedom to assemble in Uganda; it also further controls people and constrains (access to) public debates. Exercising this Bill gives the government a law that will stop Ugandans from petitioning or pressuring the government.

But what does this mean for my friends and I who have always believed that tweetups are a peaceful way for young people to participate in this “democratic” process? Obviously the Bill shattered our hopes and further violates our freedom of speech and participation.

State of Freedom of Speech/ Expression in Uganda

Strong regulations and monitoring are already in place to ensure that “political” discussions are not brought to public spaces – such as public meetings, media (especially TV and Radio) extra. Especially meetings aimed at demanding government accountable or reveling the ruling party’s dirty linen to the public. In the recent past media clamped down left media houses closed for days and months.

Apparently the government is also seeking to monitor social networking spaces. Not that this was not expected. However, this is a shame because the government has so far not done a good job in investing in Internet infrastructure.

A few months ago President Museveni warned religious leaders and told (yes told not asked) them to stop talking about politics in churches or mosques.

Museveni has also branded media houses that give airtime to opposition leaders “enemies of the state”. As a result, media houses such as the Nation Media Group’s Daily Monitor have suffered the wrath of the NRM regime and trust me; they have not been the same since. “According to the semiindependent Daily Monitor newspaper….” Al Jazeera quoted in a recent article.

Last year political and human rights activists suffered serious injuries, imprisonment without trial and others charged with treason when antiriot police brutally cracked down “Walk To Work” campaign. Since then Uganda Police and Military Police have become an influential arm of the government in terms of brutalizing instead of protecting Ugandans involved in peaceful protests.

A few months ago General Aronda Nyakairima was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs. Prior to this appointment, General Aronda was Chief of Defense Forces.

President Museveni has not once or twice praised the Inspector General of Police, General Kale Kayihura as one of the most loyal NRM cadres. I think there is a conflict of interest here. Whose interests does the IGP serve; the people or the President?

Therefore it’s rather ironic that this Bill mentions “safeguarding public order without compromising the principles of democracy, freedom of association and freedom of speech.”

According to Clause 7 of this Bill, “an organizer shall give notice in writing signed by the organizer or his or her agent to the Inspector General of Police of the intention to hold a public meeting at least seven days but not more than fifteen before the proposed date of the public meeting.”

Clause 9 of the Bill states that “subject to the direction of the Inspector General of Police, an authorized officer or any other police officer of or above the rank of Inspector, may stop or prevent the holding of a public meeting”.

When you give one or two men the power to (forcefully) determine the fate of a group, you are exercising dictatorship NOT democracy.

Many Ugandans think that this Bill is part of President Museveni’s plan to oppress opposition leaders in preparation for the upcoming 2016 general elections (and beyond).

Personally, my quest to find the REAL definition of the word “Democracy” beyond the (manipulable) ballot continues.

Reflecting on 2011 – Uganda: Pictures of the year by Edward Echwalu

20 12 2011

2011 has been a great year with lots of remarkable achievements but on issues of governance I must say that, 2011 has been a very disappointing year! If you asked me, 2011 has been a year of the civil society in Uganda. The civil society has continued to show their influence and strength amidst pressure and oppression from the Uganda government. Citizen took to the streets to protest high food and commodity prices – “the Walk to Work campaign”, Civil society also protested against the government’s directive to give away part of Mabira Forest to the Sugar Cooperation of Uganda Limited. Social and Digital Media were key tools in mobilizing.

Walking a lone street, downtown Kampala. - Photo by Edward Echwalu

For many Ugandans 2011 has been full of tonnes of sad moments and memories. Memories that will probably not go away in a short time. The year started off with a lot of energy as Ugandan went to polls; to vote for the president (February, 2011). There was a big wave of anticipation – wishing that this would be the time of “change”. A time for Uganda to vote “right” and have a new president.

Question was, if Uganda voted for a new president, what would be next?

Anyways, this was was all wishful thinking – Museveni who has been president since 1986 won with a landslide victory (as usual).

Edward Echwalu a professional Ugandan photo journalist followed all of these events and his blog post gives you a comprehensive summary of the events with pictures. PICTURES OF THE YEAR 2011.

Silence is NOT CONSENT: Listen to that Silence!

2 05 2011

I am very disappointed in Pamela Ankunda (of the Uganda Media Centre) after reading her article in the New Vision today (Page 15). In her article “Ugandans are not interested in insecurity” Pamela is clearly blaming Dr. Kizza Besigye’s “Walk to Work” campaign as the sole cause of insecurity in Uganda today. For your information Pamela, what is causing all this insecurity (as witnessed in the past 3 weeks and years) is poor governance! Our government has totally failed to show its competence not only in ensuring stable commodity prices but also in its reaction to the increasing fuel, food and commodity prices. The next time you want to write an article with biased feelings attached (as clearly shown in your article today) please do it on your personal blog or take time to think. Its really embarrassing!

I would be surprised if any Ugandan came out to support the violence the world witnessed not just last week during Dr. Besigye’s brutal arrest or even on what is now known as “Black Friday” (29th March). The military and anti-riot police using live bullets and all sorts of aggressive tactic to disperse the angry protesters: that alone triggers insecurity. This is not new to Ugandans as we have seen a lot of this in the past 3 weeks. Such misuse of power is aimed at intimidating people and denying them of their constitutional right – to demonstrate and hold the government accountable.

Watching these devastating scenes in pictures and videos on that day left me puzzled and wondering whether the security bodies in Uganda had completely gone out of their minds. Many Ugandans (and the whole world at large) are now more concerned and doubting Uganda government’s capability to protect the people.

Even though most of the Ugandans will/have not come out openly to demonstrate or demand the government to reduce the prices of fuel and other commodity prices, they remain worried and concerned. Fuel, food and commodity prices continue to skyrocket while the incomes of Ugandans are remaining stable. At the moment, even the middle income earners can barely afford the minimum living standards!

Knowing that majority of the citizen live on less than USD 1 a day, how does the government expect people to survive the current crisis? Of course many people will continue to join the protests because the Uganda government has failed to come out with a convincing statement defining a possible plan to cut/ regulate fuel and commodity prices.

Silence is NOT consent – the government of Uganda should STOP taking Ugandans for granted in times when they need a serious intervention. Listen to the silence of the people and give them a voice. Do NOT add more masking-take to their lips! Thats all Dr. Besigye is going.

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