The political cross windings, which have engulfed the ban of the political group Activists for Change (A4C), could redefine the narrative during Museveni’s fourth elective term in office.
When Activists for Change began its civil disobedience shortly after the 2011 presidential elections, which Dr Kizza Besigye alleged were rigged, the group had hoped to pre-occupy the psyche of a disillusioned citizenry. Though Besigye was the brains behind of the group, he did not want A4C to be perceived as a partisan outfit. This plan dovetailed two key ingredients.
On one hand, any citizen of any political inclination was free to take part, and on the other, it also circumvented party officialdom to seek permission from the higher tier to participate in protests. They believed this open-arms policy would help cure the mutual suspicion and rivalry amongst opposition party leaders that beset the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC), which miserably failed to rally voters against Museveni in the 2011 elections.
The timing of the formation of A4C was also important. AC4 leaders felt the genre of epic revolutionary could become woven around the daily lifestyles of the citizenry and spark an insurrection similar to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. By galvanizing underdogs of society, citizens from all political shades, civil society and religious leaders, A4C leaders believed it was a matter of days before the regime would collapse.
One year later, the government has not collapsed but buckling under pressure to ban the loose group is a sign that the A4C has touched a raw nerve. Much as A4C activities today remain restricted to Kampala, they have gained traction largely due to the highhandedness of state operatives. Though the A4C message initially failed to arouse citizens into a mass uprising, the brutal crackdown on a few protesters emboldened others. It’s then that the crowds began to swell.
On April 28, 2011, police officer Gilbert Bwana Arinaitwe, with the help of a motley gang of security operatives, intercepted Besigye’s vehicle at Mulago roundabout as he attempted to drive to town. Using the butt of his pistol, Arinaitwe broke into Besigye’s vehicle before incessantly dousing the FDC leader with pepper spray. The following day saw the country erupting in outrage.
Meanwhile, as the country grappled with a battered image in the foreign press once again, the donors pilloried government for the harsh treatment of Besigye, the doyen of opposition politics in the country. It is then that police boss, Lt Gen Kale Kayihura, ordered that Besigye, a former colleague during the Luwero bush struggle, be henceforth handled decently.
However, on May 12, 2011 two important events played out. As Museveni was being sworn-in at Kololo airstrip, Besigye made a triumphant return from Nairobi where he had been receiving treatment following the brutal arrest a month earlier. At Kololo, Museveni told fervent NRM supporters that anyone who wants to disrupt peace after his overwhelming victory would be crushed like a samosa.
As Besigye’s convoy snaked slowly through the highway from Entebbe to Kampala, there was chaos when the FDC strongman’s legion of supporters tried to block vehicles carrying heads of state who were departing shortly after attending the swearing-in ceremony. Military police fired live ammunition to disperse the crowds that were pelting rocks. Many were injured in the fracas.
Besides pouring heavily armed police on the streets to contain the campaign of disobedience, the government tried to find something in the law that would fix the problem once and for all. A bill to deny rioters bail was floated. Then treason charges were introduced. Now the ban.