Saturday, June 27, 2015

Activists 4 Change

The presidential and parliamentary poll of 18 February 2011, was another sham due to widespread bribery, ballot box stuffing and military intimidation but there would be no court challenge of that presidential election. Dr. Kizza Besigye had announced after the Supreme court ruling in his 2006 election petition against Museveni and the electoral commission; that he would never return to court after a rigged election because the court was incapable of providing a solution or dispensing justice in these cases. Instead a meeting of leaders of the Inter-Party Cooperation was called at Nsambya Youth Sharing Hall in Kampala where Kizza Besigye, leader of the opposition Inter-Party Cooperation coalition, called for peaceful anti-government protests, against the outcome of the 2011 elections. The next phase of the struggle for good governance was to intensify non-violent defiance. A new front for change was about to open and I jumped right in. For years now I had immersed myself in literature on non-violent campaigns for change against authoritarian regimes. I had no confidence in the ability of opposition parties to take power through an election in Uganda and in my initial frustration post-2001, I believed the country needed another armed struggle but this fizzled in the face of the indisputable truth that Ugandans were war weary and anyone who advocated for war fell directly into the trap of the regime.
I downloaded books and bought videos on non-violence which I copied on DVDs and distributed to IPC leaders at Sharing Hall on the day KB called for peaceful anti-government protests. They were: 'Bringing Down A Dictator,' a 56-minute documentary film by Steve York about the nonviolent defeat of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. It focuses on the contributions of the student-led Otpor movement. 'Orange Revolution,' which captures the songs and spirit of a unique moment in Ukrainian history -- the 2004 stolen election which brought citizens together on the streets for 17 days to defend their vote and the future of their country and my personal favorite: 'A Force More Powerful,' which depicts six successful non-violent struggles –
• The desegregation of the Nashville lunch counters which helped prove the effectiveness of nonviolence training and preparation to the civil rights movement in the U.S.
• Gandhi’s march to the sea and its nonviolent challenge to the rule of British law and the monopoly on salt.
• The nonviolent South African uprising to end the injustice of the system of apartheid.
• The neutrality of Denmark using national pride and solidarity against the Germans in WW II.
• The Polish Solidarity movement of workers’ strikes, which led to roundtable talks and eventually to free parliamentary elections.
• The nonviolent struggle for Chile’s freedom from the dictatorship of Pinchot. This was carried on through simple work slowdowns and parades of pots and pan- banging demonstrations.
For college and high school students who were interested in participating in our protests I downloaded and distributed Gene Sharp’s ‘How Nonviolent Struggle Works’ from the Albert Einstein Institution website. The principles of nonviolent struggle need to be understood in order for anyone to make sense of the manner in which Kizza Besigye and change activists started walking (literally,) deliberately into trouble and these principles are captured in the Nonviolent Handbook – paraphrased here:
‘Rulers have no power intrinsic to themselves. The sources of the rulers’ power depend intimately upon the obedience and cooperation of the subjects. A regime’s power is in proportion to its ability to make itself obeyed. The reason people obey include: habit, fear of sanctions, moral obligation, self-interest, psychological identification with the rulers, indifference and absence of self-confidence among subjects. Obedience is not automatic, nor uniform, nor universal, nor constant. The personal choice between obeying and disobeying will be influenced by an evaluation of the consequences of obeying and disobeying. Obedience only exists when one has complied with the command. If I walk to jail, I have obeyed. If I am dragged there, I have not obeyed. Physical compulsion affecting only the body therefore may yield some results but it does not necessarily produce obedience. Ghandi figured out long ago that the answer to the problem of uncontrolled political power may therefore lie in learning how to carry out and maintain withdrawal of cooperation and obedience despite repression.’
‘In political terms, nonviolent action is based on a very simple postulate: people do not always do what they are told to do, and sometimes they act in ways that have been forbidden. Subjects may disobey laws they reject. Workers may halt work, which may paralyze the economy. The bureaucracy may refuse to carry out instructions. Soldiers and police may become lax in inflicting repression; they may even mutiny. When all such events happen simultaneously, the persons who have been “rulers” become just other persons. This dissolution of power can happen in a wide variety of social and political conflicts. When people refuse their cooperation, withhold their help, and persist in their disobedience and defiance, they are denying their opponents the basic human assistance and cooperation which any government or hierarchical system requires. If people do this in sufficient numbers for long enough, that government or hierarchical system will no longer have power. This is the basic political assumption of nonviolent action.’
On 7 April 2011, Masaka Municipality MP-elect, Mathais Mpuga launched a pressure group called Activists for Change (A4C), which would embark on a countrywide mobilization of the masses to embrace change in governance. Among the activities the group would engage in was a ‘walk to pray’ and ‘walk to work’ campaign. He stressed that it would be a peaceful and non-partisan campaign. The launch was met by heavy deployment of police which forced us to change the venue of the event from Christ the King Church to Fairway Hotel. The Monitor reported: ‘Police patrol cars with full anti-riot gear surrounded the premises, forcing the administrators at the church to cancel FDC’s booking. The politicians later relocated to a Kampala hotel where police followed them, watchfully guarding the premises. FDC president Kizza Besigye said “It’s time to draw a line between those who want a dictatorship and those who want democracy. I am sure peaceful defiance of the dictatorship can be used to dismantle the dictatorship…If you use the military option, by the time you dislodge the dictatorship all state institutions will have been destroyed and chances are high that you will replace the dictatorship with another dictatorship,” he explained.
The next day I launched the A4C blog at with the following announcement:
‘Activists for Change - A4C, is a nonviolent and peaceful platform for democratic change in Uganda. We act within our constitutional rights and responsibilities. We are guided by the desire of the majority of Ugandans to exercise their democratic right to elect a government of their choice. Political leaders, activists and civil society will act together to implement programs in a non-partisan space in order to raise awareness of ordinary Ugandans to their rights, responsibilities and duties as citizens. In order to effect democratic change of government we will mobilize the masses and set in motion a process to remove obstacles to free and fair elections through peacefully dismantling pillars of the authoritarian regime and erecting the pillars of democratic rule.’
At 50 I know that activism that is inspired by a deep and profound calling is one, which those who are called find it almost impossible to escape.

feeling inspired.

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