The Right to Walk

In case you haven’t heard, protests rocked Uganda this week, leading to lots of arrests, police violence, and several deaths. The Daily Monitor has a decent live feed, but I’ll summarize bits. It all began with the opposition protesting the Museveni government’s economic policies. With fuel prices rising, opposition leader Kizza Besigye explained that “we are just asking people to walk to work two times a week and we want to do so to show solidarity with the already tens of thousands of people who are walking to work every day because they can no longer afford the cost of public transport.”

Apparently, walking to work is illegal.

Specifically, the Assistant Inspector General of Police stated that by announcing a campaign to walk to work in solidarity with others, opposition leaders were in effect leading a procession, which requires a permit and all sorts of other limitations. The police went out in force to oppose such illegal processions.

Riot police kept Besigye from leaving his home town, a Kampala suburb, because they believed his walk would incite violence. Amid the scuffle, Besigye was shot with a rubber bullet and suffered a wound to the hand. In Masaka some 300 youth, presumably boda drivers, fought with police when their march was interrupted. News outlets were ordered not to provide live feed updates about the campaigns and protests, under penalty of losing licenses. In addition, the Daily Monitor’s internet connection was cut. Several opposition MPs were arrested, and a reporter in Masaka was attacked by police.

Masaka’s actions seem to have been started by young boda drivers walking their motorcycles across town in protest, but the protest grew in size and resulted in the army taking over the town. These young kids are bearing the brunt of Museveni’s economic policies, and it’s interesting to see just how the security forces responded to their protests.

Meanwhile, when police arrested opposition figure Norbert Mao, they incited violence. After Mao was arrested, Gulu erupted. Eventually the police called in the army, who showed up in armored cars with guns firing. With the town suffering a blackout, citizens burned tires and threw stones at the army. Three people were killed and Mao has called for a prayer and fast in protest.

Some have been saying that the army was able to restore calm and stability. I’d have to say, restricting the rights of the press and of protesters, even the rights of people to work peacefully to work, is hardly a status quo worth staying in.

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