Protests, Part II - Easter Reflections
First, in response to the protest by the pro-Movement people on Monday, the opposition groups rallied for a anti-third term demonstration yesterday.This medley of about one thousand people, represented different political parties and universities in Kampala. It was impressive that they were able to turn out so many people for the event given the history of public dissent in Uganda.
In the past when opposition groups protest, they are repressed by police forces and some people are usually shot. It is a testament to the conviction of these people that they take such sacrifices to have their voices heard. Luckily, there was no repression or violence yesterday, making it the first peaceful opposition demonstration allowed in twenty years.
The rally began here at Constitutional Square at 1 pm. Different groups mustered on the field with their homemade signs (different than the highly-organized government protest on Monday), whistles, trumpets and passion. And there was so much passion. People were shouting, dancing and yelling. They kept saying 'agende,' which translates: 'he goes.' The 'he' being Museveni. Signs read: "We are fighting for a transparent, non-corrupt government, No to Third Term," "Time out for Dictator in Africa," "Donors We Still Need You," and "Museveni shame on you for the third term."
When I interviewed a few of the students, they were fiery and committed, claiming that Museveni is "changing the constitution to entrench a dictatorship." They criticized the Movement's tactics of intimidation and violence, not allowing true democracy. One guy told me, "We have a program of two years to change the government democratically, but if they repress us, we will lose patience and we will be forced to stage a revolution...We cannot be slaves in our own country."
The passionate group listened to speeches at the square by a number of MPs in the newly-formed opposition group, the Forum for Democratic Change. They then marched to the British High Commission, followed by Parliament. It was quite a sight to watch this mass of people move across the main streets of the city, cheered by many on the sidewalk. In a society where the political space can be stifling, this event was highly hopeful. The courage of these who dare to challenge the powerholders through the democratic process is highly inspiring.
Earlier in the day, I visited with a Parliamentarian from Soroti District in northern Uganda. She is also a member of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change. She told me about how government military approach to the northern conflict is only perpetuating the conflict, pushing more and more people into IDP camps. The people in her area overwhelmingly desire a peaceful amnesty approach to end the conflict. She told me that violence never ends war, it only attacks the symptoms of the problem. The FDC is promoting a platform of national reconciliation leading to a national dialogue that it believes can stop some of the harsh, violent regionalism in Uganda.
Later in the day, I ended up having coffee for two hours with the vice-chairman of the FDC, which was definitely one of the highlights of my time here. He was an extremely friendly and welcoming man, but more than that, he was a principled visionary really committed to the good of this country. He told me how northern policy is not putting the plight of the people first. He then told me about how FDC seeks to establish democratic processes and institutions in this country to provide true security. "We believe the security of the weak is only in democracy and freedom."
He told me, "One thing this country needs to see done is to entrench democracy because our politics have consistently been the politics of taking advantage." He said the FDC is trying to speak about values, not criticism. And he is hopeful that if the government does not use violent, they can succeed in pushing constitutionalism and winning the election. The big challenge now for FDC is to get funding just to move around the country projecting their message and vision. They are up against a foe that controls all the money and power in the state.
There are certain people in my life that I have met that have left me in awe, such as Desmond Tutu. This man, Honorable Professor Ogenga-Latigo is added to that list. I left coffee filled with hope and inspiration, a big contrast to how I felt on Tuesday after witnessing the ineptitude of Parliament. It was truly an honor to meet him and speak with him. Politics is a dirty business, but it can be a source of good and hope with the right principles and a vision that puts the good of the people first.
Sometimes I wonder why some of us go to churches on Good Friday when we can see the crucifixion of Jesus all around us in people dying of diseases, poverty, corruption and violence. If we open our eyes, we are certainly not lacking to see injustice. I just wonder where we find Easter, though, in such a troubled world.
For me, I saw such hope in a man daring to defy the odds and sacrifice tirelessly for the good of his people. We need such Easters of real-life hope that arise in our hearts and minds to push us towards action for a more just and humane world. We have far too many Good Fridays everyday all around the world.