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Africa

Ugandan opposition members arrested at independence celebrations

Members of the Ugandan opposition who attended official celebrations marking 51 years of independence ended the day under house arrest.

Former British colony Uganda celebrated 51 years of self governance on Wednesday (9.10.2013). The main celebrations were held in the southwestern town of Rukungiri and focused on re-energizing the country's development potential. Mozambican President Armando Guebuza was the only foreign head of state to attend.

Speaking at the celebration, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni (pictured above) said that, in line with the official theme of the anniversary, his government's first priority was to improve the country's infrastructure. He listed the three main challenges facing Uganda.

"The global commercialization of agriculture by all rural households who have land, job creation and value addition."

He went on to say that: "By addressing the issues of electricity and the roads, we are indirectly contributing to the solving of the problems of value addition and job creation."

Ugandan journalists with their mouths taped shut in protest against the closure of their premises by the government in May 2013 REUTERS/James Akena

Ugandan journalists protested earlier this year for greater press freedom

President Museveni, who has ruled Uganda for 27 years, thanked the Mozambican and Tanzanian governments for their help in helping him get rid of former president Idi Amin who fled into exile in 1979. For this he gave the Mozambican president a medal of appreciation. Recently opposition to Museveni's government has grown and late last year Western donors suspended support over corruption allegations.

Opposition criticism

The venue for the celebrations was Rukungiri, the home town of the former leader of the main opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change, Kiiza Besigye. He was among those who attended the official celebrations and made some scathing comments about Uganda's progress in the last half century.

"Economic growth has been very minimal for the last 51 years. We were at the same economic level with countries like Singapore, Korea and Malaysia. If you look at the kind of development they have been able to achieve for the last 50 years and you compare with our 50 years, then you will realise we have wasted our 50 years," Besigye said.

The reason for this, according to Besigye, was that Ugandans were not free to choose who should lead them and could not enjoy their human rights without being intimidated by the government.

Erias Lukwago, mayor of Kampala (Photo: MIKE ODONGKARA/AFP/Getty Images)

The mayor of Kampala Erias Lukwago (seen here in 2005) told DW he had been placed under house arrest

In an interview with DW's Africalink program, the mayor of Kampala, Erias Lukwago, said that the independence celebrations had turned into a ruling party affair, even though the opposition had also been invited. The only reason for holding the event in Rukungiri, Lukwago claimed, was for the local population to reaffirm their faith in the president and his National Resistance Movement (NRM).

The opposition members said they were offended by this and decided to leave, but as they did so some, including Mayor Lukwago, were arrested and driven away in a van before being let out at Kizza Besigye's home where they were informed they were under house arrest.

Lukwago told DW he and his colleagues had decided to take part in the celebrations "in a spirit of togetherness" but he said such functions had lost their original meaning and were now only used by the NRM to underline President Museveni's hold on power.

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