11 September 2012

Uganda: Protests Await First Lady at Uganda UK Convention

Top government officials, including Vice President Edward Ssekandi and the First Lady, Janet Museveni, face a hostile reception at the Ugandan Diaspora meeting due this week in the United Kingdom (UK).

The First Lady, who is also minister of state for Karamoja, is scheduled to deliver a keynote address at the Ugandan UK Convention set for Saturday, September 15, in London. Ssekandi is lined up as one of the guests of honour.

Other high ranking guests invited to the gathering include: the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga; ministers Daudi Migereko (Lands and Urban Development) and Tress Bucyanayandi (Agriculture); Youth MP (Western region), Gerald Karuhanga; and Kampala Capital City Authority executive director, Jennifer Musisi.

A host of other officials from the investment and wildlife authorities are among the delegates expected from Kampala.

However, groups of dissenting Ugandans and Congolese nationals living in the UK plan to storm the convention venue in East London to protest against the NRM government's "excesses, human rights abuses and refusal to adopt a federal system of governance."

Activists involved in planning the protests include members of the Uganda Federal Confederates headed by one Mustapha Ssemanda, and the Acholi group led by Belinda Atim.

According to Alex Batanda, deputy mobiliser of Uganda Against Oppression, and one of the organisers of the planned protest, the Uganda government has spent up to $1m (approximately Shs 2.5bn) to ensure that its leaders are well received at the convention.

"We believe that the money should have been given to hospitals like Mulago to buy scanners and beds for patients," Batanda said in a phone interview with The Observer on Friday.

"[The delegation] will travel first class and stay in expensive hotels, while eating expensive food - all paid for by taxpayers."

However, the government and convention organisers, led by Willy Mutenza, dismiss such assertions, saying the convention is about "promoting business and Uganda abroad."

They insist the funds to organise the convention have been raised through sale of tickets for attendance, a special dinner, a fashion show and a concert where some top Ugandan artistes are expected to feature. For instance, a ticket for the dinner costs £25 (approximately Shs 100,000) per person.

The government in Kampala hopes to use its high profile delegates in London to woo Ugandans in the Diaspora to invest back home.

But protestors want to spoil the party by highlighting incidents like the burning of the Kasubi royal tombs and the 2009 Buganda Riots that the government representatives would rather not discuss.

The demonstrators also want the government to launch an inquiry into the recent spate of murders of prominent Muslims.

"We want answers as to why fellow Ugandans are being assassinated," Batanda said.

He explained that DR Congo nationals will join the demonstration because they believe that "Museveni and [Rwandan President Paul] Kagame are funding the M23 rebels to create a separate state in eastern Congo."

However, both leaders have denied involvement. During two recent Great Lakes leaders summits in Kampala, Museveni and Kagame committed themselves to supporting efforts to end the conflict in eastern DR Congo.

Furthermore, demonstrators plan to target former British overseas development minister, Baroness Lynda Chalker, who is expected to speak on investment promotion at the convention. Chalker is accused of being President Museveni's "lobbyist and doing public relations work for the NRM government despite abuses."

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