By Paul Ndiho, Washington DC.
June 13, 2011
Uganda’s leading opposition figure, Dr. Kizza Besigye, says the “Walk to Work” protests will continue despite a government crackdown. Besigye was recently here in the United States seeking medical treatment for his eyes, which were temporarily blinded when police detained his vehicle, smashed its windows, and fired pepper spray inside.
Uganda’s main opposition leader recently made international headlines after he was shot and arrested by the Ugandan military and police during a modest street demonstration over rising commodity prices. He says the broad based “Walk to Work” protests are a civil movement for change, and dismisses claims that the protests have died down.
“The protest and what drives the protest suddenly has not died, and will not die. That is the injustice that I was talking about. As you realize, indeed the whole protest was met with unprecedented brutality…. But the protest will not die and for sure, we shall continue protesting. I’ll continue participating in all the protest. It is our fundamental right to show dissatisfaction, to demonstrate against what we don’t want, and we should exercise it until we get the results that we deserve.”
Kizza Besigye – one of East Africa’s most popular politicians – has become the face of the protests that take place twice a week which have urged people to leave their cars at home to highlight soaring fuel and food prices. The protests started small, but were boosted by the violent arrest of Besigye. Besigye says that he was not surprised by the way the government unleashed this terror on him and his supporters.
“I mean it would be, deceitful to say I am happy about what has been going on. It is not fun to be treated the way I was treated. But, I fully know that there are even many more people who have undergone much worse than I have. I am actually among the lucky ones. And I also recognize all of this is happening in the process of struggle for the people of Uganda to assert themselves so that they have a government that they control that works for them. And I am very alive to the fact that no freedom, no positive changes come without a cost.”
Besigye was President Yoweri Museveni’s personal doctor during Museveni’s days as a bush rebel, and now Besigye has lost three elections against his former friend, including the latest presidential vote in February, which opposition leaders say was rigged. General Museveni’s critics argue that images of security personnel smashing car windows with guns or pointing weapons at people is something that reminds Ugandans of previous brutal regimes. Besigye says that he fell out with Museveni after they disagreed on which the direction the country was moving.
“Our meeting point was to work on an agenda for democratic change in our country, to have a government that would precisely be best for the people’s will and to work for the common good. The moment he veered away from that, I expressed my opposition to him and I think that’s where the contradiction begun. You may remember that even before I came to the public elective arena, I simply penned a critical document which was explaining out what had gone wrong, and he responded to it violently saying I should be court marshaled and no one should discuss what I had written and that’s where the whole thing started.”
General Museveni has been in power in Uganda for 25 years, and until recently was respected internationally for his handling of the economy, for stabilizing a once chaotic country and for intervening in regional hotspots such as Somalia. But critics are growing in number and say he marries these achievements with domestic repression.
Museveni accuses Besigye and other opposition figures of trying to start another Arab spring-type of uprising in Uganda, and vows to crush the protests, blaming rising food and fuel costs on drought and global increases in oil prices.