As I was thinking the other day about how Uganda could easily turn into East Africa’s Zimbabwe, I discovered this article written by Vahid Oloro in the Sunday’s Kenya Times entitled “Is Uganda becoming East Africa’s Zimbabwe?”:
It looked like an episode from a Hollywood blockbuster. Men in police uniform assaulting and brutalizing civilians. In the course of an action-packed scene a defence lawyer was attacked and injured and when it all fell silent, court property had been vandalized. The closing action was however, the re-arrest of treason suspects who had been released on bail. The day was Thursday, March 1 and the scene was Uganda’s High Court in Kampala. The reaction was swift and its effects disastrous.
“All judicial business for all the courts in Uganda is suspended with effect from March 5, 2007,” Uganda’s Deputy Chief Justice, Ms. Laetitia Kikonyogo, declared on March 2.
The declaration set in motion the first strike by Uganda’s judiciary since independence. The strike, reports say, led to a spiral and disastrous effect, including filling up of police cells rendering it impossible for police to arrest more suspects.
“The repeated violation of the sanctity of the court premises, disobedience of court orders with impunity and the constant threats and attacks on the safety and independence of the Judiciary and judicial officers,” were the reasons Ms. Kikonyogo gave for the downing of tools.
The pictures of this ugly episode were beamed across the globe.
The question that occupied the minds of most Kenyans and East Africans in general, as they watched this brutal episode roll through their television screens, was; “Is Uganda turning out East Africa’s Zimbabwe?” The seeds are perfect, analysts fear. March 1 could be a nursery bed of hard times for Uganda, and President Yoweri Museveni could have embarked on an unbridled trek to the hallowed status of Harare’s uncle Bob.
That dark Thursday, as it should be referred to, and the subsequent events including the Monday, March 5, riots in which a child died after police lobbed a teargas canister into a commuter van, the one-week judicial strike that was called off on Friday, the lawyers strike scheduled to start tomorrow, and Makerere University’s student boycott of lecturers, could be the first stitches for a relentless national campaign of civil disobedience.
The government reaction had an unmistakable message: Any dissent will be met with an open and brutal force. Civil unrest is foreign to Uganda, a country cowed into submission by a traumatic history of dictatorship. Indeed, many Ugandans used to be left agape with awe as they watched pictures of daring Kenyans battling police in quest for democracy and freedom.
This year however, has been exceptional for Uganda. Seeds of civil rebellion seem to have been planted and Ugandans are more daring than ever before. Since January police have had to use teargas a record seven times against a growing campaign of defiance and an increasingly bold opposition.
But what could send a chill up the spine of any observer is the silence and sometimes on-the-fence cavalier reaction by government. This reaction, observers say, could mean that last week’s government modus operandi has a long lifespan ahead.
There is a divided opinion as to whether Ugandans can sustain a civil unrest in the face of brutal government response. But what all agree is that March 1 marked a political turning point in Uganda.
The Foreign Card
However, what could strengthen Ugandans is that President Museveni, despite his outer display of power and determination, is a broken man.
The making of Museveni as a statesman and visionary is largely accredited to the white-dressing Western powers and media gave him.
Internally many believe that Museveni’s achievements have been over-rated. His economic turnaround is seen as an edifice built on sand and riddled with scandals of blatant robbery of national coffers and a trail of human rights abuses.
And his success in returning peace to Uganda has also been a lyric designed in foreign capitals. Peace in Uganda has largely been a central Uganda affair. In the north, east (where an estimated 2 million internally displaced people have lived in squalid camps for 21 years) and parts of western Uganda; this celebrated peace has been a mirage.
In general, a large potion of the Ugandan society questions this celebrated success story. Reports of diminishing life expectancy figures and growing poverty are incomprehensible when Uganda has enjoyed an unbroken GDP growth of over 5 per cent.
It is also incomprehensible that within this glamour of growth 50% of Uganda’s budget was donor funded.
The internationally marketed greatest success story of Mr. Museveni’s 21-year rule, however, has been the successful battle in halting the rapid spread of HIV/Aids.
While this is true and laudable, the ghastly revelations in 2005 of a monstrous theft of money from the Global Fund meant for the battle against HIV/Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, by top officials, has broken that shineglass too.
The stroke that broke the back of Museveni’s international support however, came in 2005 when he engineered a plot to scrap presidential term limits from the constitution to give him a chance to stand again at the expiry of his two-term limit.
In the background of this, Museveni’s international rating is suffering a nosedive and events such as March 1 will help plummet it further.
In my opinion, civil disobedience is only going to continue. There are too many in Uganda who are educated now and who can see that the government is mistreating its people. It is scary to consider, but if Museveni will not relent, there may be no other option.