Some petition Parliament and pause for pictures with the Speaker. Others have no time for that sort of thing. They storm Parliament.
Indeed, two men stormed the parliamentary chamber mid-week while MPs were in plenary debating something to do with land and corruption. Yes, land and corruption go together very well in Uganda.
The red beret-wearing men — Dafaala Ssenjako and Mutasa Kafeero — appropriately belong to the Red Top Brigade, an outfit with plenty of grievances against the government. They dived Rambo-style from up in the visitors’ gallery and crash-landed on the floor below, scaring MPs witless.
It appears the two men learnt from the experts: the security agents who in 2017 raided the chamber, beat up and arrested several MPs opposed to the lifting of the presidential age limits in the Constitution.
Once that raid happened, you could guess correctly that a copycat act in some version would follow. It has. Of course, the two raids can’t be compared. Indeed, the first raid was to brutally force through a constitutional amendment that could deliver a life-presidency. This second raid was to protest the corruption of MPs and the acquiescence of the majority of them in delivering the life-presidency.
I disagree with much that happens in that Parliament, as I would with much of what narcissists with political power do, but I wish safety for the MPs. This is why the two protesters’ actions should lead to a review of security and safety procedures at Parliament. It is conceivable that the next protest may involve live fire.
That said, I love the courage and cunning of Ssenjako and Kafeero. Who jumps paratrooper-style to land on the (un)thinking heads of MPs? Despair inspires such acts. If the political space is closed because MPs delivered a life-presidency, and if the economic space is closed because those in power and their cronies grab everything for themselves, then one is left with few options to be heard. One of those options is to jump onto the fat heads of MPs who long fell in things.
I think MPs should reflect on how they and much of the political class are perceived by sections of the public. The contempt for them is palpable — they decide their own fat pay, travel the world with large per diems, have generous social security. The rest of us?
That is why we have seen before protesters carry pigs and piglets, often painted in the ruling NRM party colour of yellow, to the gates of Parliament.
The choice of pigs, inspired by what Kenyan protesters had done, was also a recollection of President Museveni’s more controversial statements that Uganda’s past leaders were pigs for the many mistakes they made with serious national consequences. If past leaders were pigs, the actions of the present ones were equally of the pig quality, the protesters seemed to be saying. So, there was no difference between the past leaders and the present leaders.
It looks like these guys were partial to the literary. They may as well have been invoking this George Orwell last line from his novella Animal Farm: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
As it normally does, time had changed things, in this case for the worse. Progress was in full retreat. What was the revolution about again?
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga dismissed the protest as a stunt fit for the National Theatre across the road from Parliament. She added that the protesters had broken the law. (They are facing charges of criminal trespass, malicious damage, and interrupting parliamentary process). This is neither here nor there because, of course, the guys knew they were breaking the law.
But let’s just say that there will be many more repeat acts targeting key centres of power like Parliament. MPs and other politicians had better brace themselves.
Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.