April 19, 2011
The “demonstration” held last Friday at Makerere University to protest proposed tuition hikes ranks among the most pathetic displays of activism I have witnessed in my 10 years of reporting from the trenches of the oppressed world; and is, coming as it was from students at Uganda’s leading university, at a time when the ruling regime is reverting to militarism, inexcusably reckless.
The students toppled mobile phone kiosks, stoned signage, smashed trash cans, lit fires – oblivious to the irony that the were protesting a raise in tuition by raising the university’s cost of doing business.
They taunted police with chats of “We want tear gas!,” and, “Give us bullets!” One student, frustrated at not having provoked the police to violence, sighed beside me, “I am bored.”
When the police did finally move in with the tear gas, many students scattered with glee, clearly less interested in results than a little Hollywood-like drama.
All this did was feed the common police refrain that protesters are only interested in chaos and therefore must be stopped.
With so many legitimate grievances relating to official abuse urgently needing to be checked by a politically engaged public, Friday’s laughable protest is no laughing matter.
The opposition, which in recent days has been successfully mobilizing people against government neglect over rising food prices in this impoverished country, should not dismiss the student protest as disassociated to their own cause; the youth tend to make up a good chunk of any democratic movement, and if college students aren’t getting activism right, it’s suggestive of a larger problem of discipline. It’s thus time that the opposition study and distribute Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation, which could go a long way toward making their cause a reality.