The lessons of “Walk to Work” demonstrations

Kizza Besigye arrested following walk to work demonstrations
Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party President Kizza Besigye arrested following Walk to Work demonstrations.

Will those who shot and killed unarmed protesters ever be prosecuted?

As the effects of the ‘Walk to Work’ demonstrations that engulfed the country in the last six weeks start waning, there is hope that lessons from that experience have been learned by both government and the opposition under the Action for Change (A4C) pressure group. Although A4C has now come up with the HOOT campaign, it is important to reflect on how other countries have handled demonstrations similar to the W2W, and the example will come from the United States of America.

On May 4, 1970, the infamous “Kent State Massacre” took place in Ohio when the National Guard shot 67 rounds of ammunition at unarmed Kent state University students who were protesting against America’s invasion of Cambodia, killing four students and injuring nine.

As a result of this shooting, there was a massive public outcry and over 900 colleges and universities around the US closed due to violent demonstrations with over 8 million students carrying banners, one reading “They can’t kill us all.” Over 100,000 demonstrators also converged at Washington D.C demonstrating against the Vietnam war and the killing of unarmed student protesters. Ray Price, Nixon’s chief speechwriter between 1969-74 later said that “the city was an armed camp. The mobs were smashing windows, slashing tires, dragging parked cars into intersections. That was not a student protest. That was a civil war.”

President Nixon was evacuated to Camp David for two days for his own protection and the army was called in to protect the administration. “This cannot be the USA. This is not the greatest democracy in the world. This is a nation at war with itself,” noted Charles Colson who was counsel to President Nixon from 1969-73.

Days after the shooting, a study was carried out by the Urban Institute where it was concluded that it was the shooting at students that caused the only nationwide students’ strike in the US history. There was public debate as to whether this shooting of American citizens could legally be justified and even whether the decision to ban their demonstration was constitutional.

The President set up a commission of inquiry which handed him a report in September 1970, stating that the May 4, 1970 shootings were unjustified. Among the major findings of the commission was the fact that “even if the guardsmen faced danger, it was not a danger that called for lethal force. The Kent tragedy must mark the last time that, as a matter of course, loaded rifles are issued to guardsmen confronting student demonstrators.”

Ugandans are now anxiously awaiting for action to be taken against all those who shot at unarmed demonstrators during the W2W where 10 people lost their lives. But this will come after the commission of inquiry headed by Mr. Jeje Odongo comes up with a report. How soon? Nobody knows.