On Tuesday, minister of Trade and Industry Amelia Kyambadde came under attack at a Nordic-Uganda business conference in Oslo, Norway, by a man who grabbed a microphone before labelling her “corrupt” and being part of “President Museveni’s ‘dictator family”.
Prior to the events in Oslo, musician Moses Ssali, aka Bebe Cool, who was performing at the Swangz All Star Concert had to be escorted off stage after revellers threw bottles at him. Bebe Cool is an ardent supporter of President Museveni and also Bobi Wine’s long-time musical rival.
Nine days before Bebe’s ordeal, angry mourners in Mityana had literary frog marched the chief political commissar of the police, Mr Asan Kasingye, from the burial of Samuel Ssekiziyivu, who had been shot and killed by a policeman.
Very disturbing developments I should say, but when did we, a country prized for being one of the most hospitable in the world become so intolerant that we can fill bottles with urine and throw them at those we disagree with?
Veteran politician Henry Kyemba says that it was always coming. “If you bottle up stuff over a very long time it (bottle) is bound to explode,” says Kyemba who served as principle private secretary to prime minister and later president Milton Obote.
Mr Crispin Kaheru, the coordinator of the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU), says it is down to widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo.
“The intolerance that we see today is merely symptomatic. The dissatisfaction with the current economic or social state of affairs is now reaching its tipping point. Whoever is associated with the current status quo is being seen as responsible for the concerning state of affairs,” he says.
What is fuelling it?
While Mr Kaheru believes that it is being fuelled by a brand of polarising policies that has lately come into play, Mr Rogers Mulindwa, the communications officer at the NRM Secretariat, thinks it is being fuelled by what he called the “the politics of defiance”.
“That is part of the defiance campaign, which is turning into people power. They have embarked on a campaign of smearing leaders, stoning cars, abusing supporters and stoning the car of the President, but it is a wave that will pass,” he says.
The secretary general of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Mr Nathan Nandala Mafabi, differs. He says it is being fuelled by the brutality of the security forces.
“This is a fight for survival. It is the government which has suddenly become intolerant because it is seeing power slipping out of its hands. Why should the army and the police brutalise people? The people know their rights and are fighting back in the best way that they could,” he says.
Mr Kaheru argues that matters are not helped by the fact that people feel that they cannot freely express their will through successive election, most of which have been lacking in credibility.
“People are, therefore, being left with very few options but to seek to assert themselves more directly, fanatically and substantially,” he says.
Whatever it is, it found a fertile ground on which the intolerance could thrive. First of all, while the NRM had always passed itself off as an organisation that believes that “political opponents are to be convinced, changed and subsumed and not to be brutalised or assassinated”, the brutality witnessed in Bugiri, Rukungiri, Arua and on the streets of Kampala suggest otherwise.
Such brutal actions anger the public and are mostly probably stoking up the fires.
Secondly there is the question of unemployment. The 2014 national housing and population census put unemployment among people between 14 and 64 years of age at 58 per cent, or 10.4 million people out of the 18 million people in the productive age group.
Mr Mulindwa acknowledges that not enough has been done to solve the unemployment problem, but accuses the Opposition of refusing to help.
“We spend a lot of money on the leadership of the Opposition in Parliament, but they have never come up with suggestions on how to create jobs,” he argues.
However, there are those who think that the anger is in part due to the fact that a huge section of the population, especially the 3.8 million people who voted for the Opposition during the 2016 general elections feel excluded.
The president of the Opposition Democratic Party (DP), Mr Norbert Mao, has for quite some time now been calling for a review of the governance structures to introduce greater devolution of power to the regions and introduction of proportional representation in Parliament and government as a way of ending both the exclusion and what he described as the “scramble for Kampala”.
The NRM has until now refused to address demands for federal system of government, so one wonders whether it can buy anything in line with Mr Mao’s suggestions.
Are we beyond salvage?
“It is a very delicate situation that we are in, but it is manageable. We have no alternative other than to sit down and talk with each other. We need a national dialogue,” says Mr Kyemba.
Previous calls for such talks have always been shot down. The deputy director of the Uganda Media Centre, Col Shaban Bantariza, told Sunday Monitor in a recent interview that it was unnecessary.
“What would the dialogue be about? National dialogues are held when there is a national crisis, which is not the case here. What is there to be dialogued?” Bantariza asked, but Mr Mulindwa says NRM would be open to such a dialogue if it had a clear agenda.
“Their problem is that whenever they say that dialogue they talk about Museveni leaving power!” he says. But what if that is item number one on the agenda? What if it is what it would take to cool tempers and redirect the country? Would the NRM still be open to the dialogue?
Mr Mulindwa will not answer that and it is highly doubtable that any other person will, but as Mr Kyemba said, “We have got to find a way (to talk) as a country.”