By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
The first day of a week-long Walk to Work protests may have ended with a few people responding to the call to protest but the brief arrest of opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye this morning may generate momentum for protests. Besigye was detained at Kasangati Police Station as he attempted to walk to work. His supporters gathered around the police station demanding his release. He was released. The Activists for Change (A4C), an opposition-leaning pressure group, on October 14 called for the protests citing corruption in President Yoweri Museveni’s government and the high commodity prices which are making life difficult for majority Ugandans. But a handful of Ugandans responded to the A4C call on October 17, the first day of protests that would culminate in a rally at Kalolo Airstrip. The Uganda police and Museveni himself had warned against the protests citing school children sitting for their national exams as pretext. Even some clerics preached against the protests given that the timing is bad. Security operatives and police arrested at least 13 people in connection with organizing the protest. Protesters in Kisekka market and other towns in the country were dispersed with teargas.
However, it is known that Museveni’s regime is nervousness about protests that gained momentum in April with the brutal arrest of Uganda’s main opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye that ended in hospitalization. Peaceful protests have resulted in regime change in Tunisia and Egypt and are rocking Middle East Countries. So the Museveni regime is more wary of protests than the high levels of youth unemployment which is at 80% in the country and corruption by his cronies. Therefore every attempt to protest has met the most brutal crackdown from state security forces. The April protests left at least 11 people dead including a 2 year-old baby shot by police in Masaka town, about 270 kilometres from the capital Kampala.
Even if the October 17 Walk-to-Work protests began on a low note with fewer people “walking to work” to express their displeasure with government’s failure to address the markets question and corruption, the arrest of Dr Besigye on October 18 may make people reconsider their attitude towards the protests. Uganda Police arrested Dr Besigye along with 4 people this morning as he attempted to walk to work fearing crowds would gather around him “disrupting business in town”. Already Besigye’s supporters are engaging the police in running battles demanding his immediate release. The police as usual are recklessly shooting live bullets and teargas canisters, people are badly injured including a journalist from a local TV station. Here we go again with the police unwittingly making a mountain out of a molehill by arresting FDC's Kizza Besigye over largely ignored Walk to Work protests.
Because of the perceived police brutality in handling peaceful demonstrations the protesters are also turning violent. Protesters have pelted stones and abuses at police during these protests. In Rukungiri the protesters used bees to sting policemen and women who were curtailing the right to demonstrate and assemble peacefully. This reflects badly on police and Uganda’s image internationally. Perhaps if the police had let Besigye walk to work, the protests would have died a natural since public opinion seems to be cynical about the protests this time. The police detained Besigye for an hour and drove him back to his home later on. But stubborn Besigye says he is determined to walk-to-work since it is his right to do so.