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Both Uganda's protesters and its government draw lessons from Egypt revolution

Opposition 'walk to work' protests continue to test Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's tenuous commitment to democratic freedoms.

By Rosebell KagumireGuest blogger / April 27, 2011

Supporters of Uganda's opposition leader Kizza Besigye participate in the 'walk to work' campaign that protests higher food and fuel prices in Kalerwe suburb on Thursday, April 21, shortly before police arrested Besigye and fired tear gas and rubber bullets, sending people fleeing. Police in Uganda have arrested the country's top opposition politician for the fourth time in two weeks.

Ronald Kabuubi/AP


Kampala, Uganda

Uganda’s top opposition leader Kizza Besigye spent his 55th birthday in jail last week.

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Together with Democratic Party leader Norbert Mao, he was being held at a prison outside Uganda's capital, Kampala for participating in the "walk to work" campaign that protests current high fuel prices.

Five people, including 2-year-old Juliana Nulwanga, have been shot dead in the protests in different parts of the country in the past two weeks while dozens are nursing bullet wounds.

Last Thursday – the fourth time that Mr. Besigye was blocked from participating in the protests – Professor Mahmood Mamdani, the director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research, delivered an important analysis of the events at a Rotary International District Conference.

"Both the opposition that has taken to walking and government that is determined to get them to stop walking are driven by the memory of a single event," said Mr. Mamdani at the conference. "The memory of Tahrir Square feeds opposition hopes and fuels government fears. For many in the opposition, Egypt has come to signify the promised land around the proverbial corner. For many in government, Egypt spells a fundamental challenge to power, one that must be resisted, whatever the cost."

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It’s the memory of the Egyptian revolution spawned in Cairo's Tahrir Square that has driven President Yoweri Museveni’s regime in Uganda to allege that the protests are aimed at removing a legitimate government.

Mr. Museveni told journalists that the protests are tantamount to treason, but we have not yet seen this charge slapped on the opposition – yet. (Mr. Besigye has been jailed for treason by Museveni before, however.)

The government has deployed security forces on almost every corner in every neighborhood in the city, like never before, and the reason we were earlier given was the frequent terrorism threats the country receives from the Somali militants.


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