What you need to know:
Police on Monday bundled three-time presidential contender Dr Kizza Besigye onto a patrol pick-up truck as they stopped his attempt to walk to work in protest over the soaring cost of living. He and Democratic Party’s Norbert Mao, and several MPs, were later charged at various courts but all released on bail, sparking yesterday’s condemnation by the US government of police highhandedness. Our Senior Reporter Tabu Butagira interviewed the Forum for Democratic Change party president at his Kasangati residence, hours after his release.
How do you feel about the way police handled you?
What happened was a very clear demonstration of a Police Force that has lost direction because it has chosen to do the bidding of a rogue regime. The police did everything they could to stop me from going to work and their reason was that by walking, I would attract many people to join me and that, that may lead to a breach of peace. And my question to them was whether that amounted to an offence --- that if I walk and people get attracted to me; that I am the one to suffer for their action.
They said no, but nonetheless they have ‘orders from above’ and that I cannot go to town because of that reason. Then there was another police officer who clearly was presenting his political views. He said that I am trying to confuse people about prices of fuel yet I own a petrol station (Total, Nsambya) which sells fuel at the same high price. ‘Why don’t I cut my fuel price if I think fuel prices are high; why am I not telling people that it is the international fuel prices that are causing the problems here? Why can’t I know that this is a temporary thing and that it will go away? Why am I turning it into a big issue?’
I told this policeman; all things you are saying are your opinions. I have a different view. And that is why we have different political parties. If you think the economy is doing well, I don’t think so. And these are matters we can discuss in politics. But for you as a policeman, whether my views are right or wrong, what is it your business if I express them (laughs)? The guy said ‘We can’t allow you to cause confusion in the country; people want to go about their business; you can even see people have ignored what you are saying and they are busy moving to their work.’ I said if they have ignored me that would be wonderful for you. Why are you bothering with a person who has been ignored and stopping him from going to look for his own earnings because by obstructing me, you are being paid? Me the person you are obstructing, you are denying me from getting my own earnings, and do you think that that is fair?
They told me I had three choices; turn back and go home, call my vehicle and it takes me to work or they provide me a vehicle to take me to work (laughs heartily). I rejected those options. I stressed to them that I am not inconveniencing anybody by my action. This is my right and I will not change. So they said, ‘Anyway, you are not going anywhere’. Some senior police officers ordered the anti-riot police to form a ring by holding each other’s arms and ring-fenced me. So I could not continue ahead, move backwards or sideways.
I sat down in that ring of theirs. I said it is up to you when you decide to let me go where I am going. So we stayed there – there was a stalemate. In the meantime, residents started shouting: ‘Why are you interfering with the right of a person walking to work, what has he done? They brought a chair (saying). ‘You cannot let him sit down (on the bitumen).’ They brought an umbrella saying the sun was getting too hot. Police chased them with their seat and umbrella. The Rev. Fr. (Anthony) Musaala who stays right where the commotion was happening came out and pleaded with the police in vain.
In the end they told me, ‘Ok, you are now under arrest, we are taking you to the police station.’ I kept looking at them. The senior officer ordered his men; ‘Put him in the vehicle’. They threw me on top of a patrol pick-up truck and drove like mad men, almost knocking everything and swerving dangerously until we got to Kasangati Police Post from where they threw me in a cell.
Is that what you expected?
I wasn’t expecting anything in particular. I had heard [Inspector General of Police Kale] Kayihura’s repeated statements how he will make sure we don’t walk, which were again statements incompatible with the police uniform. I had heard statements of [Information Minister Masiko] Kabakumba who is just a mediocre NRM extremist. Somebody rang me in the middle of [Sunday] night and said he had heard that they were going to besiege my house and stop me from leaving. That one I expected. When I got out of the house and there was nobody, I began walking at 6:30am.
Is your resolve broken by what happened?
Not at all! One thing the government will have to decide is either to let us enjoy our rights including our unfettered freedom of movement and right to peacefully demonstrate, or we shall continue agitating for those rights.
In this particular case, it was my own decision and I have not asked anybody to join me or not said that if you are not going to do what I am doing, there is any problem. It’s not a decision of our party, no. Forum for Democratic Change party officials did not sit and decide that we walk. It is the non-partisan platform of Action for Change which made the clarion call. And I answered.
If you were President today, how would you solve the present food and fuel price crises?
A government is not worth its name if it cannot ensure food security for its people. This government has not made any plans to ensure food security. They have been having all kinds of haphazard programmes that appear only to do two things: Provide free corruption money for its officials, and for renting political support.
We do not have any national food reserves in this country. We have been saying this must be done. We must look at irrigation. We have a lot of water but yet people are dying of hunger because there is drought. We are talking about mechanization of agriculture, not using hand hoes in the 21st Century. We are talking about investment in agricultural research to have better seeds, improved soil fertility as well as pest and disease control. All these are not there --- that’s why there is hunger.
On the question of fuel, still, this country does not have fuel reserves. Any moment there is some temporary problem, we are immediately in problems. Taxes on fuel are also very high, which is why fuel in Uganda is even more expensive than in Rwanda and other more inland destinations. Worse [still], the money that is collected through taxes instead of going back to help the tax payers, it is stolen. These are the concerns creating the kind of desperate situation that our people are living in; who can no longer afford to have even one meal a day; that are walking from homes to town every day. We are just trying to walk with them in solidarity. They are already walking anyway.
Do you plan to run into exile because things are bad for you at home?
No, no, no, no! I was in exile, I came back. There is no amount of threat that will drive me back into exile. One thing that really does not take any consideration of mine is death. If they want to kill me, let them kill. As long as that process will lead to our people being free, I will be in my grave happy. But if we don’t do anything, even all those who have died before would have died in vain, including my brother, Musasizi Kifefe, with whom I was in prison.
What is the endgame of this walk-to-work campaign?
Well, the endgame is simple; that government will have to accept that we live in a country where there is justice. The central contention is the question of justice --- where citizens are treated fairly in their country; they can enjoy from their labour; that their taxes serve them; that leaders are accountable to them; that if leaders are not doing what they like, they can throw them out of office. That is the fair system that will bring peace. I have been telling (government) that you cannot say you want peace without justice. So we shall struggle until there is justice.
How do you respond to criticism that your continued pursuit of civil disobedience after losing an election by a wide margin to incumbent President Museveni is disruptive, provocative and unnecessary? Maj. Gen. Kayihura called it arrogance.
Those who say so are entitled to their views. We don’t accept that there was even an election. It was a total sham. That view is supported by all election observers. No one has said that there was a free and fair election in Uganda. Yet a free and fair election is the only election that is allowed by the Ugandan Constitution. So, we feel that we are perfectly justified to reject the election results and that civil disobedience against such a regime that has lost the legitimacy to govern, is equally legitimate.