Uganda: Police Action Overshadows Peaceful Protest

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Braving a heavy deployment of military police throughout the city, several hundred demonstrators gathered peacefully in Uganda’s capital city to protest recently concluded presidential elections.

In the non-violent spirit of Mohatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., Ugandans have begun a campaign of peacefully protesting the recently held presidential elections, but with a police ban on demonstrations in place, the right of freedom of assembly has been brought sharply into focus.

Braving a heavy deployment of military police throughout the city, several hundred demonstrators gathered peacefully in Kampala, Uganda's capital city on Wednesday to protest recently concluded presidential elections, but confrontations between police and vendors in a city market eclipsed the day's non-violent tone.
 

Global news wire services reporting on the day's events focused on a spontaneous demonstration which formed in Kisekka market and was broken up by anti-riot police and teargas.
 
The official demonstration, called by Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) President Olara Otunnu and three other presidential candidates, began at the High Court in Kampala, where Otunnu and independent candidate Sam Lubega had earlier attended a hearing for a contested parliamentary election. The original kickoff location for the demonstration, the Railway Grounds, was blocked off by police.

Launching a Campaign for Free and Fair Elections
 
Otunnu, John Ken Lukyamuzi (Conservative Party), Asuman Basalirwa (JEEMA) and Lubega have formed the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE), and announced Wednesday plans to begin a “positive, non-violent resistance” related to free and fair elections. The group plans to continue holding demonstrations in Kampala and other parts of Uganda.
 
Otunnu, who spoke with the Black Star News from Kampala on Wednesday morning, said CAFFE was calling for “fresh, free and fair” elections and has denounced the February 18 presidential elections result as a "sham."

Days before the demonstration, Kampala police chief Kale Kayihura told local media he had evidence the opposition was planning to burn down various buildings in Kampala. Kayihura subsequently banned demonstrations, warning opposition groups and the Ugandan public that any attempts to demonstrate would be swiftly crushed.
 
But for Otunnu, a former UN diplomat, the police ban was the precise reason for conducting the demonstration.
 
“We wanted to assure Ugandans that our action was fully within the constitutional laws of Uganda” Otunnu said.
 
“We broke no law, contrary to what Museveni and the police chief are saying, that you cannot demonstrate, that you cannot march peacefully in the streets of Kampala” Otunnu continued.
 
Otunnu said that besides demonstrating to Ugandans that peaceful protests were possible to hold, the organizers also wanted to reveal the government's role in creating unrest.
 
“Today we wanted to demonstrate first of all, that our action is completely peaceful, that it is the government – Museveni and his security forces – who are fomenting violence, who are planning to harm demonstrators. Indeed, Museveni has said he will kill those who demonstrate…”

The CAFFE demonstration concluded with the signing of the "Blue Book"  – a mass petition calling for free and fair elections and a new electoral commission. The Blue Book has been signed by over 4 million Ugandans. 
 
Police Provoked Market Violence

Eyewitnesses say the violence at the market began when police showed up and started provoking people gathered there by tearing down opposition posters. Several groups of traders had also gotten involved in heated exchanges with police, arguing angrily that the heavy presence of army and police was scaring off their customers. 
 
At one point, a Black Star News source reports, vendors ordered and chased police away from one section of the market, and when vendors caught several suspected undercover government agents throwing rocks to agitate police against the crowd, they placed them under citizen's arrest.
 
As events escalated, the source says anti-riot police and military units moved in, shooting live bullets and teargas. Local media are reporting that the unrest at the market continued today, with police searching for more suspects.

Second Demonstration Announced in Central Uganda

A second demonstration, planned for Friday in Jinja, a town in Central Uganda, will again test the limits of the Ugandan government's tolerance for peaceful protest. There too, police have warned organizers that the demonstrations are unlawful, but Uganda's opposition leaders are determined to proceed. The march is expected to begin mid-morning and will conclude with a rally in the town center.

One of the organizers of the Jinja demonstration explained to the Black Star News that strict rules for participants had been put in place in order to curb violence and give the police and army no reason to target peacefully assembled demonstrators.

"We know that if the protestors use any element of violence then they (President Museveni, the army and police) would celebrate. They know that there they cannot be beaten  – but when we move peacefully, with our bare hands, smiling and moving with our placards, nothing will really happen to us."

CAFFE's journey of a thousand steps has just begun. It is a journey which invokes the words of Barack Obama, who lauded those creating democratic change across the continent during his first trip to Sub-Saharan Africa as President.

Addressing Ghana's parliament, Obama said: “Across Africa we have seen countless examples of people taking control of their destiny, and making change from the bottom up… Make no mistake: history is on the side of these brave Africans.”


 
Correction: The previous version of this article incorrectly referenced Tuesday as the date the first demonstration was held, this version corrects it to Wednesday. Additionally, the date of the second protest was corrected from Thursday to Friday.

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