The bookshelves of Uganda’s top opposition leader reveal his ambitions: “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama. “Winning” by former GE chief Jack Welch. Kizza Besigye’s books are mostly about grass-roots mobilization and effective communication - skills that he is putting to the test as he tries to mobilize the masses against President Yoweri Museveni. These efforts have gotten him arrested four times in three weeks, most recently last Thursday, when police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of his supporters.
A doctor who used to be Mr. Museveni’s personal physician, Mr. Besigye is tapping into anger in this landlocked East African nation over rising food and fuel prices. Written off after the loss in the February elections, Mr. Besigye is experiencing a political resurrection.
The price of corn here has risen 114 percent in a year, the World Bank says. Fuel costs have soared. Even the price of a bus ticket has risen, forcing poorer Ugandans to walk to work.
So Mr. Besigye began “walk to work” demonstrations.
“There is really a crisis that is deep in the population, a crisis of survival, where the greatest majority of our people are completely marginalized,” Mr. Besigye said in an interview with the Associated Press. “The health care system is completely broken down. Young people cannot hope to get a job at all. And so there is a state of hopelessness that has engulfed our people.”
They are some of the same issues that helped bring down leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.
In Mr. Besigye’s previous marches, he began near his home on Kampala’s outskirts and walked toward the city.
But after village women asked him not to walk because of violence and arrests that follow the marches, he rolled slowly toward Kampala in a car last Thursday. Crowds of excited young men jogged alongside, raising their hands in the air and shouting. Women smiled.
As the vehicle approached a major intersection, more young men poured in seemingly out of nowhere, swelling the crowd to perhaps the low thousands.
Police then moved in, firing tear gas canisters and unleashing rubber bullets with pop-pop-pop sounds.
Mr. Besigye, who turned 55 on Friday, was arrested forcefully as he exited his vehicle. The crowd dispersed in seconds as tear gas wafted through the streets.
In a similar action last week, one protester died after being tear-gassed, according to the Red Cross, and a 6-month-old girl was taken to a hospital in critical condition.
Mr. Besigye was shot by what he thinks was a police rubber bullet in his right hand, fracturing a finger. He now wears a thick white cast, but said there is no way to know if the police deliberately tried to hit him.