Kampala, the Ugandan capital, seems to only have bad luck in store for President Goodluck Jonathan. At the end of July last year, The President had attended the 15th AU Summit, his first as President, and on his departure the presidential jet developed a fault in mid air and had to return to Entebbe airport. As a result of the fault, he spent an extra night there. Mr President was again in Kampala yesterday, for the swearing of Yoweri Museveni and his convoy was stoned by opposition protesters. One person was killed as security forces fired at the protesters.
On the face of it, this is very disrespectful from the Ugandans but this has served to bring into focus the unrest there. It is just the latest statement of displeasure with an increasingly unpopular president. Museveni came to power in 1986, after helping to overthrow first Idi Amin, then Milton Obote. The country has done reasonably well economically, and its fight against HIV/AIDS has yielded tangible results, but concerns are growing that Museveni is becoming intolerant of opposition especially in the last few years. Last month, the ‘Walk to Work’ demonstrations were crushed by government forces, leaving several dead. Those demonstrations were to protest the rising cost of food and fuel, which are underlying factors in the recent uprisings in the Middle East. There is also evidence that the country has gone backward in terms of press freedom and transparency. His victory in February’s elections have been challenged by opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who is a three time presidential candidate. Besigye was beaten up by police and he had to spend a week in a Kenyan hospital. He timed his return to coincide with the swearing-in.
Museveni, now 68, came to power as Uganda’s liberator, but the longer he stays in office the more his people lose their freedom. Why would security forces respond to protesters with live ammunition? There is an urgent need for Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and other authentic African democracies to call on Museveni to stop the crackdowns and open the political space, lest Uganda become a Kenya or Zimbabwe and lose all the gains it has made so far. African leaders are always too polite to call each other to order until it is too late, then they complain when the West intervenes, like in Libya, or they choose to appease the bully, like in Zimbabwe, which only makes things worse. They have a chance now to be proactive because there is as yet little coverage of events there by the international press. As for Museveni, this 5 year term really must be his last. He should use it to right some of the wrongs of the last few years by listening to his people and go out on a high, or risk going the way of Mubarak and Ben Ali.