‘We will expose Uganda’s vampires’

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IOL pic aug28 justice scales file Independent Media .

Kampala -

For a country where protests are rare, it certainly was a creative stunt: smuggling two piglets, covered in yellow paint to represent the colour of Uganda's ruling political party, past security and into parliament.

“The pig, when it is too hungry, it eats its own piglets. So we wanted to use the pigs to bring our message home that the government officials, these leaders, are as greedy as pigs,” explained Norman Tumuhimbise, who is due to appear in a Kampala court on Friday charged over the June 17 protest.

“If it was easy to get a hyena we would have used the hyena, because they almost have the same characteristics.”

Tumuhimbise, 28, has pleaded not guilty to criminal trespass, conspiracy to sneak piglets into parliament and interrupting parliament work, along with Robert Mayanja, 34, another disgruntled, unemployed man.

Members of the “Jobless Brotherhood”, formed last year by Tumuhimbise to bring together out-of-work youths, said the heart of their protests are two intertwined issues: corruption and youth unemployment.

“It's corruption that brings about unemployment,” argued Tumuhimbise, a law student who has been out of work since 2011.

“We have political vampires in Uganda that are feeding on us. They're sucking our blood in forms of taxation, corruption. So we are trying to curb it, we are exposing them, because when you expose a vampire to the light it dies.”

According to a 2012 report by the NGO Action Aid, Uganda - with the world's youngest population and close to 80 percent of its population under the age of 30 - is grappling with youth unemployment levels of at least 60 percent.

The report also pointed to “glaring gaps in the social and economic well-being of youth”, and said job-seekers faced the triple challenge of “corruption, nepotism and exploitation”.

A report released last year by Human Rights Watch and Yale Law School also alleged there was systematic theft of donor funds, and that no high-ranking official has ever served a prison sentence despite numerous investigations - yet protesters and activists were being jailed.

On Sunday, Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo was quoted in the Monitor newspaper as saying that corrupt government officials are normally rotated in “juicy” ministries with the help of “godfathers”.

“I think some little work is being done, but I think we are catching the small fish,” explained Leonard Okello, chief executive officer of The Uhuru Institute, which supports NGOs in advocacy and campaign work.

“I don't think there's enough political will to really deliver. Until the president, the ministers step back from getting mixed up in procurements, in these big projects, you cannot rule them out from being part of the mess.”

Ugandan government officials have not commented on the piglet case, but government spokesman Ofwono Opondo insisted corruption was being dealt with seriously - pointing to stronger independent oversight measures, a tougher judiciary and asserting that “the media and civil society organisations are more robust in exposing and demanding accountability”.

Tumuhimbise said that regardless of the outcome of the piglet protest case, disgruntled Ugandans will continue to take to the streets, because “money being lost in government is actually our tax money”.

Even after their piglet protest, over 30 Jobless Brotherhood members staged a mock funeral - mourning the money lost and job hopes dashed - at Kampala's Independence Monument on August 4.

Nine people, including Tumuhimbise and Mayanja, have reportedly been charged under Uganda's Public Order Management Act with participating in an unlawful assembly.

The Jobless Brotherhood say they now have 20 000 members across Uganda, and are planning a “Kampala jobless convention” for later this year, and hope to fill a football stadium for a national event slated for 2015.

“We have brains to think and they no longer think because they're too old,” Tumuhimbise said of Uganda's ruling elite, including veteran President Yoweri Museveni, now campaigning for re-election in 2016, which will be his 30th year in power.

“One resource we have is plenty is time.” - Sapa-AFP


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