Saturday, April 30, 2011

Update on Kizza Besigye's Condition

Dr. Besigye is being treated at Nairobi Hospital and he has been seen by a physician an eye specialist and an orthopedic surgeon.

The Patient was received at the hospital, directly from the airport. He was 
examined and taken to theatre for a thorough examination and cleaning his 
eyes of what appeared like residue from the spray. At the same time his arm 
cast was removed as it was now ineffective and soaked in tear gas or 
other substance. The fracture was reset and his arm re-cast. The examination revealed injuries to the chest. Today he was reviewed and taken to Xray and scan to examine the chest further.

Specimens were taken to try and establish the nature of toxins, that were sprayed on Dr. Besigye even though we realize that some 60 hours after the injury it may be difficult to get an accurate assessment. The results of these lab tests are not yet available.

He remains on treatment for all his injuries.

Anne Mugisha
Dep. Sec. International Affairs

Sunday, April 24, 2011

To Talk or not to Talk - That is the Question!

Forgive me if am not as excited as the clergy about the ‘olive branch’ extended by the President to talk to the opposition via the Inter Party Organization mechanism (IPOD). You may recall that in January this year Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and the Justice Forum, which are among the six parties under the umbrella organization - IPOD, declined to sign a document called the Election Pledge 2011. Point Five of the ‘Pledge’ committed the parties: "To continue to engage in dialogue as a means of resolving any dispute that may ensue and to follow the due process of law in resolving such disputes, or to follow legally accepted dispute-resolution mechanisms that are in place." The main aim of the agreement was for parties to ensure the holding of free, fair, transparent and non-violent elections last February.

Hossein Kyanjo of JEEMA argued then that the courts of law could not be relied upon regarding such contentious issues because they have been defied before. He could not have been more accurate. The reason that Kizza Besigye did not rush to court to present his grievances after the last presidential election is because the people of Uganda and the opposition in particular are aware that the courts are powerless to overturn electoral results in which President Museveni has been declared winner; even with overwhelming evidence of electoral irregularities. That conclusion has been reached over the space of a decade and after two preceding presidential elections, in which the Supreme Court agreed that there were election irregularities of a significant nature but failed to overturn the results announced by the Electoral Commission.

Based on those experiences the opposition made a decision to take their case to the people of Uganda rather than to the courts of law. Another problem with Point No. 5 of the contentious document was its reference to dialogue, where one of the parties, the NRM-O holds a track record of not respecting any process of dialogue. From the Nairobi Peace jokes of 1985, to the Ebyaffe and Land Talks with Buganda, to the extension of presidential term limits, to the peace talks with Joseph Kony and civil society’s pleas to establishing a credible Electoral Commission; the only consistent action of government when it engages in talks; has been to push through its argument with little regard to the dialogue process. The government will use military means, bribery of opponents, buying parliamentary votes or just bulldozing its will through parliament with little regard to minority views.

If we have no confidence in the courts of law to resolve an electoral dispute between Candidate Yoweri Museveni and his opponents, then we have even greater suspicion of the government’s ability to conduct genuine and forthright dialogue with an opposition that it loves to humiliate.

There is something intuitively wrong with trusting a government that has displayed a high level of brutality against opponents and peaceful citizens that are exercising their constitutional right to protest. There is something inherently troubling about a head of state who declares that his main opponent will not ‘walk to work’ under any circumstances and two days later – after security forces have beat, tortured and shot the opponent; the same leader says he is now ready to talk without offering any regret, but instead publicly justifying the use of brutal force against that opponent. There is something terribly suspicious about an olive branch that is extended only after throwing several political opponents in jail and denying them the right to bail.

A serious opposition must demand some guarantees before they even consider talking to an opponent that should not be trusted. For starters the government must drop all imagined charges against all walkers: leaders and activists. Secondly, the opposition must be defined to include its most serious and well known leaders. Thirdly, we all know that a laundry list of conditionalities would not be enough to guarantee meaningful dialogue. The key to unlocking peace and understanding between the opposition and the government requires political will. That sadly has remained the key missing ingredient in relations between the state and its opponents in Uganda.

Even as we mull over the possibility of dialogue there are things that this government can do to ease the suffering of Ugandans. President Museveni has correctly stated that peace and stability are key ingredients for our well being. If he truly believes this then he should respect and guarantee our right to assemble and to protest without being brutalized by the state. His government should not put the collection of revenue from oil products at this critical time above peace and stability – fuel and import taxes should be drastically reduced. Moreover, it is not a time to party when our neighbors are starving, and while our children are being tear-gassed and killed on the streets by rowdy police constables. The expense of the May 12th swearing in ceremony should be foregone to demonstrate empathy with the ordinary Ugandan. It is such simple gestures that may surprise us and allow some to believe that this government can still be redeemed and that it might even be trusted to speak to its opponents.

Anne Mugisha
Democracy Activist

Friday, April 22, 2011

Walk to Work Day Four and Fifth Death

Baby Juliana Nalwanga became the fifth victim to lose her life to reckless brutal police brutality during what should have been a peaceful walk to work protest over the rising cost of living in Uganda. She was killed by a policeman's stray bullets on April 21st, 2011. The grisly picture of the bleeding body of a baby fondly known as 'Gift' has been cruelly etched on our minds and conscience forever. It was difficult to look directly at Gift's little body, her head and chest shattered by a trigger happy policeman who probably returned to his own children at the end of his work day; leaving behind the lifeless, broken body of a two-year old baby.

Juliana must not become a statistic. She must remain front and centre of our struggle for the right to assemble and to protest peacefully in Uganda. What started as a peaceful protest to underline the suffering of ordinary Ugandans faced with sky rocketing food and fuel prices, due to double digit inflation; has turned into a bitter struggle to defend our basic freedoms and rights. The struggle is now about moving freely to find work and to earn a living, a struggle to express ourselves freely, to associate freely and to protest peacefully. These freedoms are guaranteed by our Constitution but they are denied us in the most inhumane way by a brutal, law breaking police force.

The unnecessary suffering and loss of life that has followed our determination to assert our rights and freedoms is unprecedented. The brutality has only made our resolve to assert those rights and freedoms stronger. We shall walk and walk until our government understands that their duty is to safeguard and not to violate our rights and freedoms; until the government does its job and responds meaningfully to our demands.

In future when we look back to this sad chapter in our country's life, the picture that will forever be imprinted on our minds is that of the little, broken and bleeding body of two year old Juliana Nalwanga - (Gift.)

God rest her little soul in eternal peace.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day One of Walk to Pray and Day Three of Walk to Work

The last two days were such a contrast in the Walk to Work campaign. Sunday was peaceful and serene but Monday saw over 30 leaders and Walk to Work activist detained by police followed by riotous scenes in city suburbs and upcountry towns leading to over 100 arrests countrywide. When we were planning the Walk to Work campaigns I had imagined days like Sunday 17th April, 2011 when we walked to Church without anyone seeming to notice.
I had intended to walk to Church with my two daughters until I witnessed police brutality in Kasangati. On Thursday I was at Kasangati as the Red Cross evacuated pregnant women and children from the tear-gas filled hospital. The scene was alarming and heartbreaking. If I had doubts about the decision to leave my girls at home, they were wiped away by my visit to victims of Thursday’s violence in 6A and 3C at Mulago hospital. The police does not hesitate to throw tear gas canisters into schools and hospitals or to open fire with live ammunition on unsuspecting civilians. I wish those who actually throw the tear canisters and fire the bullets were allowed to visit Brenda, Geoffrey Kiboneka and Issa Dya at Mulago. Perhaps they would not be so trigger happy after that.

So on Sunday I walked with a few activists and we were amused by the complete lack of interest in our activities that day. The preceding day on a radio talk show, an NRM Member of Parliament, Margaret Muhanga had arrogantly told me ‘We shall let you walk on Sunday because the shops are closed so you cannot loot!’ Such arrogance and attempts to criminalize activists have been the only consistent state response to the Walk to Work campaign. Yet nothing is done to address the underlying issues of escalating food and fuel prices.

NRM leaders are in a state denial. Wikipedia explains that denial is a defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence. The response of government shows that all three states of denial are in operation right now. There are those in simple denial and are denying the reality of the unpleasant facts altogether. Others are in the minimisation state whereby they admit the facts but deny their seriousness (a combination of denial and rationalisation.) Yet others are in a state of projection where they admit both the facts and seriousness but deny responsibility.

Denial is part of a grieving process in which the victim is subliminally aware that they have lost someone or something very close to their hearts. Uganda’s government has started the grieving process for losing its legitimacy. Denial is often followed by panic, anger and recklessness and that is what we witnessed for a second time on Monday 18th April, the 3rd day of the Walk to Work Campaign.

I joined other walkers including Hon. Cecilia Ogwal (MP), activists Sarah Eperu and Margaret Wokuri who were also walking to work along Jinja Road. As has become custom, we found a wall of blue uniformed police constables blocking our path opposite Jinja Road Police Station. I noticed they were now careful to include women constables after I publicly embarrassed the officer called Kamugisha who groped me last Monday. They asked us to stop and accompany them to their station. We put up stiff resistance and refused to budge unless we were lifted. The women constables tried to oblige but found that it was not easy to lift a tall heavy woman like me off the ground, so they dragged us across the road. I was particularly miffed by the way they handled Hon. Ogwal who was old enough to be their grandmother! She did not put up any physical resistance but they dragged her nonetheless.

Inside Jinja Road Police station we were taken to an office and soon you would have thought there was a high-level opposition meeting taking place. They had brought is in for ‘discussions’ so we were not in cells, instead we displaced the officers from their desks and took over their office. Members of Parliament, a President of a political party, activists and journalists. Lawyers who included The Lord Mayor elect, MPs and activists came in to represent us after we were told that we had become ‘suspects’ by the Officer in Charge of the police station. He said he was holding us for holding unlawful society! So much for walking to work! We asked for walk permits for Thursday but he did not respond to our request.

The police officers were mostly kind and as puzzled as we were with the situation at hand. They allowed us to keep our phones and we received stories of riots at Kyambogo University and battles between police and the population in Kireka and Bweyogerere. Later in the afternoon we were bundled onto a police bus and taken to cells at Nakawa court. Chris Opoka suddenly burst into a rendition of the famous protest song that became a key anthem of the US civil rights movement: ‘We shall overcome’ and the police holding cell came alive with song and cheer.

Shortly after our arrival at Nakawa Court we were whisked before the Magistrate and our charges were read to us: Incitement to violence and disobeying police orders. Nothing about unlawful society even if someone forgot to tell the prosecutor who claimed before court that our second charge was holding unlawful society – even if it was not on the charge sheet! If this circus was not my reality I would have broken my ribs with laughter. But my reality and that of many Ugandans has changed in the last week. Four Ugandans are dead because of the violence meted out on peaceful walkers and bystanders in an unfolding, tragic chapter in my country’s history.

The good news is that grieving process ends with acceptance. We can look forward to the State finally coming to its senses and accepting the fact that things have indeed changed. Ugandans are no longer afraid of claiming their sovereignty even if it means risking their very lives in the face of state brutality. On Thursday we shall walk again and see what more the state has in store for us as government leaders continue through the inevitable steps of grief.

Anne Mugisha
Democracy Activist

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Walk to Work Update

My team - Bugolobi, Kitintale, Luzira walkers, be at Capital Shoppers, Nakawa by 7:45 am tomorrow. Mix into the crowd do not try to stand out, no T-shirts, just be another ordinary walker and do not assemble in groups, even at Capital Shoppers. We will recognize one another and just melt into the walking crowds. Do not try to be a hero, just walk!

I have Quit MTN stickers for the first five walkers who make it to town in my group.  See you there.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

On Monday We Walk

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 guarantee affordable food and fuel prices.

On Monday we shall face our fears by walking in spite of the siege that has been laid upon our city for the last two months. We shall walk peacefully with our brothers and sisters and with each step we shall become bolder and empowered. We shall break no laws by walking to our place of employment, we shall walk together because it is our constitutional right to associate with those we please as long as we do not jeopardize the rights and freedoms of others. We know that those who are afraid of our demonstration of compassion and empathy with our fellow human beings are those who have reason to fear. They are the ones with the power to provide solutions but they have neglected to use that power. Instead they will spend a quarter of our national budget on fighter jets to protect themselves from imagined enemies, even as our children go to sleep hungry.

On Monday we shall measure our worth as a people and as individuals by seeing how many cared to walk in empathy and compassion with those in need. We shall know our determination and courage to face those who would besiege our city to keep us silent in the face of suffering. Our courage will come not from our individual determination but from our collective resolve to face our fears and conquer them.

On Monday we shall be so glad that you will be walking by our side.

Anne Mugisha

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Say NO to the Movement Thieving Network



Say NO to MTN

the Movement Thieving Network




Say NO to MTN

the Movement Thieving Network



Say NO to MTN

the Movement Thieving Network


Monday, April 4, 2011

Using nonviolence to erode the pillars of dictatorship in Uganda

Last month when my colleagues and I torched our MTN SIM cards in front of the media, we raised many eyebrows across the country as people wondered whether we were misdirecting our frustration for failing to unseat the NRM government. Not as many eyebrows were raised when opposition members of the 8th Parliament walked out in protest of the cleansing of four cabinet ministers for their wrongs during CHOGM. That action sealed the legacy of the 8th Parliament and that unfortunately is how we shall remember it. A disgraceful and disreputable lot save for the few who could only demonstrate their outrage by walking out of the House in protest.

The two protests though different in execution are part of the opposition’s strategy of nonviolent action to create awareness and gradually erode the pillars of authoritarianism in Uganda. The parliamentary walk out was easy for the public to relate to because most Ugandans have followed the CHOGM heist closely. Amanya Mushega a former minister of education put the UGX 500 billion theft into perspective for me. He says a good secondary school like Ntare School, in Mbarara could be constructed at a cost of about UGX 500 million. So the CHOGM looters got away with eating 1000 Ntare schools which translates into nearly one Ntare school for every sub county in Uganda!

The boycott of MTN products and services is still not clear to most people because our history of boycotting corporations is fairly new. Elsewhere in the world, successful boycotts have a rich history of reminding big corporations that their corporate social responsibility requires them to plan for three Ps: Profits, Planet and People. And here ‘people’ refers not only to customer interests but also the interests of a wider society in which they operate.

Now as a consumer I have certain rights. The right to service requires a service provider to be responsiveness to my needs and problems. I also have a right to refuse any services offered. My wider freedom of expression allows me to protest loudly when corporations disregard my consumer rights. Corporations know these obligations and the importance of a pristine corporate image and that is why they have marketing, public relations and customer service departments.

My personal beef with MTN (and I say personal because I relate to MTN as an individual customer and not a party member;) is that I witnessed a merger of their corporate identity with that of the ruling party during the election campaigns. Nowhere was it better demonstrated than at Kololo Airstrip where the billboards of candidate Museveni were beautifully laid out in complementary pattern with those of the company. Many of those same billboards have since converted back into purely MTN billboards. Now some say the outdoor advertising company coincidentally rented them to the candidate and the company in unison and consecutively. Yeah right! When they chose that morphed identity, MTN ceased being just another company and became an extension of the ruling party which rigged elections last February. My colleagues and the press have reported a host of other outrageous stories like the 60000 MTN SIM cards that went only to NRM agents the night before polling day while opposition MTN lines were disabled the next day and the free MTN bonanza for NRM leaders at Namboole.

As a population many of our rights and freedoms have been eroded and we cannot control the outcome of even a local election. The phone companies know that we are a people with an oral culture and will go to lengths to stay in touch through word of mouth. They are making a profit from our talking culture. Conversely, that culture gives us power as a big block of consumers of airtime. Individually we spend a few thousand shillings weekly on airtime, together we spend billions. As consumers we represent perhaps one of the few interest groups that government must engage through persuasion rather than force. The government may come to power via a stolen election, it may deny us jobs and shut our businesses to force us to accept its authority; but a government cannot influence our spending patterns by force in a free market environment.

We can take that power as consumers and turn it into a negotiating platform because the corporation’s bottom line impacts government’s tax collection. We are resolved to use boycotts and other nonviolent means of protests to destroy the pillars of authoritarianism in Uganda.

Anne Mugisha

Democracy Activist