Public protest is deeply rooted in every political culture, and there have been so many times in the past, even in the recent past when public demonstrations of support for a cause, or opposition to a policy, or government have led to a change of the cause of history. We have witnessed how people power can be a potent force in the recent Arab spring sending dictators and military Generals packing. In Egypt, where protests are still continuing despite of threats from the ruling military generals to crash the protestors, it’s that strong deep rooted belief that when people have nothing left to fight with – it’s their solidarity with each other to stand together and be counted across communities and continents which proves their most powerful weapon.
Uganda is in a lot of ways still an extremely messed up country and one does not need to look terribly hard to find all sorts of worrisome and unpleasant developments be it in extreme and entrenched corruption, sexism, pervasive homophobia, tribalism and individualism rather than nationalism. I want to be objective as I have been pretty honest and unsparingly looking at some of Uganda’s failures, so many that I cannot start recounting them again, but also that am truthfully not interested in promoting anyone’s political narrative while criticizing or praising their propaganda and actions. When I see something good and promising, like improved economic, health or education indicators, I say that it’s good and promising. When I see something else that looks disappointing and dangerous, I will say that it’s hideous and dangerous but with objectivity.
This note is in response to the recently passed bad law (The Public Order and Management Bill) that is completely and entirely indefensible. It’s obvious that Museveni using Parliament has deliberately targeted those who dare oppose him, by introducing draconian new laws that target peaceful protestors and demonstrators. This comes at the back of other unconstitutional decisions in appointing a serving army general as a cabinet minister and re-appointing retired judicial officials despite public anger and protests against such developments.
A new law introducing stringent measures and requiring protestors to seek permission from the principle abuser the Inspector General of Police, is simply setting the stage for toughening Museveni’s crackdown on dissent.
In a move to reign in the opposition, the new law restricts on movement of persons in and around the, gives the police overwhelming powers to use lethal force against protestors, and break meeting of more than three people, as well draconian prison terms ranging from twenty four months on conviction and unreasonable fines.
The bill also suggests introducing punishment for any public gathering even if it lacks the formal signs of political protest. The introduction of this bill is a clear response to the creative and intelligent ways of demonstrating and holding rallies respectively that have been exhibited by opposition leaders in and around Kampala, where the police has often been left waiting in a different venue yet the rallies carry on at different venues. It furthermore seeks to formalize the outdated preventative measures that have recently been used on prominent opposition leaders by holding them locked in their homes without allowing them out.
There’s really not much value I can add in this particular instance. This law is absolutely appalling and reflects a very worrying signal from a regime that has been in power for almost three decades that it is not going to negotiate with the opposition but impose its own will on it. The bill also reflects a maddening shortsightedness on the part of the authorities. They seem not to be aware or not to care that these draconian measures are bound to create sympathetic reactions to those opposition leaders and followers which will only aggravate the problem they seem to want to solve. They think by locking up Ingrid Turinawe, Lukwago and Kasibante or Mpuga will be enough to stifle dissent? Or that is going to make people less angry with the government’s failures in provision of services and it’s corrupted tendencies?
This law virtually guarantees that political conflict will intensify and that the parties to it will become increasingly radicalized. If the government had for instance allowed the people to freely walk and march during the ‘walk to work’ campaign, the movement would, likely, have gradually cooled out and died. Now the high ranking opposition political figures will be lining up for some ready-made political drama and tragedy.
I think one can very reasonably argue that Museveni has run out of steam, but although he still enjoys some sort of popularity by default. All that one has to do is to look at independent pools, recent unconstitutional measures as well as his treatment of free press. However, while he still enjoys that relative majority support, Museveni’s popularity is increasingly fragile, fickle and maginal. In this environment, you would think he’d want to focus on provision of services, as he promised in his election pledge, instead of setting platforms for terror. Indeed if I was not so familiar with Uganda’s tainted political history of self defeating behavior, I would almost think that the authors of this law were deliberately trying to scuttle the current government’s fall by acting in such a loutish and moronic manner.
So, in conclusion, this law is not just bad but stupendously bad. There is absolutely no justification for it whatsoever. There is no possible defense for it, and I hope its supporters, movers and authors get the blows back that they so richly deserve. If there is one thing that could throw Uganda of the rails, and put at risk the genuine economic and social progress gained in the recent past years, it’s the small mindedness and backwardness of those in power that this law so perfectly represents. It’s the same ignorance that has led to increased divisionism within the army and societal fabric like the enactment of an Anti-gay law which has indefinitely been withdrawn. Ugandans should thus understand that all rights are equal and in crying foul for the POM Bill, it’s almost the same pain those gay brothers and sisters were feeling when a law to deny them their right to freely associate was being sought.