Ugandans Protest Against Museveni At United Nations

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[Global: The United Nations]

The United Nations, NEW YORK---As world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama spoke about the need to empower ordinary citizens around the world, fight international terrorism, world poverty and global warming at the United Nations today, tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered outside to make their own voices heard.

Among them -- protests ranged from denunciation of Israel for its occupation of Palestinian territory to Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is accused of having stolen the recent elections there -- were more than a hundred Ugandans, who travelled from all over the United States, and even from Uganda.

Many said they were outraged by the recent shooting death of dozens of demonstrators in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, while others said they wanted an end to years of tyranny and bloodshed arising from a civil war that's lasted for more than 23 years in the northern part of the country.

"We are calling for president Museveni to step down," said professor Aloysius M. Lugira, a Ugandan scholar who teaches at Boston College. He said the country is now so polarized that he fears a "genocidal" war between Uganda's ethnic groups, were President Yoweri Museveni to remain in office until the country's next scheduled elections in 2011.

When informed of Obama's U.N. speech today when the U.S. president said, "The people of the world want change--they will not tolerate those who are on the wrong side of history," Prof.  Lugira said Museveni fit in that category of leaders who had become obstacles, adding that the U.S. should encourage him to step aside.

Lugira said Uganda's best chance of avoiding further violence going forward is to adopt the U.S.-style federal form of government. "E unibus plurum," he said.

Many of the demonstrators said the president uses a divide and rule strategy, beating various ethnic groups against each other; they also pointed to the recent shooting of civilians demonstrating in favor of Kabaka Ronald Mutebi II, the hereditary monarch of Buganda, as evidence that the regime has lost any remaining support with the populace. The Baganda are the largest ethnic group in Uganda.

A Ugandan member of parliament was also at the protests and decried the Museveni regime for what she said was the use of torture and extra-judicial killing of political opponents.

"I want the world to know that the person they feel is an angel is not who they think he is," the member of parliament, Susan Nakawuki, 24, said of Museveni. "He is committing murders; he has suppressed the rights of journalists." She said the United States should have blocked Uganda's election to the Security Council and that President Museveni should be barred from entering the U.S.

A number of radio stations, including CBS, which is owned by Kabaka Mutebi II's government, were shut down by the government following the protests.

Nakawuki said the government tortured opponents in locations referred to as "safe houses." Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch issued a report "Open Secret" detailing tortures in Uganda and said the U.S. was ignoring the human rights abuses and even providing training to Uganda security forces. "People should not be treated like animals," Nakawuki said.

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"We cannot have democracy in Africa when we use different yard sticks," said another demonstrator, Lawrence Kiwanuka Nsereko, who heads the U.S. chapter of the Democratic Party, an opposition political party in Uganda.

He said president Obama's Administration was mistakenly ignoring human rights abuses in Uganda because it perceived the East African country as an "ally" in the war against al-Qaeda. Uganda has provided thousands of troops to the U.S.-backed force in Somalia, which Washington fears will fall to the Shabab, believed to be an al-Qaeda aligned force.

"The U.S. had Mobutu in Congo; he was a strong ally. Then look what happened," he added, referring to the period after Mobutu was overthrown, "more people have died in Congo than in Rwanda."

The U.S. can fight global terrorism by promoting democratic governance, Nsereko said. "He is leading Uganda down the road to genocide. He has carried out genocide in northern Uganda in the concentration camps and the Western world has kept a blind eye because he is acting as a buffer to the Arabization of Africa," Nsereko said, of Museveni.

Joe Senyonjo, a Ugandan resident of New York City who is trained in the IT industry said, "The U.S. policy towards Uganda is totally off the mark." Another demonstrator who declined to giver her name said the Ugandan military had recruited hundreds of underaged boys from her village in Mukono under the false promise that they would be sent for training as intelligence officers.

Instead, the boys were sent to camps in Mpigi, given one week's training and sent to fight against Joseph Kony's LRA, between 2001 and 2003, she said. "I am so bitter against Museveni," she said, adding that only six of the hundreds of boys recruited from her village came back alive, after escaping.

The U.N. has said both the LRA and Uganda government recruits child soldiers.

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