Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi, AfricaNews reporter in Kampala, Uganda
Uganda's leading opposition figure Kizza Besigye was shot in the right hand on the afternoon of April 14 as he participated in a walk-to-work campaign. In a violence-packed day, three opposition leaders spent a night in detention, at least 20 MPs and prominent opposition officials were arrested and at least 50 people were treated of injuries sustained in demonstrations that engulfed the capital Kampala and other major towns.
Besigye, who set off at 6.30am local time to walk to his office about 20 kms away, was responding to a call by the wider opposition dubbed “Activists for Change” (A4C) to walk to work in commiseration with the poor who they say walk to work daily due to escalating fuel and commodity prices.
The inflation rate in Uganda has almost doubled to 11 percent over the past two months, against a target of five percent. The opposition says this is a result of profligate expenditure by President Museveni’s National Resistance Movement government which has been in power for the past 25 years. Museveni is set to be sworn in on May 12 for another five year term but the opposition says he rigged the election and used public funds to bribe for re-election. They demand a fresh election.
Besigye had minor surgery on his injured finger on the evening of April 14 and returned to his home. In a news conference on the morning of April 15, he vowed to continue participating in the walk-to-work campaign, which is organized to take place every Monday and Thursday.
Norbert Mao, the Democratic Party President who finished third in the last election, also participated in the campaign in the Northern Uganda town of Gulu where he was detained and cautioned against “breaching public peace.”
Government has yet to come up with a policy response to address the concerns raised by the opposition and has so far restricted itself to thwarting the protests. President Museveni is holed up at his country home in Western Uganda trying to draw up his next cabinet, which he will announce soon after inauguration on May 12.
But the situation in the city is growing increasingly tense as opposition leaders continue to attract the attention of the people who are feeling the pinch of rising prices. Government says rising food prices are the result of the drought recently experienced in the east Africa region and rising international fuel prices but many are convinced government’s profligacy also has something to do with the worsening situation.
There are fears that the tensions could escalate and even derail the presidential inauguration and probably lead into a Tunisia/Egypt situation.
By the time Besigye was shot, he was accompanied by about a thousand supporters who had overpowered police and blocked his arrest, prompting the deployment of military police. On April 11, the first day of the walk-to-work campaign, he was arrested and charged for “inciting violence” and “disrupting traffic flow.” He argues it is his right to choose how he goes to work while police insists he and his colleagues must first consult with them to devise means of guaranteeing public peace.