Walk to Work: uniqueness of Ugandan protests for democratic change

Original solutions to particular contexts or problems, that’s what works. It’s already a few months that Ben Ali of Tunisia has been expelled from power by public apathy through an unprecedented social uprising. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is after his removal from power in February 2011 still tangled with the Egyptian judiciary system over criminal charges against protesters and other offenses.  And the Libyan leader Kaddafi’s ultimate end is not clear yet with his ongoing battle against a rebel coalition backed by NATO.

With such picture of political uprising in Northern Africa, some commentators and analysts predicted that a similar scenario was unthinkable in Sub-Saharan Africa, this for many reasons: one being the differences in level of standards of living found higher in Mediterranean Arab African countries, and secondly the spread of internet among these countries, which was instrumental in rallying people for the uprising.

Whatever the differences between countries, political leadership in any country should have a limited term in office. This should be consensually agreed upon by all stakeholders and stated clearly in the constitution of the land. What has been happening with African dictatorships including Joweri Museveni ‘s of Uganda is that power is monopolised at all means and cost. Once at the top, the president dictates policies, mechanisms and develops structures and institutions to keep him there forever.

Dictatorships and their national contexts are different. Some are excessively violent and criminal in their exercise of power. Others care at some extent for their citizens. They initiate and implement some effective development plans. However, what they all have in common though is a lack of political space for dissent voices or any acceptable respect of fundamental human rights. That’s in fact the reason why they are called dictatorships. They don’t tolerate discussion of their policies and practices, whether they are damageable to their population or not. They dictate and the rest has to blindly obey.

Opposition leaders in those regimes like in Uganda have to come up with original initiatives to face them effectively. They have to address the fact that the constitution is changing constantly to accommodate the will of the dictator. Rigging elections which are only held for external legitimacy is a constant occurrence. Economical and social conditions could be enormously improved if different ideas from all constituencies of society had a say and their views considered.

Dr Besigye from FDC and other leaders of the Ugandan opposition have come up with the Walk to Work movement of protest against their government’s policies, particularly with the rise of prices of essential commodities including fuel and food. Every Monday and Wednesday, since April 11th, 2011 they walk to their place of work to show to Museveni’s government that its policies are hurting the population. They have invited their compatriots to follow them in doing the same. Of course this non violent movement can become something regrettable politically for the regime if left on its own and not closely monitored and most importantly stopped.

The reaction of the Ugandan government has been violent and condemned by human rights organisations around the world. The protest has been labelled by Museveni as an act of treason and may be dealt with as such by the courts. Involved opposition leaders have been arrested and held into custody waiting for trial. They are accused of having met and decided on such action of walking to work as a protest against the Ugandan government. This accusation is utterly ridiculous.

The walk to work movement of protest is unique in its nature and potential impact. Its initiators can be considered as social innovators. In fact, legally no government can accuse its citizens for choosing to walk to their workplace. In some countries, policymakers and governments even appeal to their people to walk to their places of work for health reasons or reducing the number of commuters on roads and public transport. The question is how this type of non violent protest can be replicated and applied elsewhere. It seems very transferable. This is where its uniqueness appears remarkable.

So let’s walk to work all over Africa. This may be the ugly truth because we cannot afford to get on a public or private transport to be to our workplace. But let’s make our point heard through our walk. Let’s tell our contested leaders each time we walk to our workplaces that we are not happy for being forced to use this rather trivial non violent means of protest because we are not allowed any other space to raise our grievances peacefully.

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One response to “Walk to Work: uniqueness of Ugandan protests for democratic change

  1. I don’t want to sound discouraging, but it seems unlikely that Museveni will be shaken by these protests. There are many differences between Uganda and the successful democratic uprising in Egypt: wealth and education, social media uptake, loyalty of the security forces, party political agendas, and donor agendas all point to a high probability that Museveni will survive these challenges to his rule. http://iddbirmingham.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/the-ugandan-protests-and-why-museveni-will-not-be-joining-ben-ali-and-mubarak-anytime-soon/

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