Facing the challenges of youth radicalization in Uganda: Omar Kalinge-Nyago.

23 May

I received the following analysis through email, though not from the author but from one of the receipients, and thought I should share since I agree with the author in many aspects. Besides, the author requested that the information be shared:

Museveni on the edge:

Facing the challenges of youth radicalization in Uganda

Omar Kalinge- Nnyago


Kampala, May 23, 2011


Ugandaheld its second multiparty presidential and parliamentary elections on February 18, 2011.  There were eight presidential candidates in the election. Days later, all the candidates except the only woman candidate in the race, Beti Olive Kamya rejected the outcome of the elections and called for a fresh one. International and local observer reports lent credence to the hard fact that the 2011 elections was far from free and fair, but stopped short of calling for a repeat of the election, never an expected recommendation by any measure.

Widely expected to be violent, the election had passed off relatively peacefully, save for a few trouble spots where the military shot voters, including a journalist on polling day, in Eastern Uganda. The prophets of doom, it seemed, had been shamed. For over a month, the immediate post election period was also peaceful, amidst heavy deployment of police and military on the streets of urban areas especially in the capital,Kampala.  The security chiefs must have started congratulating themselves for a job well done, and perhaps demand a pay rise. Beneath the calm, though, a storm was brewing and as events of the past two months indicate, an underground people power movement was quietly organizing.

On March 9, 2011, the first people protests under the umbrella organisation CAFFE, Campaign for a Free and Fair Election commenced inKampala. CAFFE’s major demand was a fresh, free and fair election.  Two days later another protest was held in Jinja resulting in the death of two civilians due to tear gas related complications and the brutal beating of a female journalist by policemen, resulting in the loss of her two teeth. The die had been cast! Another smaller but sharp protest was held in Kampala in the  now famed Kisekka  market to demand the  release of youth who had been arrested on March 9, 2011 during the first demonstration. They were released on court bond.  

A week later, another CAFFE protest was held in the Eastern town ofIganga. Those first brave demonstrations emboldened the population. They broke the ice and when history of people power campaigns in Uganda is written some day, CAFFE will perhaps be thanked for doing the impossible amidst threats by Museveni (broadcast by local and international media) to shoot protesters,  and a war time level of troop deployment on the streets. They proved that it was possible to defy the police and military, in pursuit of what is right. The government media tried to downplay the significance of the demonstrations. They were unsuccessful.  People in the three major towns ofUgandahad seen and tested the all formerly feared tear gas, and moved on as if nothing had happened.  Four names will be remembered: UPC’s Olara Otunnu, JEEMA’s Asumani Basalirwa and Muhammad Mayanja Kibirige and Sam Walter Lubega, an independent presidential candidate, who, as it were, “threw the first stone”.  In April, another platform, Activists for Change (A4C), headed by a newly elected legislator fromBugandacalled Mathias Mpuuga was launched, to agitate against rising fuel prices and prices of food and other essential commodities.

Suspected to be the brainchild of IPC, the Inter Party Cooperation, A4C presented itself as a non partisan peoples’ platform. Its message was all embracing – you didn’t have to be political to worry about the rising cost of living. Both CAFFE and A4C  use the same pool of activists to varying degrees. While CAFFE is outrightly political, A4C attempts to be seen to espouse social, non partisan concerns. UPC’s Olara Otunnu, JEEMA’s Mayanja Kibirige and Democratic Party’s Nobert Mao have been arrested in both CAFFE and A4C activities. FDC vice President Salaamu Musumba narrowly escaped arrest on May 10, 2011 in a CAFFE procession that was headed to hold a banned rally at theCity SquareinKampala, where JEEMA’s Mayanja and DP’s Nobert Mao were disrespectfully arrested by operatives of the Rapid Response Unit.  This makes the current activism  more complex that it seems. When A4C came on the scene after CAFFE’s launch it was seen by some as a competing force to CAFFE. As it turns out, they are complementary and seem to be coordinated at a certain critical level but each pursuing its own strategic communication strategy. There are steps to make CAFFE a more robust platform which may result in change of name to reflect its objectives  better.

There is no single opposition politician inUgandatoday that is as recognizable as the charismatic  FDC’s Dr. Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s former physician in the liberation struggle who fell out with the regime in 2001. When he endorsed A4C without reservation and championed A4C’s Walk to Work campaign, he brought  new energy to political activism that has changedUganda’s political discourse. Like his other party leaders,  he leads  from the front and has been arrested four times in one month. His last brutal arrest on May 02, 2011, which was witnessed by international and national media audiences caused grave harm to his health. This sparked off blanket riots  that literally shut down business in the capital on May 03, 2011. Six people were shot dead by security while dozens were injured by live ammunition.

While being flown to the Kenyan capital for medical attention, Besigye was first denied exit atEntebbeinternational airport before finally being cleared by the government which was prevailed over, it is alleged, by certain Western diplomats. After treatment, on his return toUgandaon May 11, 2011 Besigye was thrown off a Kenya Airways plane citing security reasons. It was learned later in an official Kenya Airways communication that they had received information that the plane carrying Dr. Besigye would not be allowed to land inUganda. After tremendous embarrassment to theKenyagovernment,Ugandagovernment and Kenya Airways, Besigye was allowed to return, on the morning flight of May 12, 2012.

Bad timing. This is the day that president Museveni was scheduled to swear in as the president for another five year term. Tens of thousands of Besigye supporters went to the airport to receive him while others lined up along the way to cheer him and his wife, travelling in an open roof SUV. A journey of one hour on a normal day turned out to be an eight hour trek. This, on same and only road that Museveni’s guests to the swearing in ceremony would use to drive to the airport on their return.

The police and military must have panicked, they started shooting and  beating supporters, often hurling tear gas canisters at bystanders. According to the Media Centre director, one person was shot dead, allegedly for stoning the Nigerian President’s convoy. In a strange twist, Goodluck Jonathan’s spokesperson has denied that any stones were thrown towards the president’s convoy. The police spokesperson denies that anyone was shot dead. Eye witnesses saw a dead man with gunshot wounds after Jonathan’s convoy passed. Journalists were particularly targeted for beating and many of their cameras were confiscated. A few of the cameras have now been returned to the journalists but the footage of Dr. Besigye’s procession has been erased. The journalists have now threatened to boycott government functions if the government does not apologize and compensate for their lost and damaged equipment.

In an unprecedented move, the Uganda Law society held a peaceful sit down strike for three consecutive days to protest abuse of human rights and police brutality. They presented a petition to the Chief Justice at the High court.  Days later,   Uganda Women’s Network, UWONET, staged a police regulated procession to demonstrate against rising food prices and the cost of fuel. These and other demonstrations by Ugandans living  in the UK and USA point to a new era and methods in political resistance not witnessed in Museveni’s 25 year old reign.

Political, civil society and human rights groups have slighted government for the indiscriminate use of  excessive use against unarmed  demonstrators. The police insists that demonstrations are banned. They claim that they act in self defence, when their officers’ lives are in danger. The demonstrators  say that their peaceful demonstrations are turned into riots by police, and the military, which commence unprovoked  acts of aggression like flogging, kicking and shooting, on peaceful demonstrators.

Uganda’s post election period is fraught with many challenges, not least the challenge of youth radicalization. 90 percent of the demonstrators on the streets ofUganda’s capital and urban centres are under thirty years old and largely unemployed. They are disappointed that all the promises of the good life president Museveni has promised for the past 25 years in power have not reached them. They are angry that corruption in high places is just rising, not declining, despite repeated pronouncements by the long serving president to end. They relate the high cost of living and the inflation rate that has reached an unprecedented 14 percent up from 9 percent in just a month to the scandalous election spending by Museveni whom they accuse of having raided the national treasury to rig the election through voter bribery.

In the run up to the elections, a whooping 602 billion shillings supplementary budget was spent in unclear circumstances, in the guise of ‘delivery of services’. Museveni antagonists assert that the money was just a tip of the iceberg of a larger corruption scandal, not unlike the former 500 billion scandal unearthed by a parliamentary committee report on the Commonwealth of Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM) held in Kampala in 2007. Just his month, a dubious procurement of fighter jets with 73 trillionUgandashillings was passed without following regular procurement procedures.

Youth radicalization inUgandahas reached its highest peak in the past month, and the fear of youth dominated widespread violence is not far fetched. Government has responded by brutal arrests and suspension of human liberties. Indiscriminate arrests have been made across towns inUganda. Research has shown that indiscriminate arrest is one of the key factors that exacerbate radicalization and transition into extremism. The other known factor is unmet expectations. Both these critical factors are into play onUganda’s streets.

Amidst all this, there have been calls for dialogue between the Museveni government and the opposition parties but mistrust persists, while harassment of opposition leaders by security forces has reached peak levels. Dr. Besigye’s wife missed a flight  toNew Yorkwhere she works with the UNDP on May 16, 2011. Her car was towed (with herself inside) from her home’s gate 15 miles out ofKampalato a nearby Police Station. The opposition leader’s home is besieged by security forces and he is all but under unofficial house arrest. The opposition refuses to call off the Walk to Work campaign, and promises to walk until government addresses the concerns’ of the people, quite a tall order.

There is need now inUgandamore than ever, to focus on youth concerns to prevent the prevailing radicalization from developing into extremism and violence. Opposition parties as well as the government ought to sit on a roundtable and seek intelligent solutions if peace is to be achieved again onUganda’s streets. What is not apparent is whether the concerns of the youth will be high on the agenda.

Glossary of abbreviations

A4C                Activists  for Change

CP                   Conservative Party

DP                   Democratic Party

FDC               Forum for Democratic Change

JEEMA           Justice Forum

IPC                  Inter Party Cooperation

UNDP                         United Nations Development Programme


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