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article imageTear gas and arrests: Birth of a Ugandan civil rights movement? Special

By Ann Garrison     Apr 11, 2011 in Politics
Kampala - Ugandan opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye was arrested while walking to work in Kampala, Uganda's capitol, on Monday morning, as part of a Walk to Work protest of the rising cost of fuel and consequent rise in the cost of living.
Norbert Mao, another of the leading presidential candidates in Uganda's February election, was also arrested walking to work in Kampala.
Both have been released, and Besigye has been charged with inciting violence. He has since told Uganda's National Monitor that he is willing to die to restore sanity to Ugandan governance, including civil liberties for all citizens.
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U.S. Government
Other opposition politicians were detained in the mid-morning arrests, and some are reported to have been prevented from leaving their homes to join the Walk to Work protests. The Uganda National Monitor also reported that police fired both tear gas and live ammunition to disperse crowds, but no casualties have been reported.
After the February 18th presidential election, Dr. Kizza Besigye claimed that it had been rigged, and Commonwealth election observers confirmed multiple voting irregularities, voter intimidation by the military, and widespread voter bribery. In a statement after the election the Commonwealth observers also said:
"The lack of a level playing field and strong advantage of incumbency compromised the competitive nature of the polls. The ruling party in Uganda is by far the largest and best resourced party, and following many years in power, elements of the state structure are synonymous with the party."
At the time, some observers predicted uprisings like those in North Africa, but protests were quickly contained by the Ugandan Police, which has since banned demonstrations and warned that they will use force in response to any attempt to demonstrate.
Almost as soon as the election was over, fuel prices soared, as did the cost of basic necessities like soap, rice, and cooking oil, which are reported to have climbed by 40 percent just since February in some parts of the country.
In response to this morning's attempted Walk to Work protests, Didas Gasana, Editor of the Kampala based Newsline EA, said:
"The Ugandan opposition were wise to protest the rising cost of living affecting all ordinary Ugandans, but President Yoweri Museveni's police apparatus was again too well armed and prepared."
Gasana added, however, that the political cost to Museveni, is high:
"The masses have seen President Yoweri Museveni as a ruthless ruler who couldn't listen to their cries. Internationally, he loses enormous political points by denying a minimum right - freedom of movement."
Dr. Martin Luther King  Jr.  President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference  at a civil r...
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, at a civil rights march on Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963.
National Archives and Records Administration
Despite the arrests, opponents of the Museveni government have announced that they will continue their Walk to Work Campaign every Monday and Thursday "until the gov't listens and responds to our demands to deal with the high fuel and food prices."
Anne Mugisha, who ran for Women's Member of Parliament in Uganda's Mbarara District in the February election, has, since the election, resolved to help build a nonviolent civil rigthts protest movement "to dismantle authoritarianism and build democracy in Uganda," in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King and the American Civil Rights Movement. Calling on Uganda's middle class to walk to work in protest, Mugisha wrote:
"On Monday we shall have a unique opportunity to join thousands of Ugandans who walk to work every single day. We normally drive past them in our cars, taxis or boda-bodas. They are so many we hardly see them. Life is such that the suffering of one person may break our heart but the suffering of many people overwhelms our sensibilities and we cope by becoming blind to the suffering. Our interaction with pedestrians is usually limited to impatience as they crowd the roads to cross when we are in a hurry. Sometime we slow down to apologize and sometimes we pretend not to see when the car tyre lands in a pothole splashing dirty brown water all over their clothes as they rush to work.
"On Monday we shall shine a light on the plight of those Ugandans who now more than ever cannot afford a taxi or boda-boda fare. We shall show our solidarity with the parents who cannot put a meal on the table for their little ones due to the rise in food prices. We shall do this simply by walking together with ordinary Ugandans to our place of work and then we shall repeat the exercise every Thursday and Monday until the government pays heed to our demand to intervene and guarantees affordable food and fuel prices."
Anne Mugisha at a campaign rally in Uganda s Mbarara District in February.  Mugisha  a member of Uga...
Anne Mugisha at a campaign rally in Uganda's Mbarara District in February. Mugisha, a member of Uganda's Federation for Democratic Change, an opposition political party, has resolved to help build a nonviolent protest movement in Uganda, in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Anne Mugisha for Womens' MP, Mbara, Uganda Campaign
Mugisha angrily reported that she herself escaped arrest this morning by pushing past a policeman and walking through a police blockade to cross the road, but that colleagues of hers were arrested. She said that she will be walking to work again on Thursday and asked, "Who will walk with me?"
Uganda and the U.S.
Earlier this year, Milton Allimadi, Ugandan American Editor of the New York City based Black Star News asked whether President Barack Obama would continue to support repressive African regimes, including that of President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda.
Allimadi wrote:
"This is abominable and harkens to the days when here in the United States, elections used to be held in the Southern States while Black voters were either barred from voting, being lynched, being 'disappeared,' or showered with water cannons."
As Ugandan opposition leaders were being arrested for walking to work on Monday, the Uganda Daily Monitor reported that the Uganda chapter of the USA's 2010 Country Report on Human Rights Practices accuses the Ugandan police and army of "indiscriminately killing civilians, including inmates, and highlighted failure to punish perpetrators."
On the same day the Monitor reported that Uganda and the United States Army agreed to establish an aircraft training camp in Uganda's Teso sub-region, and that "the joint military exercise will be officially launched on Wednesday at the air base in Soroti."
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