Many people cannot differentiate between a strike or protest or demonstration or industrial action and rioting. The reason is that in both instances, a big number of people express their anguish over a certain grievance. They lay down their tools of work, shut off services they offer and call attention to their plight openly. Striking or demonstrating is a human right, is legitimate and nonviolent. Rioting, on the hand, is violent protest that leads to death, injury or destruction. Rioting is usually staged by actors with ulterior motives and usually, there is an unseen hand or a ringleader inciting the rioters.

The recent action by traders (members of the business community) in Kampala and environs was nonviolent unlike previous mass action witnessed in the city. The Mabira riots were definitely violent; the Nakasero market protests were violent, they were riots; the November 2020 acts by political pushers were riots, and they led to loss of life; other protests like those of A4C and others codenamed differently were riots.

Usually, riots result from incitement and the issuance of uncoordinated messaging intended to confuse the public. The agenda is often unclear or shrouded in politics so as to give it undue clout with the intention of undermining Government.

In the absence of coordination and clear engagement with different stakeholders, troublesome elements come into place and take charge of the mass action, start causing destruction, directly confronting other citizens going about their business as well as security personnel carrying out their normal duties of ensuring law and order. Any attempt to contain the situation is taken as highhandedness of the state, thus causing further incitement and clashing. There is a thin line between rioting and mass insurrection which can cause regime change and that’s usually what rioters are up to; not to address a particular grievance, but to capitalise on the discontent of a few to achieve other unrelated objectives.

The “anti”-Electronic Fiscal Receipting and Invoicing Solution (EFRIS) traders were clear on the cause of their displeasure and this they voiced through their respective associations including Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA), Uganda Cargo Consolidators, Kampala Rice Traders and Federation of Uganda Traders Associations (FUTA). They freely expressed concern that EFRIS poses several challenges, notably: that it imposes a high cost of compliance, most traders didn’t understand how the system works and that it applied to all traders irrespective of whether they are VAT registered or not. Perfect! Problem identified, solution-finding begins! That’s how civilised society works, not jumping out of the blue and ransacking towns, burning tyres, breaking buildings and dragging passersby into one’s fight.

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This has been a big problem in this country when people instead of raising what is disturbing them are quick to engage in public confrontation. If it’s about taxes, how does it help matters to attack people physically or destroy property? If it’s about a bad section of road, how does it help matters burning tyres on tarmac when that action alone will destroy the good section of road?

It’s high time that as citizens we embraced our full responsibility when expressing our frustrations and demanding for action from those in authority. Uganda is a democratic country where the voice of the downtrodden or aggrieved can be heard and responded to. We have Parliament, Local Councils, Cabinet, large media space. Any issue can be raised in a civil way and it’s attended to.

In fact, even a sit-down strike over EFRIS, though peaceful, was unnecessary. Why? When traders closed their shops, they lost business-merchandise in stock could go bad, landlords would still demand rent, customers couldn’t get served and the economy was slowed all along the broad value chain. The advantage from the strike was, as already noted, it was nonviolent and also created ground to discuss some of these issues.

Questions on EFRIS came at a time a number of measures were being instituted to raise tax revenues and so many mistook EFRIS for  a form of tax whereas it’s only a system used to track tax compliance and is designed to monitor the payment of value-added tax (VAT) and facilitate accurate record-keeping for business transactions. Again, the strike also raised the need to always adequately sensitise the public on changes taking place. It shouldn’t be a matter of slapping “solutions” in place without educating them on what is involved, because, specifically in the line of taxation, there is no day tax will ever be sweet. It’s always a bitter pill which should be packaged with sweeteners for better acceptability. Even now, URA should step up client engagement and provide information to partner agencies to explain to the public what this is all about, like RDCs who are in place to explain Government programs.

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EFRIS is a modern system already in use in countries like Tanzania and Rwanda. I thank H.E the President for putting his experience, seniority, wisdom and heart for the people to use by giving the traders a listening ear, taking note of their issues, halting some of the measures that the taxman had imposed and promising to meet the larger body of traders soon to hear directly from them. That’s people-centered and responsive government. If the traders had sought the President’s ear before the strike, I know he would have listened to them with similar attention.

When I saw Dr. Besigye joining the fray and attempting to stop the traders from engaging with the President, I was concerned that the agenda of the traders would be lost but, thankfully, they were not diverted. These traders are great contributors to our economy and they aren’t divided along sectarian lines. They should be supported to do business in a supportive environment free of lawlessness and undue interference. That’s what the President is working on!

The author is the Deputy Press Secretary to the President of Uganda





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