By Own Correspondent – “I have never heard the name Museveni, but I thank you and I will pass on the message, sure!”. The blond German student has just stopped in front of Ugandan Embassy in London, Trafalgar Square, attracted by the shouts and movement of a group of Ugandan armed with placards, flyers and percussions. “Museveni must go, he is a criminal, he has stolen the elections, tell your government to stop supporting him!” shouts a lady. “He is responsible of murdering and violence and he owns the whole of the country, army included” explains one of the organizers of the demonstration that is taking place in a sunny but cold London afternoon. In the street, representatives of the UK Ugandan Diaspora tired of NRM, the party of Museveni that has been in power since 1986. Families on holiday, students and Londoners pass by and pick the flyers where a list of demonstrators’ demands is underlined: among others, the rejection of Uganda General Elections results, the re-run of the Elections, the de-militarization of the Police and the education of citizens about the electoral process.
The organizers have met several times to prepare for today. In the days of the North Africa revolts, they have sat around a table to discuss the future of their own country after the Presidential elections of 18th of February which have reconfirmed Museveni as the President of Uganda with 68% of votes. They have discussed and debated in a small room in East London, where the Ugandan Diaspora is prevalently settled. While Mubarak was overthrown and Libyan youth triggered the protests, they were dreaming of change, following attentively the post-electoral vicissitudes in the home country. They are attached to different parties of the Ugandan opposition (UPC, FDC, DP) and they come from different areas of Uganda, but have chosen to overcome differences in order to mobilize on a united front. They have resolved to contact also the representatives of Human Rights movements in order to express the common message: Museveni must go.
The demonstration is not very big, but it is effective. The aim is to leave a sign in this corner of London, and to call the attention of the Western world on a country undervalued by media. The placards prepared by the demonstrators leave no space to doubt: among others, “Museveni is a murderer”, “Stop militarizing the Police” and “Free and Fair?!” accompanied by pictures of violence occurred on the election days. There is also a 5 pages petition which summarizes the position of Ugandan opposition and of the UK Diaspora. It is delivered to the officers at the reception of Uganda House (the Embassy) which seem more annoyed than interested in what is going on outside. While the demonstration goes on, somebody from the Embassy even calls the Police, which intervenes asking the organizers a proof of the authorization to demonstrate. “They are normally offensive”, says one demonstrator referring to the Embassy employees. Two different Uganda, one on the street and another sitting in the offices of the embassy, seem now to coexist.
The apparent kindness of UK policeman contrasts with the pictures on the placards showing Ugandan soldiers beating civilians. “I wonder if these pictures are really necessary” argues a policeman, “their content could offend the passers-by , can’t you remove them?”. The reaction of the women holding the posters is univocal and strong: “Brother, you need courage. We don’t fear to expose these things. Do you think that this people in the pictures did not feel offended as well?” – and the policeman gives up, agreeing.
The next step is N. 10 Downing Street. Students and tourists, again, stop to take pictures of the event and an Indian student in his Masters asks for more information. “I am interested in this demonstration because I am normally concerned about the voices of people that are silenced”, he says. A German student, perfectly fluent in Swahili, observes attentively and offers her help. They are the sign that Ugandan voices today are being heard.
After the petition is delivered in Downing Street by Moses Luzinda, the march continues to the USA Embassy. “The Police had promised a map and a policeman to guide us”, says Moses, but the promises have not been kept. Nonetheless, the group reaches its goal, mingling with the crowd of a lively afternoon on Oxford Street and proceeding along the posh streets of shopping. Among Cartier and Maserati, Porsche and Louis-Vuitton, the Ugandan denounces suggest a different perspective on life. About 35% of people in Uganda lives below the poverty level while the Diaspora is defined “kyeyo”, with reference to the humble jobs which have been for a long time the only source of income for the migrants to Western Country. The initiative of this educated, determined and creative group today is thus effective, both in a practical and a symbolic way.
Talking with a demonstrator, the problem of the responsibility of the Diaspora is raised. “I don’t think that the Diaspora is doing enough. You see, people did not come in a big number today, because they are scared: they don’t understand that here at least we are in a free country, here we can give voice to our concerns without being punished for it”, claims a demonstrator who is active on the human rights front. Indeed, looking at the colorful group and listening to their slogans, one has the feeling that what they are doing is great, but still not enough.
The demonstration ends in front of the USA flags waving in Grosvenor Square. It is 5 pm in London, 8 pm in Kampala. One imagines the warm air of the Ugandan capital at sunset, the dust of Wandegeya, the Luganda hip hop playing loudly in the barber shops and the skyline of skyscrapers on Kampala Road. In London the sun is setting on Hyde Park, beyond the USA embassy where all is organized, neat and silent. The Ugandan vicissitudes would seem too far away, but a phone call for an interview from radio Kaboozi in Kampala (one of the stations closed by Museveni after the October 2009 riots) suddenly connects distant worlds. It reminds that the demo of today was meant to communicate a sufferance which is shared across international borders; to make Ugandan voices being heard in the centers of Western power. It has been, as well, a good example of what post-electoral protests could be in the home country.