By Rukiya Makuma
What next after opposition leaders are accused of failure to organise?
On Oct. 16, a day before what Walk to Work organisers promised would be a massive resumption of the protests that paralysed the country in April, the Jinja highway was crowded with police patrol cars zooming all over in frantic apprehension.
Having created such a high momentum which resulted in many deaths, injuries, and arrests of protesters and many job transfers among police chiefs who failed to quell the protests, the police deployed early and arrested many suspects.
Next day, Oct. 17, many business people in the city and suburbs kept their shops locked and journalists anxious for a big story to break positioned themselves in known protest areas.
Then the news started filtering in. Leaders of the big parties, the Forum for democratic Change (FDC) and the Democratic Party (DP) were holed up meeting in different hotels. None of them appeared to participate in the walk. Kizza Besigye, the FDC party president, Olara Otunnu, leader of the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), Norbert Mao of DP, Asuman Basalirwa of JEEMA, and even Mathias Mpuuga, the Coordinator of Activists for Change (A4C) the political activist group in charge of the protest were suspiciously missing from the scene.
Even top opposition politicians like Leader of Opposition in Parliament Nandala Mafabi, Kibirige Mayanja, past president of JEEMA and others who had participated before were missing. What was going on? How did A4C expect protest walks to take place if the leaders were missing? Soon the verdict was out on the street: Walk to Work II had flopped. Some accused the opposition leaders of cowardice.
Evidence of the flop persisted even when Kizza Besigye, attempted to walk, was forced back to house arrest in his home by heavily deployed police, and stayed locked away for days .
Days later the leaders of the opposition are struggling to wash off the flop.
FDC Spokesperson and MP Wafula Oguttu says, in fact, there was no flop.
“W2W II has been successful and it attracted many people from all over the country and as a result many were arrested across the country,” he says, “The only difference this time was the absence of prominent faces.” He says phase one of W2W was an eye opener to the public and that is why many leaders of opposition participated to show the public that they believe and support the cause.
Mpuuga says it is not necessary for him to lead the protests. He says his role is “to guide the people” by providing information, ideologies and philosophical leadership to the struggle. He says previously he was accused of using A4C to promote himself an allegation he denies. Mpuuga says A4C has to balance between leadership and action.
“Some people walk while others focus on other issues. When some people are arrested for walking and charged, there should be someone outside to continue with the struggle, someone has to bail out colleagues who are arrested. Yet those who want to see the struggle collapse would want everyone to participate so that people are arrested and all the voices fizzle out,” he says.
Whether or not you agree with Mpuuga and Wafula’s claims that individuals opposed to the current government can protest on their own without the leaders, there is a more urgent problem: the lack of coherence in the opposition leaders’ message.
Mugisha Muntu, the Secretary for mobilisation for FDC told The Independent that in fact, “the timing was inappropriate” and was the reason for the low turn-up of participants.
“But discussions are underway to see what can be done about the timing and other arising issues,” he said.
Others like Kibirige Mayanja, the Chairman for JEEMA, say they did not participate in W2W because they had personal matters to attend to.
Joseph Bossa, the Vice president of UPC says failure by some opposition members to participate in W2W should not be taken for cowardice considering how much resistance they put up during first W2W protests in April.
“We are in this knowing how brutal this government can be, but we are willing to go all the way, he says. We know that all the activities we are involved in will be brutally crashed by the unrelenting government. They have charged us with unreasonable cases but we still support the cause,” he says.
Indeed following the W2W II the government has come out strongly against real and perceived protestors; Besigye had a platoon of police positioned at his home to prevent him from walking. Ingrid Turinawe IPC women League leader, and Besigye‘s aides Sam Mugumya and Francis Mwijukye are in jail on treason and the government has tabled in parliament a Public Order Management Bill designed to curtail protests.
Bossa says the different parties have held a sequence of meetings where they agreed that a committee of secretary generals meet to coordinate, inform and harmonise the various opposition activities.
Bossa says there are different coalitions that have been formed, for example Free Uganda Now and Interparty Forces (IPC), and are consulting on a way forward for joint maximum impact.
He says the meetings will help different party members review Phase 2 of W2W and some things will be changed to suit the ever changing tactics of the NRM and Museveni.
Fredrick Golooba Mutebi, a Research and political analyst, told The Independent that the opposition can make discontent grow if it continues to challenge the government and keep it busy, dissipating its energies on repressive measures rather than applying itself to finding solutions to the economic, social and political forces feeding the discontent.
“The bigger question, though, is whether if they influence change they can adequately deal with its aftermath,” Golooba says, “The level of organisation or disorganisation and fragmentation suggests it would be a very steep challenge for them.”