A4C Ban: Museveni now in intensive care unit
By Charles Ochen Okwir
9th April 2012: On Wednesday, April 4, the government finally invoked Section 56(2) (C) of the Penal Code Act to ban Activist for Change (A4C), and thus declaring it “an unlawful society”. Technically, even the media is now banned from covering the activities A4C – because it’s an illegal organisation!
Theatre of the Absurd
Since April 2011, A4C has been at the forefront of ‘Arab Spring-style’ protests against President Museveni’s controversial election ‘victory’. A4C’s most ingenious move was when it urged its supporters to simply ‘walk-to-work’ to protest against high fuel and food commodity prices. Walking-to-work is of course not against the law.
The police were thus pushed into what Prof. Mamdani called “the theatre of the absurd” when they arrested and brutalised civilians for merely walking-to-work. The police were pushed into this absurdity because the government had made it clear from day one that the ‘walk-to-work’ protests were not about “high fuel and commodity prices”.
According to the Inspector General of Police Lt. General Kale Kayihura, it was an attempt by the opposition to create what he called “a Tahir Square”. Other forms of protest included bashing empty tins and blowing whistles loudly at 5pm every evening – all irritating activities for which A4C activists couldn’t be charged with any serious criminal offence.
The Turning Point
On Wednesday, March 21, Asst Inspector of Police John Bosco Ariong (RIP) was killed after his skull was crushed by what is suspected to be a stone allegedly hurled by a protestor during a fracas involving A4C leaders in downtown Kampala – the capital city of Uganda.
“We are going to crush them all. We have defeated armed gangs since 1986. The remaining problem is lawless civilians. If they were armed, we would have crushed them a long time ago,” Museveni said during a visit to console Ariong’s family on March 22. Museveni was true to form there.
Over the years, he has proved himself to be a man with unshakable faith in the use of force and violence – after all, it is force and violence that brought him power 26years ago. The fact that A4C is not a violent armed group therefore poses a serious challenge for a man like Museveni who is used to settling political problems through iron and blood.
So when he reluctantly concluded that “the medicine here is the law”, it was in fact an admission that A4C had seen right through his trap – hence its decision to shun any move towards an armed confrontation with him.
Lessons from History
The banning of A4C evokes memories of similar actions taken by desperate African governments which turned out to be counter-productive. In 1960, South Africa’s then white supremacist apartheid government banned Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC).
Partly as a response to the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, some ANC members deemed it necessary to resort to violence to combat what passive protest had failed to quell. As a result, the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe, or “Spear of the Nation” was formed.
As soon as the ANC was banned, its local and international popularity shot through the roof. In Uganda’s case, a desperate urge by Museveni to hang on to power [at all costs] seems to have totally blinded him from the glaring historical facts of the ANC’s triumphant struggle against apartheid.
By banning A4C, Museveni and his NRM government have unwittingly transformed a loose and struggling political pressure group into a powerful “martyr” of Uganda’s struggle for freedom and against oppression. Hundreds, if not thousands of Ugandans may now develop a bit more sympathy for A4C.
This in turn may also have a decisive impact on the immediate political relevance of the established opposition political parties like FDC, UPC, DP, Jeema, SDP, etc – as more and more suffering Ugandans empathise with A4C. DP Party President Norbert Mao summed it up beautifully on his facebook page when he said:
“…When an illegitimate regime bans an organization, it only confers more power and legitimacy to it. Banning A4C is like spitting against the wind. The tide of change is irreversible…Let Museveni visit the graveyards of erstwhile tyrants and go figure [sic]. When the people say you must go, just go…don’t even ask why…just go.”
Apart from ANC’s anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, Egypt also provides us with some valuable lessons. In the early 1990s, President Hosni Mubarak banned the Moslem Brotherhood party. Many were killed, and many more jailed! After enduring years of harassment by Mubarak, today the Moslem Brotherhood is in power and Mubarak is in Jail.
It’s therefore not beyond the realms of possibility that in the end, when all is said and done, [whenever that may be] A4C might turn out to be the group that finally ends Museveni’s long political career.
Crossing the Rubicon
And, although A4C seems determined [rightly in my view] to stick to peaceful means of causing political change, they also have no power to stop whoever chooses to pick up arms to fight for his or her freedom. Indeed, some Ugandans are already sounding like the ANC members who decided that passive protests had failed and that violence was the most efficacious solution.
For example, UK-based political activist Dr Vincent Magombe warned thus: “…Museveni must know that the patience and good will of Ugandan people can only be stretched to a certain extent. That boundary has been crossed, and now Ugandans are going to reflect on the quickest and most effective ways to dislodge the brutal and sinister regime of thieves and killers from power.”
The Final Phase
Clearly, all indications now show that Museveni’s struggle to subdue opposition to his long rule is entering a very critical phase – he is now in the intensive care unit of Uganda’s politics. And the outcome will, in all likelihood, depend on the course of action that the opposition leaders in A4C embark on.
And here is why that is a very significant development: Perhaps for the very first time in over a quarter of a century, the fact that the opposition seems to have seized the right to set the political agenda suggests that the omnipotent General Museveni may have already lost the initiative to determine his own destiny.
As a friend rightly put it in an email, “…the challenge (for the opposition) is to remain on Museveni’s weak side…in the realm of ideas, and not stray into the path of his lethal left hook”. If the opposition remains “in the realm of ideas”, then we are likely to see an escalation of the use of law as a tool of political oppression in Uganda.
That could also cause irreparable damage to Museveni’s reputation in the eyes of the international community – not that he cares too much about it now. Museveni’s main concern now is how to manage the inevitable transfer of power to someone that he hopes will protect him after he leaves power. His son Col. Muhoozi Keinerugaba is a hard sell – even within his ruling NRM party.
Whilst he may not like it, Museveni’s best bet might be to negotiate his exit with A4C leaders – because his time is clearly running out. END. Please login to www.ugandacorrespondent.com every Monday to read our top stories and anytime mid-week for our news updates.
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