Sunday, June 28, 2015

Walk to Work

When Activists for Change (A4C) was launched in April 2011, the population had just emerged from an election and there was fatigue associated with any type of campaign activity, so it would not be easy to capture and hold the attention of the public with political messaging. Economic messaging was however very close to the average Ugandan’s heart because transport and household costs shot up following a rise in the price of fuel. While the incomes of working class Ugandans remained constant their expenses kept increasing as the cost of essential commodities were impacted by a rise in fuel prices. This provided an entry point for A4C to connect with everyday Ugandans. If the government would not lower the price of fuel then activists and opposition leaders would start walking to work in solidarity with the thousands of Ugandans who walk to work daily because they cannot afford the $0.50cents fare to and from their places of work. The concept was simple and easy to grasp, a communicator’s dream and a ruler’s nightmare.
When we started out on our first activity of walking to pray and walking to work, our expectations were minimal. We did not expect to cause a stir and would have been happy for just a little publicity and just to make sure that the TV and radio news channels did not miss us completely I published our routes on the A4C blog and the A4C Facebook Page that I opened the weekend preceding our walk. The links were then posted to the A4C Twitter account that I had created for this purpose. I had followed the Arab Spring revolutions and knew the useful role of social media in mobilizing people but in Uganda Internet penetration was low and its reach was not likely to go beyond Kampala and a few urban centers. Still we were hooked online and in no time the Uganda Communications Commission would attempt to block our online campaign.
On Saturday 9 April, two days before we walked I made this passionate plea on our Facebook Page:
‘On Monday we shall have a unique opportunity to join thousands of Ugandans who walk to work every single day. We normally drive past them in our cars, taxis or on boda-bodas. They are so many we hardly see them. Life is such that the suffering of one person may break our heart but the suffering of many people overwhelms our sensibilities and we cope by becoming blind to the suffering. Our interaction with pedestrians is usually limited to impatience as they crowd the roads to cross when we are in a hurry. Sometime we slow down to apologize and sometimes we pretend not to see when the car tyre lands in a pothole splashing dirty brown water all over their clothes as they rush to work.
On Monday we shall shine a light on the plight of those Ugandans who now more than ever cannot afford a taxi or boda-boda fare. We shall show our solidarity with the parents who cannot put a meal on the table for their little ones due to the rise in food prices. We shall do this simply by walking together with ordinary Ugandans to our place of work and then we shall repeat the exercise every Thursday and Monday until the government pays heed to our demand to intervene and guarantee affordable food and fuel prices.
On Monday we shall face our fears by walking in spite of the siege that has been laid upon our city for the last two months. We shall walk peacefully with our brothers and sisters and with each step we shall become bolder and empowered. We shall break no laws by walking to our place of employment, we shall walk together because it is our constitutional right to associate with those we please as long as we do not jeopardize the rights and freedoms of others. We know that those who are afraid of our demonstration of compassion and empathy with our fellow human beings are those who have reason to fear. They are the ones with the power to provide solutions but they have neglected to use that power. Instead they will spend a quarter of our national budget on fighter jets to protect themselves from imagined enemies, even as our children go to sleep hungry.
On Monday we shall measure our worth as a people and as individuals by seeing how many cared to walk in empathy and compassion with those in need. We shall know our determination and courage to face those who would besiege our city to keep us silent in the face of suffering. Our courage will come not from our individual determination but from our collective resolve to face our fears and conquer them.
On Monday we shall be so glad that you will be walking by our side.’
These were the days that led to the introduction of the infamous Public Order Management Act (POMA) but even before the law was passed we wanted law enforcers to know that we were peaceful citizens and so on Sunday 10th April 2011, I posted our routes and ground rules online and used social media to disseminate them:
‘Look out for route leaders and join them in solidarity to walk to work on Monday. The walkers will begin early with the aim of being in the city before 9:00 am, so be on the main roads from these locations as early as 7:30 am. Please let us know if you would like to lead a route. Thanks!
The Ground Rules:
 Peaceful, peaceful, peaceful
 No provocation
 Do not be provoked
 Keep your actions lawful and orderly
 Do not attract unnecessary attention to yourself
 Obey any lawful instructions from the Police except any attempt to stop you from walking to work!
 Enjoy yourself, share experiences with other walkers,
 Tell your story on Facebook, Twitter and update it as often as possible
 If you need legal help or first aid call ask any of the route leaders to help. The legal team is headed by Abdu Katuntu

Gayaza Road to Najjanankumbi - Dr. Kizza Besigye, Hon. Semujju Nganda, Wycliffe Bakandonda
Mukono to Kampala - Hon. Betty Nambooze
Namugongo to Kampala - Hon. Alice Alaso
Naguru to Kampala - Hon. Abdu Katuntu
Bugolobi to Kampala - Anne Mugisha, John Kazoora, Owek. Bwanika Bbale
Ntinda to Kampala - Hon. Wafula Oguttu, Hon. Abia Bako, Dan Mugarura, Totelebuka Bamwenda, Ingrid Turinawe
Kyambogo to Kampala - Hon. Nandala Mafabi, Hon. Jack Wamai
Entebbe Road to Kampala - Hon. Odonga Otto, Hon. Beatrice Anywar, Hon. Hussein Kyanjo
Lubaga to Kampala ; Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, Owek. Joyce Ssebugwawo, Hon. Ken Lukyamuzi, Hon. Medad Ssegona, Hon. Mathias Mpuuga, Moses Kasibante, Muwanga Kivumbi
Kawempe, Bwaise, Wandegeya to Kampala - Asuman Basalirwa, Kibirige Mayanja, Salim Angoliga, William Kanyike, Hon. Latif Sebagala’
On Monday 11 April 2011, (the anniversary date of the ousting of Idi Amin 32 years earlier,) we walked out of our homes and directly into a new chapter of police brutality against innocent Ugandan citizens. 12 months later; dozens of Ugandans had been killed while participating or just being near the peaceful protests, many more were injured and hundreds had spent hours, days, weeks or months in jail cells. By then we had also been thoroughly traumatized, physically tortured and abused, labeled terrorists associated with Al Qaeda by the Inspector General of Police, caused the introduction of the Public Order Management Bill in Parliament and finally we were banned by the State and became outlaws.
At 50 I know that the success of a non-violence strategy for change is not so much in the actions of change activists but rather in how the state reacts to their peaceful acts of defiance.

— feeling determined.

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