Thursday 10th September 2009: sad news of serious riots in Kampala, Masaka, Mukono Thursday, two civilian deaths reported.
Friday 11th September 2009: more of the same, reports suggesting people on a knife-edge, things got worse during the long day and evening. The death toll on Kampala streets for the two days is probably 14, that is 14 too many.
This was triggered by the prime minister (Katikkiro) of Buganda being prevented by security forces from travelling to Kayunga, about 40 miles north-east of Kampala to prepare for a visit there of Kabaka Ronald Mutebi, king of Buganda, one of the four traditional kingdoms of Uganda (from which the country gets its name). This visit was planned for Saturday. The government of President Museveni (M7) restored the kingdoms as cultural institutions some years ago with the proviso that they would not get involved in politics. The ‘parliament’ of Buganda the Lukiiko, based in the town of Mengo (now a Kampala suburb), has significant regional political influence nevertheless.
In Kayunga there are land issues and residence issues between different ethnic groups. The conventional wisdom amongst the Baganda people is that in several places of which Kayunga is but one, land has been bought up by non-Baganda for commercial use and has therefore reduced the agricultural potential. The government’s attempts to prevent the Katikkiro and ultimately the Kabaka from going there appear to be what has triggered the current violence. Apparently the Baganda people feel they have put up with enough, though other ethnic groups feel the Baganda are asking for too much.
On Thursday the licence for the Kingdom-owned broadcasting station was revoked, and three more licences were suspended on Friday. Police blame the media for fanning the rioting; more than 500 “rioters” have been arrested. Videos were posted on-line of unarmed youths being beaten by armed forces and uniform-less unidentified persons, as well as rioters and fires.
Another factor in these long-term disagreements between M7’s goverment and the King of Buganda is that Mengo claims that M7 promised to change the constitution to a federal system, which he denies. Kampala being a multi-ethnic capital on Buganda land, and adjacent to the Buganda Kingdom capital in Mengo also complicates matters for some.
But it goes deeper than that. Many are dissatisfied with the government’s record on corruption, human rights, fair shares of the “national cake”. This has been building up for a long time, which is why it may not die down quickly; the political risks of the Baganda backing down are as big for the people as are the risks to the government of it continuing.
Saturday 12 September 2009. Apparently the Kabaka (king) made a statement cancelling his trip to Kayunga, but this was said to be under duress at the time his compound was surrounded by security forces to prevent him coming out. There were also reports of interference by security operatives in the output of radio stations (the ones that remain on air) and some newspapers. Only approved reports of the situation were allowed on air in at least one station. Although things died down on Friday night, there were reports of gunshots downtown again on Saturday. Sunday appears to have been peaceful.
Presidential and Parliamentary elections are due in 2011 and no doubt M7 has his eye on this. The constitution was changed some years ago to withdraw the limits on the number of times a president can serve. He will find it extremely difficult to please everyone.
Kalundi Robert Serumaga has been beaten and possibly tortured after arrest by ’security’ operatives. This for speaking his mind, being critical of the government on a radio talk show (such shows have been suspended now). During my last years in Kampala I regarded him as my friend, after having worked in consultation with him on repairs to the National Theatre. We also had some talks over asylum seeker and other issues and I worked with his sister on these. In his efforts to speak up for people’s rights, he has become something of a controversial figure in recent years. At this point in time, I am not aware of him having been released on bond, as has been promised by the police chief. Their father had to run with his family from Idi Amin, so he is no stranger to suffering.
There are likely to be ongoing ethnic tensions. There have been reports of people being stopped and asked for ID cards (to check their ethnic names), or asked to name their clans and totems if they claim to be Baganda, or being asked to speak the Luganda language: one radio station is reported to have said, “If you don’t speak proper Luganda we will kill you”. I would not want to suggest that this was said in anything more than the tension of the moment but, distressingly, it reminds me of the hateful things said about the Tutsis by Radio Milles Collines in Rwanda in the run-up to the 1994 genocide.
I have a personal interest here: my daughter’s mother’s house, outside a Kampala suburb, is built on former mailo land, that is, land owned by the Kabaka and granted to his subjects. Due to complications surrounding the revision of land ownership laws (highly controversial), she has not yet received a land title and, being a non-Muganda, her position may become more difficult.
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