As military jets fly over Kampala, an eerie silence reigns in the Ugandan capital. Social protests have been banned by a court order, media are blocked from reporting on even the smallest eruption of activism and people suspected of being involved in such activism are being arrested. The country is preparing to swear in President Yoweri Museveni for the fifth time.
Having been in power for the past thirty years, the name of Museveni’s ruling party NRM, -National Resistance Movement-, hardly applies anymore. Indeed the party and its leader often boast about having brought many improvements as well as rule of law to Uganda.
However, whilst no one would want to go back to the days of Idi Amin or the civil war that came after that dictator, Uganda’s opposition challenges the ‘improvements’ propaganda rather forcefully. So forcefully in fact, that the government on 5 May got the court to issue an order banning the massive protests against Museveni’s new term that erupted under the ‘Defiance’ hashtag and are led by the opposition party Forum for Democratic Change.
Under the court order, the challenge to the recent elections, based on accusations of rigging, has been deemed ‘unconstitutional.’ Whilst this order is also being challenged in court, protests against the inauguration of Museveni and the live coverage of such protests have been prohibited.
Ugandan activists have found many other ways to express their dissatisfaction with Museveni in the meantime. “The gloves are off,” tweeted one, taking care to add “Sports. I am talking about the sports of boxing.” Another one composed a critical song which went viral. The FDC itself is marketing, of all things, ladies shoes with the face of its leader Kizza Besigye on it.
The humour accompanies very real anger. “A failed state. A certified dictatorship. The seat of impunity. That is where I live,” writes journalist Patience Akumu on the Facebook page ‘Ugandans against Police Brutality.’ “Someone might strangle you on the road at night, like they did to me about a year ago. (But when) you run to police, they will nonchalantly ask you if you lost anything. (…) (Or)assault you too. (Or) tell you that women like you are responsible for rape.” In a reference to the state of the hospitals and the recent break down of the one single radiation machine for cancer treatment that Uganda had, Akumu goes on: “You know that this is your story and that of every other Ugandan. The women dying giving birth on hospital floors, cancer patients being told it is their fate to rot away, the slum dwellers who do not sleep when it rains, the hungry children on the news... these are a refrain we accept as naturally as we breathe. A failed state. A state without a conscience. Where impunity rains. Where we are powerless to challenge it because, man, those security forces roaming the streets are high on something and you know they will kill you and life will go on. You have seen this before too.”
The page can be liked here. Akumu says international ‘likes’ and ‘loud voices’ will be welcome.