By Mary Karooro Okurut
WHO is ultimately paying the price for the walk-to-work riots? By now it is clear it most certainly is not any of those who have been diligently orchestrating it.
When the â€˜campaignâ€™ got underway over a fortnight ago, talk among those demonstrating was that push had come to shove and they simply couldnâ€™t bear the high prices of food, fuel and other essential commodities anymore and that they they would walk to work each morning to â€˜highlight the plight of the suffering poorâ€™.
But after taking care to disregard Police guidelines on matters like these, â€˜Dr. Walkerâ€™ â€“ Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) President Dr. Kizza Besigye and his fellow â€˜walkersâ€™ were happy to let the â€˜walksâ€™ relapse into what I suspect they had wanted in the first placeâ€”violent confrontations with the custodians of law and order.
As a result quite a good number of people are dead and scores injured after showdowns that should never have been in the first place and which would have had different outcomes had the demonstrators complied with the Police regulatory directives. For good measure, business in some parts of Kampala has been paralysed following each demonstration; property has been destroyed and livelihoods of many have been compromised.
Like is often the case with such scenarios, it is the ordinary person on the street who is feeling the pinch as life in a few parts of Kampala and a couple of other towns gets frozen by the demonstrations every time they happen.
Kampala â€“ where it all began is obviously the hardest hit. Queuing in the bank the other day I listened to a man in the parallel queue narrate his experience the day Kireka, a Kampala suburb, went up in flames over a foiled walk-to-work demo.
Kireka is one of the top furniture spots in the country; with locally made sofa, dining, coffee sets, beds and everything in that line being churned out by the dozen every hour by hardworking local entrepreneurs. Hundreds of customers will be found on any one day loading furniture onto trucks and then heading off to various destinations around the city and across the country, happy that they have sealed off yet another good deal and their homes or offices will be much the better for it.
But the narrator had watched in horror as the demonstration turned into a full-bloodied riot â€“ as the demonstrators flew right off their handles and began unleashing mayhem.
First, the hooligans began by barricading the road. After failing to get enough logs and rocks, they turned to the furnitureâ€”all nice and glittering. It did not matter to them that this was private property and that for some people it was all they had to live off. The beautiful pieces of art were hauled into the road and set ablaze.
Because they appeared to be running out of â€˜firewoodâ€™ the demonstrators then turned to the wooden roadside kiosks where tradersâ€”mostly poor women eking a living the hard wayâ€” had their stock comprising vegetables and other foodstuffs. They broke up the kiosks and set them ablaze too.
By the time the Police reinforcements arrived, it was too late to do anything to save the furniture and the ill-fated kiosks.
â€œFor the last few years I have been a member of FDCb ut after watching all that chaos, I simply quit the party,â€ the narrator concluded.
It follows that anyone who claims to be demonstrating to highlight the plight of the ordinary suffering poor and then ends up victimizing the people whose rights he is supposed to be defending, is simply adding insult to injury. It is like the man who famously chopped down a huge tree, stood on its stump and then delivered a lengthy speech on environmental conservation.
In Gulu, a region that is only beginning to recover from two decades of armed conflict, several people lost their lives when the walk-to-work protests broke out there. The situation in Gulu got so bad that the clergy made an impassioned plea to Democratic Party President Norbert Mao not to initiate any more demonstrations. They told him point blank that he should leave them in peace because they have suffered enough and didnâ€™t want any more wars.
In Kasangati where â€˜Dr. Walkerâ€™ resides, a group of women went up to his home to plead with him to stay at home, fearing that their children, returning home for the Easter holidays could end up caught up in the chaos that has become the hallmark of the walk-to-work riots.
By now everybody knows that the motive for the walk-to-work riots has little or nothing to do with the inflation. The rioters simply want to make Kampala in particular and Uganda at large ungovernable. They know only too well that nobody for example will want to invest in Kampala when they see it being torched up. It is also common knowledge that the rioters are targeting May 12, 2011 â€“ the day President Museveni is to be sworn in for a fourth term, in order to disrupt the ceremony and cause pandemonium. Wishful thinking!
It must be remembered even before the walk-to-work campaigns, Government efforts to salvage the situation were already underway, so it is not that Government is uncaring about the welfare of the people as the â€˜walkersâ€™ would have the world believe.