Ugandans are hurting and demonstrating against the government

The sketchy sad news reaching us through the New Vision report of a police officer killed in the nation’s capital Kampala, use of tear gas to disperse demonstrators and arrest of opposition leaders including the president of FDC and the Mayor of Kampala. Since 2009 demonstrations are increasingly becoming common especially since the fraudulent presidential and parliamentary elections of 2011. It is important to realize that demonstrations take place to register that something is wrong and needs to be corrected by the authorities elected to represent the interests of the people who are sovereign.

In Uganda many things have gone wrong led by corruption and the situation is getting worse. The public’s outcry and advice from other sources have been ignored by the government. The economic crisis and the attendant unemployment of youth, hunger, disease and poverty have reached intolerable levels. The emergence of rare diseases affecting children including the nodding disease and the one deforming children limbs is a cause of deep concern. Market forces and the private sector are not equipped to address all these mushrooming problems. The state has to step in and ease the suffering of the people of Uganda.

So far the government has not done much except to produce some information and data on economic growth to 2010 and economic potential in the oil and tourism industries. The people of Uganda are not “prospering communities” as the Uganda Media Centre press statement of March 9, 2012 claims. Rather, Ugandans are hurting badly and the pain is getting worse. In this environment Ugandans have a right to assemble and express their opinions. The police force is expected to guarantee law and order and use its intelligence to identify and arrest those that cause trouble, not use tear gas to disperse demonstrators. Did those arrested cause the trouble? What Uganda authorities need to understand is that there is a wind of change blowing across the country. Ugandans are shedding fear that has characterized their existence since the 1970s. Tear gas may not be a solution; it could make matters worse.

What is needed is reconciliation: to find a middle ground on a win-win basis. Winner-take-all has lost value, if it had any. Using tear gas by authorities and throwing stones by demonstrators (we need to know who these are) will not solve anything. We need to remind ourselves about what triggered revolutions in France and Russia. The causes included unemployment, poverty, hunger, exploitation of peasants, high taxes and ideas from outside. And all these factors are present in Uganda at the moment. Recruiting more police officers and soldiers and building prisons and safe houses will not solve the crisis. Economic growth with equity, genuine representation in parliament and public service and state participation in addressing these challenges will go a long way in arresting the situation and returning the country onto a path of vibrancy and community prosperity, peace and security for all.

Eric Kashambuzi

Secretary-General, UDU