Uganda (Not) Ripe for Egypt-Style Uprising

A recent article in the Associate Foreign Press states that, according to the opposition here, Uganda is Ripe for an Egypt-Style Uprising.

I’m afraid that this is just a bit of wishful thinking on the part of Kizza Besigye, the main opposition candidate. Maybe I will be totally surprised by a tsunami of discontent that will surge after the election but, at this point, I just don’t buy it.

Here are the 5 reasons why I don’t think Uganda is ripe for any type of popular uprising:

1. The Amin and Obote regimes were too recent. There are people living now who survived those times and will do almost anything to avoid a descent into that type of insecurity and violence. Museveni has certainly benefited from the attitude of “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” Security and stability are highly valued here, even if they come at the expense of some other values.

2. People aren’t oppressed here by the government on a daily basis to the extent that people are in many Muslim countries. As long as you aren’t openly homosexual, you are pretty much allowed to behave however you would like within the bounds of the law (and even outside those bounds at times). Once you start messing with people’s alcohol, sex and music, you are asking for trouble.

3. The only people who are really feeling disenfranchised are those who want to be in power. It is true that the odds are stacked against them, and that elections here aren’t really free and fair (they are expensive and imbalanced, if reports are true that the NRM has exhausted the national treasury by handing out little brown envelopes all over the country). That’s why most of the announcements that you hear about how the elections are going to be violent come from opposition candidates rather than from “the people.” They want to give the sense that the entire country is fed up and wants to throw Museveni out on his ear. Also, most of the people who are beaten up or “disappeared” by the police are part of the opposition, so there isn’t the same sense of randomness that there was during Amin or Obote. If you don’t get involved with politics, you can be pretty sure you will be left alone, and that’s good enough for most people.

4. There is a sense of fatalism here. The main things oppressing people in Uganda are poverty and lack of access to services. While much of this can be clearly pinned on corruption within the government that siphons off money that should be helping the citizens, people just accept that as the way things are here. Even as people become aware of the increasing level of corruption in the Museveni regime, there is still a high level of acceptance. People don’t say “we need to get rid of the Museveni government so that we can get jobs and services!” There is a feeling that no matter who is in power, the system will remain broken, and it will just be a different set of pockets getting filled. So why bother?

5. If an uprising did happen here, it would be similar to Egypt in that there wouldn’t be a leader. Who in Uganda has a compelling vision for what this country could become? I have a feeling that might be the most significant factor that is allowing Mubarak to reconsolidate power somewhat in Egypt. There was a lot of energy at the beginning, but then no clear vision to focus that energy on (although I admit I haven’t been following the protests there as closely as I should be). If a leader emerged in Uganda that really offered an alternative to Museveni, maybe people could be inspired to revolt, although that leader would still have to overcome #1-4.

I am not saying a popular uprising couldn’t happen here. As corruption continues to grow in Museveni’s next term, and as more and more journalists find themselves being jailed or killed, frustrations will increase. People will start having trouble feeding themselves as a result of the environmental degradation being caused by filling wetlands, giving away forests and polluting the water, all being done with the blessing of the current administration. Hunger is a powerful motivation for rebellion, and people will not be quite so complacent if they begin to see the government as the cause of their hunger. These issues are some years off, though.

In the meantime, there will be isolated incidents of violence around the elections this month, but my guess is that M7 has at least one more 5-year free pass before people really start to get fed up.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

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About Mark D. Jordahl

Mark Jordahl is a writer, trip leader and naturalist who has lived much of the last 7 years in Uganda and currently calls Colorado home.
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