In a ruling that might have come as a surprise to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who likes to have a little more control, the country’s high court dismissed all charges against opposition leader Kizza Besigye, leaving him free to continue his highly disruptive anti-government protests. By SIMON ALLISON.
Besigye, leader of Uganda’s main opposition, was arrested in April and charged with whatever the government could think of. This included two charges of incitement to violence, one of disobeying lawful orders and one of rioting. The arrest came as Besigye led a mass protest movement against Museveni’s increasingly autocratic style, where anti-government demonstrators were encouraged to show their feelings by walking to work in solidarity with those who can’t afford transport. The protest attracted thousands of Ugandans, as well as a tough police crackdown – hundreds were injured and at least nine died as police used live ammunition to control the protests. Besigye himself was shot in the hand by a rubber bullet.
After the dismissal of the most recent charges, Besigye didn’t lose any time stirring up opposition to the government, addressing thousands of supporters at the funeral of a six-year-old girl who was killed during one of the “walk to work” protests. Ugandan police broke up the event with tear gas, but not before Besigye made his point: “Walk to work starts today again and we are starting by mourning the victims of police brutality in April and May,” he said. “So when you hear our call to come and walk you should all rise up in huge numbers and we’ll take over the whole of Kampala.”
Besigye and Museveni have a long history. Besigye was Museveni’s personal doctor when Museveni was leading the rebellion against former president Milton Obote. After their victory in 1986, Museveni assumed the presidency and appointed Besigye, then just 29 years old, as his minister for internal affairs. But the two fell out in 2001, with Besigye accusing the ruling party of being undemocratic, dishonest and corrupt. Besigye has competed against Museveni in every subsequent election, and lost them all. He claims they were fraudulent.
This year was not the first time the government brought unsustainable charges against Besigye. In 2006, just before the presidential elections, he was charged with rape and treason. The rape charges were quickly dismissed, but the treason allegations were only cleared in 2010.
Expect to hear more of Besigye, and expect a bad few weeks for Kampala’s taxi operators as Ugandans dissatisfied with their president and his rule walk to work. DM
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Photo: A man shouts shortly after riot police fired teargas at supporters of Uganda’s opposition leader Kizza Besigye marching along a street in Masaka town, 120 km (72 miles) southwest of the capital Kampala, August 10, 2011. Ugandan police fired teargas on Wednesday to disperse thousands of supporters of Besigye who had gathered in the town of Masaka in southwest Uganda where he renewed calls for protests against high food and fuel prices. REUTERS/Edward Echawalu.
"Go down this set of stairs and then just run - run as fast as you can." ~ Lt David Brink, 9/11