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One-man demos to silent protests

By Agnes Asiimwe

How do you express objection?

Mr Joseph Mbogo, 45, spent his morning last Tuesday standing, in protest, outside Parliament in a one-man demonstration, but positioned well enough to be seen by those going in or leaving the Parliamentary Building. The former NRA bush war veteran hasnt had a share in the national cake, the way many of his colleagues have. Its now 22 years since they took power but all he has is the memory of the harsh bush days. I wrote to the president in August 2007, he told The Independent in an interview.

He personally took the letter to Lt. Gen.  David Tinyefuza, the presidential advisor on military affairs. Tinyefuza passed on the letter to the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence with instructions that Mbogo gets help. CMI never helped him. Now he wants CMI to give the letter to the president. I need money, I am homeless, my children dont go to school yet we worked hard together and he had promised not to forget us.

He joined the army when he was only 15 years, in September 1981. He [M7] badly needed manpower, they called us thieves, it rained on us but when they arrived in Kampala they forgot about us.

For his efforts, just as President Museveni was leaving Parliament, a PGB soldier walked up to him and gave him Col. Proscovia Nalweyiso’s (first NRA woman  officer) number. He called her immediately and arranged a meeting. Maybe something could come out of his demo.

Just the day before Mbogo’s demonstration, Mr Jeff Sewava, 30, an electrician with UMEME took his cause to Parliament, his concern being child neglect and abuse. There is a lot of violence against children, they are beheaded, defiled, and starved yet the minister for children is not heard and in fact unknown, Sewava told The Independent. To make his point, Sewava carried his four-year-old child to Parliament and says the childs mother abandoned him at two weeks and that if it were him who had done so, FIDA and other flurry of NGOs would have been chasing after him.

But not everybody is taking their issue to the sidewalk at Parliament.  According to some observers, more people are going solo in protest against society injustice.  These people arent going to street corners holding placards laden with statements; rather they are enforcing their boycotts and protests quietly as they go about their daily tasks.  According to some silent protesters, the power of a silent protest can be far reaching and effective.

The silent protesters are up against numerous issues. One resident of Bweyogerere says he has been driving without a driving license for some time now. He says he cannot waste time and money on Face Technologies, the company that procures the permits, just to get a laminated piece of paper that is too shoddy to be called a driving permit  but at the cost of an arm and a leg!

Some people have boycotted bars, restaurants, beauty salons, supermarkets, banks, and other service points because of bad customer care, rude attendants, disrespectful security, dirtiness, or because the firms are owned by people who have been reported to have swindled public funds.  The protesters say they relentlessly complained out loud at first but never saw change until they silently walked away and launched their boycott.

There is no place to get redress [after a poor service] and that is the reason they are going for silent protests, said Mr Sam Watasa, the executive director of Uganda Consumers Protection Association. But first, what are Watasas boycotts? I dont go to shops with imported textiles because most are factory rejects, said Watasa, yet if I go to Phenix Logistics and the cloth had a problem, I would return it. Watasa doesnt buy imported car batteries because they have no guarantee.

When the protest to save Mabira Forest went digital, with a call to boycott Lugazi sugar on the Internet and via SMS, the power of a boycott of a nation was unleashed on SCOUL and it proved that a business, perhaps even a government, could be brought to its knees.  Hussein Kyanjo, MP Makindye West, a big player in the Save Mabira Crusade says Ugandans are not consistent with their protests.

The great majority of Ugandans live a subsistence life, they cannot prepare for a month ahead, they live by the day and tomorrow may be different,” he said. Ugandans will react in a demonstration massively today and tomorrow they will have got a job or a deal upcountry and they will abandon the cause to go and make money. Demonstrations are successful in structured economies where people know how they will live at least for a month. That is how dictators are surviving, said Kyanjo.

Kyanjo said that with the Lugazi sugar boycott, eventually people couldnt tell the difference. It was effective for a short time, about three weeks. Kyanjo agrees that silent protests are on. I heard people want to boycott Pepsi Cola products because of his [Amos Nzeyi] involvement in Temangalo, but the consistent ones are few.

Consistence is what the demonstration by Mr William Thomas and Ms Concepcion Picciotto is made of.  The two have been demonstrating in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. since 1981. They are protesting against the use of genocidal weapons like nuclear weapons.  The two have survived arrests, harassments, beatings, court battles, rain, snow, summer and winter. Presidents have come and gone but they remain and say they will push for their cause till they die.

On silent boycotts, not only are some people boycotting but also encouraging everyone around them to do the same.  When Metro Cash & Carry Supermarket, Uganda’s premier store opened, shoppers had to carry membership/loyalty cards to be allowed to shop.  Ugandans long accustomed to dukas thought Metro was being snobbish. This forced many shoppers, most of whom only heard about the cards through word of mouth, to stay away even after the requirement was scrapped. Competition from other stores like Shoprite and Uchumi and a misunderstood marketing gimmick finished off Metro.

A silent protest comes with many benefits, not to mention the satisfaction. To hold a demonstration, even a one man demo, one needs police clearance. You have to inform the Inspector General of Police, involve us at the time of planning, we need to know the type of placard and the message on the placard, said Ms Judith Nabakoba, the police spokesperson.  A silent protest on the other hand is free of any hassles.

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