JOHANNESBURG — African leaders joined thousands of Ugandans Tuesday on an airstrip in the capital of Kampala where 50 years ago Uganda announced independence from British rule.
The East African country has come a long way from the days when brutal dictators were in charge, but it has not had a single peaceful transfer of power since 1962 and the potential for instability remains as opposition activists intensify their campaigns and authorities clamp down.
President Yoweri Museveni took power by force in 1986 and has ruled since. He has not said whether he intends to run in the 2016 vote, but some in the ruling party are starting to demand his retirement, saying his long stay in power hurts the party’s popularity. For opposition activists, the fact that Museveni has held power for more than half the time Uganda has been independent is reason enough to use the anniversary to demand his unconditional exit.
“We have to show the whole world that there is no independence in Uganda,” said Ingrid Turinawe, a prominent political activist. “Why should we celebrate? What is there to celebrate?”
Military police surrounded the home of Uganda’s top opposition leader Monday, effectively putting Kizza Besigye out of circulation. Besigye had threatened to stage a rally in Kampala to spotlight the government’s alleged failures.
David Mpanga, a lawyer for Besigye, said his client’s house has been “besieged” by police and his movements restricted.
The national celebrations Tuesday were attended by at least 15 heads of state, including two of the longest-serving leaders in Africa: Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Yahya Jammeh of Gambia. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth was represented by Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, who in 1962 handed over the symbolic instruments of power to a young Ugandan politician who would be overthrown eight years later by the army chief, Idi Amin.