The 195-km long six-day trek by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has elicited mixed reactions in the country.
With regular social media updates of his progress, and meet-and-greet stops in villages along the way, the president said the trek has helped him understand some of the people’s problems and will therefore enable him to address them better.
He, for example, said at one of the stops that he had not been aware that some former fighters had not been compensated.
He also challenged the freedom fighters’ children to take up the next phase of the struggle—economic liberation—noting that their parents had succeeded in fighting to end dictatorship and restore peace.
In the course of the week-long trek, a video emerged of the president handing out envelopes to villagers.
Busingye Kabumba, a Constitutional and International Law lecturer at Makerere University, described the video of elderly, barefoot men and women kneeling to receive envelopes from the president as “something indescribably sad and tragic.”
The president’s rival in the past four presidential elections, and himself a former bush war hero, Kizza Besigye, was among the first people to tweet the video and called for an end to “the humiliation.”
“After 34 years of NRM/M7 Junta, this is what our people have been reduced to: Kneeling before Ssabagabe (king of kings) in a line to get a small handout in a brown envelope!”
At one stop, the president told villagers that whereas it was not the policy of the National Resistance Movement to give envelopes, he was responding to a need.
Mike Mukula, a national vice chairman of the ruling NRM party described the trek as “fundamental” but the evidence of poverty as “disheartening and must be addressed.”
Mr Mukula said something should be done especially for the former fighters and collaborators now wallowing in poverty. He said the revolution had created two classes of people—those who have made billions and turned their financial fortunes around and those who have stagnated or even regressed.
“Those were patriots and nationalists, it is true some people came out stronger financially and made billions while others have remained where they were or even regressed. That is something the president must address. Tokenism won’t serve those people, they don’t need envelopes, they should be guaranteed a permanent income, maybe a special fund should be set up to support them and we now have a stronger economy that can support such an idea. I intend to move the proposal in the National Executive Committee,” Mr Mukula said.
The president’s trek, though not the first one, exposed the reality of rural underdevelopment and poverty, contrary to the fruits of the revolution touted in annual economic performance figures.
The president is now expected to call a meeting of his party’s top organ, the National Executive Committee and the National Conference on January 20. These are expected to endorse his to run in next year’s elections.
He will follow this with a celebration on January 26 to mark his capture of power 34 years ago and roll the campaign forward when on February 6, he commemorates the start of the war in 1981.
Organised by Afrika Kwetu, the trek started in Galamba, a village some 17kms from Kampala in Luwero district to Birembo in present day Kakumiro district, in the Bunyoro sub region.