KAMPALA, Uganda – Hundreds of women demonstrated in Uganda’s capital on Monday over high food prices and brutal tactics employed by police during recent political rallies.
The estimated 200 women carried empty saucepans and cooking utensils while walking through Kampala.
The women, who all wore white, carried posters that read: “Stop police brutality” and “For a country without food, bullets cannot be food.”
Uganda has seen at least half a dozen major political rallies in the last month concerning high food prices and government corruption. Security forces have cracked down, and arrested the top opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, in a manner that required a weeklong hospital stay in Kenya after he was temporarily blinded by pepper spray or tear gas.
Human Rights Watch said over the weekend that it documented the deaths of nine unarmed people killed by government forces, none of whom were actively involved in rioting. The group called for a prompt and thorough investigation into the use of deadly force by security forces to counter demonstrations and riots.
Security forces have fired live bullets to quell demonstrations.
“For far too long Uganda’s government has allowed a climate of impunity for serious abuses by the police and military,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher for the New York-based rights group.
No violence was reported on Monday, and a police spokeswoman said the women had asked for and received permission to hold their march. Police provided security during the demonstration.
“We are carrying empty saucepans to show the government that many women in Uganda have no food to cook for their children,” said Ruth Ojambo Ocheing, a protester. “We do not want bullets in our babies. The government should address Ugandans’ problems immediately.”
The women presented a statement to the U.N.’s special representative on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, condemning police “brutality” and calling on the government to exercise restraint. They also condemned media censorship and the arrests of opposition leaders.
Besigye over the weekend told The Associated Press that he has regained most of his sight since being sprayed with tear gas or pepper spray at point-blank range. Besigye, 55, who has come in second to President Yoweri Museveni in three straight presidential votes, said he would return to Uganda this week and continue to participate in protest marches.
The protests have been the first serious unrest in sub-Saharan Africa since a wave of anti-government protests swept longtime leaders in Tunisia and Egypt out of power.