Pro-democracy activists in East Africa are undecided on whether mass demonstrations should be adopted by discontented citizens to force member states to adhere to good governance and democracy.
The activists who include lawyers, politicians and judges among others, who held a meeting at the East African Community governance conference in Kampala on Thursday, say there is increasing citizen dissatisfaction which could result into instability.
They are concerned that the states are using excessive force to block demonstrations even when individual state constitutions provide for human rights, including the right to demonstrate.
The debate was sparked off by Tundu Lisu, an opposition Chief Whip in the Tanzanian Parliament, who said he was incensed to watch police in Uganda dispersing peaceful demonstrators in Kireka on Wednesday. Lisu says similar actions are becoming common in his own country, even when the right to demonstrate is enshrined in the two countries’ constitutions. He suggests citizens should resort to mass uprisings to force the leaders to restore good governance.
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Lisu says mass action in Kenya during the December 2007 elections was violent but has resulted into better reforms that could lead to more stability with the new Kenyan constitution.
But some activists including, Garves Arkhabi, one of Kenya’s representatives to East African Legislative Assembly said mass action is necessary but expressed fear that it could be costly to the East African Community integration process.
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Such reforms, according to Arkhabi, should be complimented by strong institutions to ensure that those in power don’t abuse it leading to mass action.
Former Ugandan army commander, Major General Mugisha Muntu however disagreed that that mass action would be feared in a functioning democracy. He says such action is frustrated in Uganda because of deep-rooted fears by the regime to lose state power.
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Muntu says all East African Community member states will only avoid mass action agitations once they adhere to principles of good governance and democracy enshrined in the treaty for establishment of East African Community.