Friday, 30 December 2011

The lows and highs of 2011

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

It was a politically loaded year for Uganda. First, it began with uncertainty and fear of what the outcome of the February presidential election would be. Speculation was rife that Uganda would blow up into post election violence like it was in the 2007 Kenya election. Fortunately, the election was conducted somewhat largely peaceful. But the heavy presence of the UPDF and police armed to teeth on the Election Day and after became the centre of debate and concern for election observers. 

Ruling party candidate, Yoweri Museveni, emerged the winner of the presidential election having literally bought the vote leaving his main challenger Dr Kizza Besigye leaking wounds of the disturbing defeat. However, in April the country’s economy was stumbling coupled with high food and fuel inflation amid a weakening shilling against major international currencies.

The opposition politicians gathered their energies and pulled a master stroke and laughed last. Through a simple protest tactic of “walking-to-work” the opposition politicians headed by Besigye exposed regime’s brutality. Besigye was arrested at least four times in April and the last attempt to block him from protested resulted in injuries and hospitalization. The next day nationwide protests took the security organs by surprise and eventually lives were lost.

When President Museveni was sworn for the 4th or 5th term in office Besigye’s return from the Nairobi hospital overshadowed the inauguration. Museveni was annoyed that the Inspector General of Police Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura had failed to control crowds that shunned his inauguration but turned to welcome the opposition leader from hospital. Francis Rwego, a police officer whom Kayihura had delegated to oversee the return of Besigye was fired.  Later Museveni named his cabinet but soon the public’s expectations from them waned as some would not come out to issue statements when the nation was grappling with inflation and strikes among other economic problems.

As the year dragged on the taxi operators in Kampala rioted demanding an end to unfair levies from Uganda Taxi Operators and Drivers Association paralyzing the transport system in the city. It took the intervention of the president to get the taxi drivers back to work. Soon the city traders were up in arms against the government’s failure to weigh in the weakening shilling against the US dollar which they argued was making their business very costly. In July, the primary school teachers joined the bandwagon demanding for a 100% pay rise. The government’s commitment to improve working conditions of its lowly paid workers was put to test. It only promised the teachers a 30% progressive salary increment in the 2012/2013 financial year. The teachers went back to classroom but only time will tell for how long.

In October there was the grand story of the year on oil debate in Parliament that exposed the corruption and other underhand methods in awarding exploration contracts to western oil companies led by Tullow Oil. Ministers Sam Kutesa, Hillary Onek and Amama Mbabazi were implicated in this oil deals corruption allegations. The public demanded for their resignation but they remained adamant save for Kutesa who stepped aside largely because of an earlier corruption scandal involving the organization of the Kampala 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The year ended with the resignation of Minister for Presidency Kabakumba Masiko after she was accused of stealing radio equipment from national broadcaster, UBC, to use in her private FM radio in her home district of Masindi. 

But the surprise was: for all the tear gas and pink spray the police sprayed on protesters and Museveni’s political enemies, the president did not hesitate to thank Kayihura with an end of year promotion. Kayihura was promoted to an army rank of Lieutenant General. Human rights groups have condemned police brutality under the leadership of Kayihura and look at his promotion as bad news for our democracy arguing that Kayihura has succeeded in militarizing the police instead of making it civil.

On the sports scene it was a disappointing year for the Uganda Cranes, the national football team, after they failed to break the 40 year jinx of failing to qualify the 2012 African Cup of Nations soccer competitions. The Cranes had become the pride of and the uniting factor for the country. Moses Golola another sportsman in kickboxing also disappointed when he lost the championship to Hungarian Andra Nagy. But athletes Annet Negesa and Moses Kipsiro made the country proud when they bagged gold medals at the Maputo All Africa Games in September.

In the New Year we are expected to do better in the sports arena. Our politics could get nastier as the country draws nearer to producing oil. In any case, happy 2012. 

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