Why did Walk to Work in Uganda fail?
Even though I was warned by my FDC friends that the call for massive demonstrations yesterday by Bobi Wine and People Power would fail due to lack of preparation and coordination, I got my hopes up. Nevertheless, moments like these are important for learning and reflection. In hindsight, we can analyze why something failed so we learn from it for the next action we take. We will especially look to the Walk to Work protests in 2011.
Walk to Work 2011
After massive election corruption in 2011, and rising inflation combined with extreme food and fuel prices, a national uprising emerged and became the biggest test to the dictatorial regime. After the rigged elections Besigye and FDC called for massive demonstrations with no result. The Ugandan people are simply not interested in dying on the streets for a lost election or individual interests. Then with people suffering from hunger, opposition came with a genius plan: Activists for Change, AC4, a non-political group mobilizing middle class to walk to work in sympathy with their fellow suffering citizens. It made the grievances and economical hardships of the people the center of protest.
Ugandans do not take the streets for political events such as rigged elections or amended constitution. They do for their own grievances and desperation, if they feel they will die for the people instead of a politician.
The Walk to Work protests lacked organization and strategic planning from the start. People had to go back to their homes in the night to eat and provide for the families. No logistics were mobilized to cater for activists on the street. Boda Boda’s provided personal transport to where the fighting was hardest, but other than that, resistance was based on pure energy and motivation. Sometimes the people won, sometimes the police.
In order to make the final push (massive peaceful demonstrations) possible, effective preparation, coordination, collaboration and organization is needed. Remember that it would take 20-30 days of protest before the regime would fall. Who will provide the food, make sure families are safe, take care of the wounded, make sure protesters remain organized and motivated?
With increasing violence against the protests of which the commanders were only opposition leaders and commando’s initially only activists, ghetto youth and informal sector youth. Later on students joined, and protests erupted all over the country when Kampala continued in protest. Civil society stayed away and did not work well with protesters. They lacked the intelligentsia a lot in the protests.
Even though opposition leaders and activists/youth are the only ones brave enough to take the street initially, they need reinforcements from civil society and other sectors to make it a national uprising.
In the end the protests became increasingly centered around the political commanders, Besigye in particular. As soon as this happened, the protests were doomed to fail. When Besigye came, protests erupted, when he was away, he died out. Now the regime just had to neutralize Besigye (not killing as then people fight, but putting in house arrest or out of the country). Instead of a struggle for the people, if became a struggle focused around political leaders. Ever since, for any protest in Uganda, the military police just put opposition leaders under house arrest and so effectively neutralized the protests. Ugandans are not yet able to operate without their leaders.
As soon as protests become centered around one person, or only some key political leaders, they will be easily stopped through neutralizing them through house arrest. The people themselves should remain the center of the protests, and commanders from their own should be able to mobilize even without the ‘big’ leaders.
As soon the power of the regime was really weakened, Museveni send in his son Muhoozi with his Praetorian Guard (the red berets) to brutally kill people with deadly force. Through cracking down with live bullets, they were able to secure the center of Kampala.
The regime will not hesitate to kill Ugandans when it truly feels threatened, as a last resort. Ugandans should be ready to die, overcoming their fear, if they want to depose the dictatorship in Uganda.
I am happy People Power joined the FDC strategy of peaceful protest now. There is no democracy in Uganda, only as a cover. Now it is truly time to unite.
Lessons for next Walk to Work
- First coordinate and collaborate with serious forces
- Organize the people and the protests
- Protest for the hardships of the people, not personal issues
Ugandans do not want to die for political issues
- Work on bravery and be ready to suffer when it gets tense
- Always prevent protests to center around 1 person
On a positive note, even though there were no protests, the house arrest and arrest of the day made noise internationally.
Headlines mentioned Bobi Wine’s arrest in important donor countries such as USA and Netherlands, this is more than usually happens with other opposition leaders.
Combined with the bravery, organization and experience of FDC leaders and activists with the energy and international following of Bobi Wine and People Power, they become unstoppable.
Erik van der Zanden
Image origin unknown