I just read an article that brought up a number of red flags for me about the direction Uganda is taking right now. It is well-known that President Museveni is living in fear of what has happened in north Africa. He has seen a number of his fellow “Rulers for Life” taken down by public action, and he is doing everything he can to prevent that from happening in Uganda.
The most visible and obvious sign of this is his violent reaction to the “Walk-to-Work” protests led by his main opposition and one-time friend, Kizza Besigye. We all know how insidious walking can be, so of course Museveni has reacted by having his police and army fire live bullets into crowds of peaceful protesters. You know, you just can’t risk having people walk.
The ironic part of this is that Besigye was pretty much irrelevant until Museveni started to crack down on him and his followers, turning him into a new focal point for all who are dissatisfied with the current regime. He has now become a dynamic, inspirational leader, despite the fact that a few short months ago he was a bit of a has-been who was expected to be as corrupt as Museveni if he won the election.
On to the article. There were two points, in particular, that just had “dictator” written all over them. Here is one passage that concerned me:
The President, who was clad in military fatigues at Parliament where 133 MPs were sworn in on the second day of the exercise, in a letter to media houses, however, largely endorsed the police action of stopping the walk-to work demonstrations, saying its perpetrators had sinister motives.
OK – why does a sitting president, who is no longer a member of the active military, wear fatigues to a swearing in ceremony for Members of Parliament? Was he expecting to have to dive into the bush at a moment’s notice if the venue was attacked? Or does he want to remind people that he can come down on them, at any time, with the full force of the military? Perhaps he arrived in one of the eight 100-million-dollar fighter jets that he just bought to protect this country that can’t afford health care for its own people.
The second part that confirmed the trend concerned the role of the press:
In what might spell tough times for the media, the President said: “The media houses both local and international such as Al-Jazeera, the BBC and Daily Monitor and NTV are enemies of Uganda’s recovery and they will be treated as such.”
The press will be treated as an enemy. I see a free press as a critical pillar of a free society. I have only met one person in all my time in Uganda who felt that the press is not already restricted, and most people feel that the trend is getting worse. Now Museveni seems to have declared war on both local and foreign media. What does that mean for the country? How can people make informed decisions if the press are not allowed to report openly on the issues?
Uganda needs to be watched closely.
Mark D. Jordahl