Recently the police have been blocking opposition rallies. On June 9, the police used dogs and high pressure water to block a planned opposition Free Uganda rally in Kampala. The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati spoke to Uganda People’s Congress vice president, Dr Joseph Bossa.
There have been several attempts by UPC leaders to hold peaceful demonstrations in town but the police have been foiling them sometimes spraying dyed liquids on demonstrators. What do you think of the police handling of demonstrations?
This government is dictatorial. We have been saying this over and over. The spraying of water on peaceful demonstrators shows that police and NRM are now fused and government is becoming more dictatorial. They want to silence dissenting voices. This is demonstrated in private radio stations where there is quite often media black-out on opposition leaders because some RDC has called to intimidate the station manager from hosting the opposition on the radio. But we are not going to let the NRM and President Museveni to rule this country like a private estate. Nobody wants to be sprayed on with the coloured water or chased by police dogs but as long as something is going wrong in government; we will not just sit down and keep quiet.
What drives you to the streets?
It is the freedom of Ugandans and the country we want to leave for our children. We need a democratic change in this country where impunity is nonexistent, where the corrupt are punished equally, where human rights are respected, and free and fair elections are conducted.
What does Free Uganda Now aim to achieve?
We want true democratic change and free and fair elections.
But the President has just been sworn in for another five years which means elections will be held after his term expires, so what are you talking about?
Elections can be held any time according to the people’s will. It depends on what Ugandans say. Free and fair elections are cardinal to a democratic process because they represent everyone’s voice and gives it legitimacy. A government that comes through free and fair elections will always be responsive to people’s problems and needs since its stay in power depends on the vote of the people. But the government that does not come to power through free and fair elections is not accountable to the people because it comes through intimidation, rigging, buying votes; it comes to power by disenfranchising those people it thinks will not vote for it. That government doesn’t owe the people anything. The people of Uganda can demand free and fair elections any time even before 2016.
But you don’t think this gives the police more reason to look at your intentions to demonstrate with suspicion?
They have no justified reason for their behaviour towards demonstrators. We are going to the people democratically. That’s our constitutional right. We are not holding arms against the government to demand free and fair elections. We are not taking spears or bombing buildings or police stations to make our point; we are simply using constitutional means which allows free expression, association and assembly. We are not doing anything outside the law.
The government seems to think your demonstrations could attract crowds like it was in Tunisia and Egypt?
What is wrong with people who assemble peacefully? People have the right to assemble. The government is there to serve the people. If Ugandans decided to assemble and demanded free and fair elections now, what is wrong with that?
But the Constitution says elections shall be held every five years and it has not been amended?
The same Constitution says “power belongs to the people” and they can use that power anytime. The police have been fused with the NRM government. The aims of NRM are those of the police. They are carrying out the wishes of the NRM government regardless of whether they contravene the constitution or not.
How should they be reacting?
They should not prevent people who are not breaking the law from exercising their constitutional right. They should uphold the law. If I am sitting on the verandah of my private property without breaking any law, why spray me with water? The NRM cadres in the police have failed to understand that police should be different from NRM.
Would you sit down with government to discuss your issues instead of holding endless demonstrations?
We are open to dialogue with government because the country is almost at the verge of a national crisis. At the height of Walk-to-Work protests and before the swearing-in ceremony there were intense efforts towards political dialogue. We set down our conditions, the president replied through Justice James Ogoola. Since our last correspondence with Justice Ogoola to the president, there has been no further communication. The swearing ceremony went through without much ado. All sides indicated willingness to dialogue but the disagreement was on the agenda. There is not much progress since we have not heard from the mediator.
What’s new at UPC?
The party had been confined by the NRM for the last 20 years to operate at its headquarters until the opening of the political space in 2005. This greatly weakened the party. We are now rebuilding the party from a very weak point because the NRM instilled a sense of fear in the people at grassroots who were treating political parties as negative forces. Because of this intimidation, people are very fearful to join opposition parties for fear of jeopardizing the little chances like sponsorship for their children or getting business deals with the government.