Why gigantic crowds at opposition rallies?


Besigye at a recent rally

Langston Hughes, the African – American writer, describes in his 1940 autobiography, ‘the big C’, the exhilaration that seized him as he left New York for Africa. He threw his American books into the sea.

He describes it, ‘like throwing a million bricks out of my heart’. He was on his way to his (Africa), motherland of the Negro People.

Hughes hurling of books was not only his expression of a new sense of freedom but also an evocative gesture of social protest.

Are the gigantic crowds at Kizza Besigye’s and Amama Mbabazi’s rallies a call for change and an evocative gesture of social protest?

Stirring first in Kampala, ‘Call for Change’ opposition presidential rallies soon took on a regional character, with western, Eastern and Northern regions becoming a notable center of energy.

It started as a call for change, with educated disgruntled citizens alienated by the corruption project and weak government policies that were urging them on to a life of joblessness and precariousness.

But their ‘Kampalan’ origins soon gave way to countrywide; as they saw their predicament of multiple insecurities linked to suffering that is happening to others all over the country. Some youth have become a substantial part of the precariat crowds at every rally.

The crowds spread to those with non – conventional lifestyles. And all the time there was a creative tension between the precariat as victims, penalized and demonized by mainstream institutions and policies, and the precariat as heroes, rejecting those institutions in a concerted act of intellectual and emotional defiance.

Arguably, the ‘call for change’ rallies are dwarfing the NRM party rallies on the same day. This may be going largely unnoticed by the wider public and NRM politicians, but it is a significant development.

But as a leftish libertarian following, it has yet to excite fear, or even interest from those outside. Even its most enthusiastic protagonists would admit that the rallies so far have been more theatre than threat, more about asserting individuality and identity within a collective experience of precariousness.

Those who are participating in the ‘call for change’ rallies and in companion presidential electoral events in other parts of the country are just the tip of the precariat. There is a much larger element living in fear and insecurity.

Most would not identify with the ‘Call for Change’ rallies. But that does not make them any less part of the precariat. They are floating, rudderless and potentially angry, capable of veering to the extreme right or extreme left politically and backing populist demagoguery that plays on their fears or phobias.

The opposition political parties can consider investing in policy options that target the precariat.

Walter Ochanda, the author, is an international development specialist


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