Today, the day when the world was glued to TVs watching a royal wedding in Britain, Uganda went up in flames. Uganda has been in the flames for three weeks now but today the protests/riots spread across the capital Kampala. The news of the protests found me in office before finally the protest reaching the neighbourhood. I hadn’t dressed right to venture out to see all the mayhem but the bullet fire was well loud in my office and we had to duck under tables a couple of times for only stray bullets kill people here according to our government. The protests started Kiseka market after it was rumoured that Uganda’s opposition leader Dr.Kiiza Besigye had died. Like wildfire the rumour spread and many youth walked into Kampala streets. Dr. Kiiza Besigye was in his home after he was discharged from hospital last night. Few people now have access to him as his aides were arrested and remanded yesterday in manner that left many in Uganda totally numb.
A friend told me she had watched the TV images of the violent arrest of Besigye and the police forcing him under a pickup like a criminal with her kids who are between 5 and 8. Half way through the report her kids burst into tears. She asked them why and they wondered why the police was trying to kill a man like Besigye. They asked her what exactly was going and she went into explanations. Another person told me he had watched the news last night in bar surrounded with some soldiers who couldn’t comprehend. “one told me he had taken many beers but he couldn’t get drunk because the horrific images can’t let him,” he told me.
Today as different parts of Kampala were engulfed with lots of military vehicles and fires lit in the main roads, I called someone close to Besigye’s case to figure out what Besigye’s health was like. Half way through the discussion his daughter who I believe is no more than 7 years entered his office. I stayed on the line as they greeted. He asked how the day had gone and young girl said, “Daddy, there was teargas and bombs near our school.” The father asked what she had done when she heard the loud noise. The girl said, “Our teacher told us to lie down and hold our bags close.” The last question was, were you scared? and the girl replied no daddy, I wasn’t.
Going by what the city was like for 5 hours as residents battled military and police, one can say that many are not that scared. One man told me, “If they can treat Besigye like that, then who am I to go home and sleep in peace? The country is going back to Idi Amin days.”
Call that too far-fetched or not but brutality with which Besigye was arrested, car smashed using pistol butt and pepper sprayed to blind him right before the cameras, many Ugandans believe the regime has crossed the line and they worry they will never see tolerance again.
In today’s protests the police used live bullets again leaving horrific pictures for the media. One of man was lying down with a bullet hole right through his eye. Reports say about four people died today, over 100 were injured and over 300 were arrested. Since the election campaigns and the North Africa protests, the government here has grown intolerant to criticism. President Museveni last night called on the clergy to apologize to him for accusing him and his cronies of corruption which many Ugandans decry. Today the government heaped the blame on Besigye after the riots over his health. No explanation on the continued used force no nothing.
Most youth who are suffering with current high cost of living amidst high unemployment levels have never seen war. But following today’s events MissAloikin on twitter said: “My grandparents always used to say we the children of 86 regime will never see any war..how wrong (they were)!”
While Ugandans in north, north-eastern and a few parts of western Uganda have seen the devastation of war for decades, many of us have been shielded from violence. With the kind of brutality portrayed by police and military in the last two weeks, many young people see that the future ahead will be all about struggle. The armed forces have so far killed about 8 people including a 2 year old girl. The time when Ugandans expect concrete answers to their problems and an assurance that their rights to demonstrate peacefully will be protected, President Museveni appears to be out of tune. He appears on our TVs pilling blame of opposition leader, defiant that he won’t cut fuel prices and many at times visibly angry. His ministers continue to claim opposition are using protests to remove a legitimate government which is a total lie.
In today’s riots we saw Museveni’s son Lt Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the commander of Special Forces brought in Kampala to command and journalists were barred from taking his photos. The past times we have seen the first son has been in futile missions like the Operation Lightening Thunder that was supposed to take out Joseph Kony and end the LRA rebellion in DRC then he re-emerged immediately after the July 11 2010 Kampala bombing where investigations have not produced much other than have several Kenyan Human Rights defenders hoarded in our jails. For many the engagement of the first son in the riots when we should be hearing from the father was reminiscent of the first days of protests in Libya.
In many areas there were reports of abuses against journalists mainly by forces. TVs and Radios have been threatened over live broadcasts and today they obliged. At one point I tuned into three TV stations which were showing Nigeria (Nollywood) movies, others had BBC feed of the royal wedding when the city was on fire. Newspapers like Daily monitor did a great job of keeping live feeds till late in the evening. Besigye’s health is still not good but whatever happens, Ugandans are becoming more and more defiant in the face of brutality and his homecoming will probably see us go into another protest. The young who have seen no war are hoping and praying that there was a grain of truth in what their grandparents told them.