By Odongo Patrick Lango
Kampala—12, June 2020: On 17 December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a young Algerian fruit seller, set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his merchandises, harassment, and humiliation in the hands of municipal officials. He was a victim of the country’s mass unemployment and catastrophic leadership failures, pushed to the margins of the informal sector to put body and soul together.
His suicide catalysed the Tunisian Revolution and uprisings, which engulfed the Arab World and became known as the Arab Spring — the widespread revolts against autocratic regimes. The aftermath of that singular act is still being felt today in places like Yemen and Syria.
Similarly, on 25 May 2020, George Floyd, an African-American gun less man, was murdered by a White Policeman in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the United States of America (USA).
The murder was a spark in the tinderbox of historical police violence against, racism, racial discrimination, and marginalization of African-Americans in the USA that ignited widespread demonstrations across all 50 American States, and has potentially ruined the re-election prospects of President Donald Trump.
Additionally, Congress and other local state legislative bodies across America are now considering widespread policing reforms and up-ending entrenched racial prejudices.
Closer to home, we will recall the Walk to Work protests that erupted in Uganda in April 2011, ostensibly to highlight the rising costs of living. The protests were instigated by the perennial presidential elections also-ran, Col. Dr Kizza Besigye, of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
Largely shunned by the public because of the angry, riotous, and disruptive nature of the marches, the protests soon fizzled out.
Following that aborted would be-uprising, the radical wing of FDC promised that the country should prepare for a tsunami of mass movement that would sweep President Museveni and the National Resistance Movement (NRA) out of power. This promise too has never materialized. The FDC subsequently resorted to ineffectual online [social media campaigns] of lies, disinformation, blackmail, and threats.
Unfortunately for FDC and fortunately for NRM, the majority of Ugandans — the bulwark of NRM support — largely roll their eyes with utter incredulity at the latest online FDC theatrics, as the body politic moves on largely unperturbed. It’s like the proverbial Lango that the frog may bare its eyes wide open and glare from below the stream, but it will never scare away a cow from drinking from the stream.
The implications of this analogy are that social media activism and mobilization needs clear-cut causes, context, and victims with objective socio-economic and historical conditions, in order to ignite the kind of conflagration that we saw in Tunis, Tunisia or Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. Lacking these prerequisites, the FDC attempts at spurring mass protests and revolts against the NRM government have so far fallen flat on its face. This has partly been because social media cannot replace serious grassroots mobilization and organizing that’s required for building a mass party like the NRM.
It’s on record that Dr Besigye and his radical wing hounded out Gen Gregory Mugisha Muntu — a man who preferred patient grassroots mobilization and the building of party structures — to install a puppet, Patrick Amuriat, as FDC President. It’s an open secret that Amuriat gets his marching orders from Besigye, at Kasangati, not Najjanakumbi.
I have noticed that Dr Besigye and his “Vice President” in the comical “People’s Government”, Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, have now resorted to holding weekly live Facebook sessions amplified online by their army of Facebook fans. I attended one such session recently, which should be renamed the “Reading from the Book of Lamentations”.
The Lord Mayor, who is the political [elected] head of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), conducted the session as if he were not the head of the institution. He presented a laundry list of complaints that he should be solving himself.
Social Media is a force for good. It connects us to our friends and loved ones, and it also spreads information fast, but it’s not a substitute for the hard work of political organization and social mobilization. So instead of agonizing, FDC might consider the hard job of organizing the traditional way. Facebook won’t open and operate a party branch or be an agent at a polling station.
The writer is NRM cadre from Oyam District.