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Gunshots Ring Out At City Center

Riots rock Kampala

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Ambassador  Sep 12, 2009

Riots broke out and gunshots rang across the city center on Thursday, before clouds of teargas fired by police engulfed the unruly protesters in Kampala yesterday, as political incitement once again took its toll. Kampala, as is the whole of Uganda, is ordinarily peaceful, but after tempers were deliberately revved into overdrive mode by Buganda Kingdom hardliners, mainly youths and professional hooligans descended on the city center and caused havoc in the service of their political masters.

The government had strongly suggested earlier that the Buganda King not visit a certain disputed part of the kingdom before agreeing to certain conditions to safeguard public order. The area, Kayunga along the Nile on the western side of the river, has groups opposed to the Buganda overlord, and they have installed their own cultural leader and switched their loyalty away from the Buganda King. When the King’s advance entourage was held up at the boundary of the disputed area, it almost seemed that the rioters commenced their ugly handiwork on command, as if already prepared for this situation and just waiting for the green light to be given for them by their controllers.

Riot police units and other security organization deployments, including special units of the UPDF, brought the situation eventually under control after cordoning off certain parts of the city and pushing the demonstrators gradually out of the center. A number of arrests were made, and the accused are due to appear in court soon. At least 7 people died in the riots and dozens were reported injured, including police officers, after the hooligans set fire to some police outposts, burning tires and barricades on streets and attempting to burn buildings.

These actions of hotheads, hooligans, and agitators have done little to appease large sections of society, central government, and the security organizations about the real purpose and intent of these so-called peaceful demonstrations, which have many times in the past caused similar coordinated havoc. In fact, relations between government on one side and the – according to the constitution of Uganda – strictly cultural institution of the Kingdom, have taken a further knock, and the latest violence fueled central government’s suspicion of ulterior motives and an underhanded drive to enter mainstream politics through back doors.

Kingdom hardliners have often in the past made disquieting comments about what they would do to foreigners if ever they came to power, raising concern amongst investors and hundreds of thousands of Ugandans living in Kampala who originally hail from other parts of the country. It should be pointed out, however, that those elements are a minute minority, which has once more been exposed for what they truly are.

A radio station close to the Kingdom was also taken off the air, as the government had in the past often accused CBS of permitting incitement and unprintable utterances by callers on the air aiming to disturb the peace, in addition to insulting comments made against the President and other members of government.

Business in the city came to a standstill as shop owners, restaurants, and banks in the affected areas quickly closed their premises and brought down their steel shutters. Traffic came to a near halt with some commuters taking up to 6 hours to reach home through various detours across the outskirts of the city. By Friday morning, traffic into the city was slow, as many workers stayed at home to wait for further news on the situation in the city.

No tourist visitors have reportedly come to harm during the riots, but city tours and shopping excursions were reportedly cancelled by some safari operators who kept their clients in the hotels. Meanwhile, it was also ascertained that some passengers apparently missed their flights from Entebbe when no transport was available to take them to the airport and had to be rebooked to later flights. Arriving passengers were caught in the traffic snarl as they attempted toreach their hotels in the city.

Needless to say, the local media has strongly condemned the tribalistic and archaic views and machinations behind these events, which have put the reputation of the country at risk and has ripped right into the public standing of the Buganda Kingdom. It is hoped that cooler heads and pragmatists will prevail in the future; that they will contain the hot heads, fanatics, and criminal hooligans; and allow talks between government and the cultural institution of the Buganda Kingdom to resume in the interest of the entire country. However, it was pointed out in the media that the President’s calls to the King went unanswered for a long period of time and an attempt to speak by phone yesterday during the height of the riots was also unsuccessful.

No information could be received as to why the Internet connection of MTN was off overnight and only came back in the morning, and what – if any – relation there was to this breakdown in regard to the events in the city the previous day.

Riots rock Kampala
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