The walk-to-work Reloaded was supposed to tap into the seething frustrations of disillusioned Ugandans and morph into a mass uprising that would eventually sweep President Museveni from State House.
But more than two months after Activists for Change (A4C) promised to engage a higher gear in their walk-to-work campaign in 2012, it seems the copycat strategy, whereby opposition activists thought Uganda could catch the contagious revolutionary fervor that had swept aside despotic regimes in North Africa, has failed to materialise.
It was envisaged that the A4C would become a mass uprising embraced by Ugandans of all works of life, to bring down a predatory regime that couldn’t care less about the well-being of its citizens.
In January 2012, the Masaka municipality MP, Mathias Mpuuga, who is the coordinator of A4C, told journalists that Walk-to-work Reloaded was going to be “very serious and no one is going to stop us. Not even [Lt Gen Kale] Kayihura.”
He had reason to be optimistic because this campaign’s 2011 predecessor had been successful in many ways. However, there is so far nothing to suggest that Mpuuga’s prediction will come to pass.
Today, Walk-to Work takes the form or ordinary political rallies, which the police have allowed only in as far as there is no procession before or thereafter. Anything that resembles mass walking or a procession has attracted the fullest force of the police. As a result, many opposition leaders prefer to stay away rather than risk being clobbered, showered with tear gas and pink liquid, or carted off to the stinking police cells.
In April 2011, walk-to-work protests were launched to protest the rising cost of living. Although the campaign didn’t attract large crowds, partly because the police wouldn’t let them in the first place, the involvement of Dr Kizza Besigye and the rough treatment he got at the hands of the police, generated tremendous publicity for it in and out of the country.
When a motley gang led by Gilbert Bwana Arinaitwe broke into Besigye’s vehicle using a hammer and incessantly sprayed his eyes with pepper and tear gas, nearly blinding him, Uganda was on tenterhooks.
There was even talk of dialogue between President Museveni and his nemesis Besigye because the government had its back against the wall. The more confrontations happened, the more amateurish mistakes the police made.
Tear gas was hurled into schools and dispensaries, gunshots rang out everywhere, and the grotesque image of a two-year child who was shot dead by a trigger-happy police officer in Masaka left egg on the face of the Police force.
But when Besigye was evacuated to Nairobi, Kenya, for treatment, walk-to-work breathed its last. Ironically, its last major act was Besigye’s return from Nairobi, which coincided with the day President Museveni was sworn in on May 12, 2011.
Thousands of opposition supporters thronged Entebbe road and staged Besigye’s triumphant entry to Kampala that lasted the whole day, embarrassing Museveni who alongside his foreign guests witnessed it all.
Though it had not removed Museveni from power, walk-to-work part one had clearly managed to do something not even elections had managed in the past - shake the foundation of Museveni’s power.
However, attempts to do it again in 2012, and even go one better, have so far struggled. Though some rallies have generated excitement, attracted police brutality and some media spotlight, the masses, who are key to the campaign’s success, are yet to embrace it.
The campaign has failed to get the workers and middle class on board. The police’s determination to foil any mass action has scared and demoralised many people who would have wished to participate, leaving the stage for just a few diehard activists and the army of unemployed youth in urban centres.
Besigye’s absence from the last couple of rallies has also affected the campaign as he remains the single largest crowd puller in the entire opposition. His return could yet see the revival of fortunes.
But if the activists needed any indicator that it’s time to change strategy, it came through last week’s Kamwokya rally, which attracted just a handful of people. It was telling that the few opposition leaders present were asked to explain Besigye’s absence.
Aaron Mukwaya, a senior lecturer in the department of Political Science at Makerere University, says the opposition must devise other strategies to remain relevant in the political arena.
“If you try out something for long, you change to something new. That is what A4C must do,” Mukwaya said on Friday.