The meaning of Uganda’s walk to work protests

Iwaya says it better than anyone:

W-2-W is not about Dr. Besigye though the government propaganda machine has worked its damn hardest to try and reduce it to the person of Besigye. It is about the appalling economic situation Ugandans find themselves in today led by an unresponsive government that folds its hands and declares, “There’s nothing we can do,” to alleviate your suffering, but you have got to keep paying those taxes on time. W-2-W is about many Ugandans finding, those who have jobs, that pretty soon those jobs will have no meaning because they can barely afford the transport costs from home to the place of work, fuel prices so high, to work will be like earning money that never settles in your wallet, you are working for your transport costs, your food costs, rent—and you have nothing left for yourself. W-2-W demonstrations are all about the things that have been going wrong with Uganda since Ugandans first had self rule, decided to keep the faith in leader after leader because each leader promised there would be a change and now we find ourselves in worse straits than we were 50 years ago and suddenly we are all realising an important truth, “Politics is too important to be left to the politicians.” We have all got to get involved and struggle for a change towards where we wish Uganda to be headed.

You should read his entire post: The Walk to Work demonstrations, to me

Global Voices Uganda: Government Attempts to Block Facebook, Twitter as Protests Continue

I posted about this yesterday, but I just put together a longer piece for Global Voices in which I’ve tried to give a bit more context for the protests:

As opposition politicians and others angry over rising fuel and food prices in Uganda continue to stage walk to work protests against the current regime, the government is asking Internet service providers (ISPs) to shut down access to Facebook and Twitter.

According to the World Bank, a lengthy drought and a spike in fuel prices are wreaking havoc across East Africa. In Uganda, Timothy Hatcher at aaralinuga describes the situation:

Inflation has pretty much doubled over the past month to 11.1 percent, and fuel prices have risen by over 50 percent; prices are approaching $7.00 per gallon. Major impact: prices of some staple foods have tripled since December.

Angela Kintu explains how higher prices are affecting families:

…this protest is about reality, frustration and desperate times. I am buying a litre of Ugandan made and grown cooking oil for sh6,500 [$2.73]. I am paying sh3,600 [$1.51] for a litre of fuel. A tomato has gone up to sh300 [$0.12] at the very least. I don’t know about you, but that is breaking my budget. No one is paying me any more money for my work – in fact, I am chasing debtors left, right and centre. In one short week, Easter and school holidays will be upon me. Three short weeks after that, I must rustle up school fees and requirements.

These economic issues have provided a foothold for opposition leaders who have struggled to garner support since losing the February 2011 presidential election to long-time incumbent Yoweri Museveni.

Read the full post: Uganda: Government Attempts to Block Facebook, Twitter as Protests Continue

Global Voices Uganda: Bloggers Apprehensive as Voters Go to the Polls

Unfortunately, the cautious optimism surrounding Uganda’s elections on Friday seems to be more “optimism that Kampala won’t break out in riots” rather than “optimism that corruption might not prevail.” Ndesanjo Macha has an excellent roundup of Ugandans on Twitter at GV; my post on the elections is also up:

Ugandans go to the polls on Friday for the country’s second round of multiparty elections since current president Yoweri Museveni took power in 1986. The mood among both Ugandans on Twitter and the blogosphere is apprehensive.

Read the full post»

Uganda: Will it last?

I just finished writing a paper on Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni for a class on African political economy. The starting point for the essay was an article by Harvard professor Robert Rotberg, in which he claims that “African leaders perform adequately during their early elected terms and then, in their second terms or beyond, become despots.”

Museveni’s currently serving his third elected term after an initial four ten-year “interim period” between 1986 and 1996. An examination of his 26 years in power shows that he’s done great things for Uganda’s economy while becoming increasingly authoritarian.

Kampala Road, 2006.
Photo courtesy of peprice on Flickr.

It just so happened that as I was in New York, paging through a mountain of books and articles, Never Man was on the streets of Kampala wondering about the same things:

I remember when nights in the city were dark because there were no neon signs commanding us to buy things, when there was nothing to buy and even if there was, there was no one to buy it. We were all broke.I remember when nights in the city were silent because no one in their right mind wanted to be outside their homes after sundown, when the nights in the city were silent except for the occasional gunshot.I never thought we would ever become this.

I walk pavements up to the zebra crossing and wait for rude and pompous drivers in luxury saloon cars to pass so that I can walk again, across the firm and permanent tarmac of Kampala Road. All around me there are people talking to each other in loud, boisterous voices, arguing, joking, haranguing, talking on cellular phones about how expensive life is these days, because it doesn’t occur to them to think how much better it is than the days when life was cheap.

I try to imagine that I am invisible, just watching and not being seen, and I let the gratefulness overwhelm me, allow myself to be surprised that out of mounds of smouldering earth, we made this: pizza, and multi-storeyed glass-walled towers, and modern cinemas, and phone booths and cocktail bars and satellite TV and GQ magazine vending stalls.

And I try to stifle the sense that this is a fragile beauty, that it cannot last. That one day something will happen, something will happen to bring it all crumbling down and we will be back to 1986, and that when it does I will shake my head and say, “Shit. It was just a matter of time. It couldn’t last.”