Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Uganda’s professional elites need to take a stand

Officially, 54 people died in two days of madness in Uganda’s capital Kampala last month, sparked by the arrest of leading opposition presidential candidate Bobi Wine. The videos shared on social media told a sinister, harrowing and gruesome story.

Lost in the tragic death toll was a face-masked young man — his collapsed lifeless body staining the shopping mall floor with his blood. He was killed by police as they violently enforced “measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic”. 

In other graphic videos circulating online, a journalist abandoned her camera to rush a 15-year-old boy to a hospital on a boda boda after a bullet shattered his chest. Amos Ssegawa didn’t make it.

The heavily armed police were engaged in running battles with unarmed supporters of Bobi Wine, whose given name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu Robert. Bobi Wine wants to end President Yoweri Museveni’s 35-year rule in Uganda by beating him in next month’s election.

“What is life here? What have you benefited from being alive? At least if I die, it is for a cause. I don’t mind dying if you are going to live happily,” said one young man, barely 20 years old, to a lady pleading with him not to return to the protest. He had just cheated death: minutes earlier a bullet had ripped through his arm and shoulder, before exiting and scratching his chin. He dressed his own gunshot wounds, determined to rejoin the protest.

For a chance to change their desolate fate and obstacle-ridden existence, the youth are willing to die for Bobi Wine’s cause.

But he is yet to convince an important segment of the population: the older, professional, elite classes; those Ugandans who former opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, has previously described as “useless”. These professionals — including lawyers, doctors, and teachers — were instrumental in Museveni’s rise to power.

They were targeted by Idi Amin’s regime in the 1970s, and many fled to Kenya, where they also faced persecution. Those that stayed at home resisted the dictatorship of Milton Obote, and helped to end it, creating the space for Museveni to seize power.

It is not just in Uganda that this strata of society exercises undue influence. In Sudan, the Sudanese Professionals Association — a group incorporating lawyers, doctors, engineers and teachers — helped to organise the protests against dictator Omar al-Bashir. Doctors set up camps to treat the wounded and then, when the military tried to hijack the revolution, their co-ordinated efforts kept momentum going and forced a civilian transitional government to be appointed.

Without this kind of support, the sacrifices made by Uganda’s youth — ready to choke on teargas to precipitate change — may be in vain, and will just become yet another violent electoral memory.

Although Uganda’s professional elites may lack the audacity to take to the streets, there are other ways they can join the struggle for democracy. They can refuse to work, and lend their voices to the demands for reform of the electoral commission and the military, two institutions that have been the bastions of Museveni’s long stay in power.

They also need to dismiss attempts to paint protesters and Bobi Wine supporters as hooligans and vandals, and recognise that their grievances are real and legitimate. 

The question is: Will the middle-class professional elites rise to the call and unite for a fairer Uganda that works for all? Or will they continue to build their gated compounds, shutting out the cries to remove a de facto dictatorship? 

Eric Mwine-Mugaju is a Ugandan journalist and commentator

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Mkhize throws the book at the Special Investigating Unit

It’s a long shot at political redemption for the former health minister and, more pressingly, a bid to avert criminal charges

Pockets of instability in Kenya are underpinned by unequal development

Stability in Kenya hinges on a just, equitable distribution of resources, and a commitment to progress human development for the marginalised

Eastern Cape premier Mabuyane lives large amid province’s poverty

Oscar Mabuyane and MEC Babalo Madikizela allegedly used a portion of state funds for struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s commemoration for their own benefit

Constitutional court confirms warrantless searches in cordoned off areas unconstitutional

The law was challenged in response to raids in inner Johannesburg seemingly targeting illegal immigrants and the highest court has pronounced itself 10 days before an election in which then mayor Herman Mashaba has campaigned on an anti-foreigner ticket
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×