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“Programs meant to deal with poverty, education, agriculture have literally failed,” Mr. Mukwaya added.

The lesson learned from North Africa and the Middle East should have been that sound policies, not overwhelming force, is the answer, he added.

Uganda’s macroeconomic picture has been impressive, with the gross domestic product holding at about 6 percent for much of the past decade and poverty dropping from 56 percent in 1992 to 25 percent last year, amid strong social stability and privatization.

Beneath the positive statistics, however, is massive unemployment among university graduates, rampant corruption, a low manufacturing base and wasteful government spending.

Mr. Museveni helped fund his presidential campaign, estimated at $350 million, through the national treasury and a supplementary budget. Rising inflation has drawn the attention of everyday Ugandans toward the general direction of the country.

“[The government] has stopped listening to people, our needs,” said Baker Kirega, who wore bandages around his right leg from an injury suffered in a clash with police as he tried to retrieve his children from a school hit by police tear gas last week.

The government reportedly banned live television news coverage of a protest last week, and police have taken over the capital’s only real public park to prevent demonstrations leading up to Mr. Museveni’s inauguration next month to another five-year term. The ceremony is expected to cost up to $1.5 million.

The first walk-to-work campaign April 11 might have passed without much notice had Mr. Museveni ignored it.

Instead, excessive force by security forces inspired outraged Ugandans to join the cause three days later in another protest, which ended with 130 arrests and more than 45 injured.

Mr. Museveni on Saturday accused the demonstrators of trying to overthrow his government “through unconstitutional means.”

Protests also have broken out in Jinja, the second-largest commercial center in eastern Uganda, in Masaka in the southwest and in Gulu in the north.

Uganda has been an important Western ally in the region, especially in Somalia, where Ugandan soldiers make up the bulk of the 8,000 African Uniontroops, fighting Islamic militants in that lawless country. Mr. Museveni also has deftly handled relations with unstable neighbors, notably Sudan and Congo.

Mr. Museveni, a former bush rebel who helped overthrow the ruthless regime of Idi Amin and Milton Obote, has held the presidency since 1986. He still is viewed among many Ugandans as a liberator and peacemaker.

But his growing reliance on force is threatening that image, and some now fear that Uganda could become the first sub-Saharan Africa domino to fall in the democratic revolution sweeping North Africa and the Middle East.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.