Uganda sadness

Uganda Sadness

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On Thursday the licence for the Kingdom-owned broadcasting station was revoked, and three more licences were suspended on Friday.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.

© Nicholas Robert Jewitt and, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas Robert Jewitt and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


About Nick Jewitt

Born Muswell Hill, London, England, 13 June 1954, the last in a spread-out family of five, our one sister being the eldest. Family moved to Cowden, Kent when I was 3 years old, into the house my Dad had been building. He carried on finishing it as I was growing up. We were High Church Anglicans, though Holy Trinity Mark Beech was 'lower' than that which my parents were used to. In 1959 I started at Hever CE Primary school, 60 pupils, leaving in 1965 having "passed" the 11-plus examination (when I was 10). This led to my entry into The Skinners' School (don't forget the apostrophe), a Grammar school for boys in Tunbridge Wells; 'Twigs', the Tunbridge Wells County Girls' School (apostrophe remembered) was just over the road. I never did find the tunnel under the road, being less interested than some, I suppose. During this time I had what is known as "an evangelical conversion", though I called it "becoming a Christian". This awakening of faith had a huge effect for good in my life, though it did nothing to reduce the narrow-mindedness ingested at home, and little to draw me out of my shell in more public situations. Teens were difficult, leading to confusion and uncertainty after two moderate A level passes. I went to an evening Bible College in London and worked for British Rail - Sealink at Victoria station. IRA bomb scares in London were frequent. Later I worked as a full time volunteer in St Mark's Church, Kennington, then ended up in the ubiquitous "P&D" - painting and decorating - from where I branched out into other skills in house renovation, doubtless assisted by what I had picked up from Dad's efforts at home. In 1978 I joined what became Roehampton University, taking a combined degree in Education and Environmental Studies (ES) with the aim of teaching. Teaching Practice (TeePee) in Inner London schools eventually persuaded me that I should give up on that idea so I dropped Education and took up Sociology, finally graduating in 1982 and celebrating with a trip to the Soviet Union – my first time to fly, at the age of 28. In 1982 it was hard enough to get any job, let alone one using my interests and qualifications in ES. I did apply for some jobs in housing management to no avail. Needed money and unwilling to go on the dole, so back to the housing renovation. I believe I imbibed my interest in the less fortunate from my mother, who was a keen supporter of the Mothers' Union work overseas, and collected money from friends and neighbours for Oxfam. I got the call to work in Africa and left in January 1984 for the Anglican Diocese of Karamoja in the wild north-east of Uganda. Administratively, I was a volunteer for a missionary society who asked me if I could supervise and organise the construction of small single storey buildings - houses, offices, clinics, etc. I was reasonably confident I could, so I did. The bishop at the time was an ex-architect so that helped. Aside from that, knowing what you don't know, and knowing where to look were the keys, as well as trying to acquire the necessary management and people skills. Mother died February 1986 at the age of 76. I left Uganda end of same year, did a year's Missionary & Cross-cultural study, and went back to the same job in Uganda in September 1988. Stayed for 3 more years, informally adopted a son, got engaged to be married. 1992, went to Kampala (Uganda's capital) to take up one of two jobs I thought had been offered. Both fell through: there followed the (mostly) dark years, the long night of the soul, which included a marriage begun and ended, the (happy) birth of a daughter, a finding of myself, and, slowly and painfully, the loss of my evangelical faith and acceptance of a different orientation. A new dawn of understanding has contributed to the ongoing process of re-building myself. Meanwhile I dossed around, the odd contract in building- or development-related work, a year and a half as the maintenance officer of the international school. In 1997 I set up a small company – renovation and installation. It helped us survive and eventually covered the cost of a pair of semi-detached houses as settlement for my wife. In 2005 I came back to UK with ten-year-old daughter and have settled in Bangor, on the beautiful north Wales coast, facing Snowdonia. And back to housing renovation for a while, becoming increasingly difficult for my back. In early 2009 I began studying and easing myself into copy-editing and proof-reading. The process continues. Now attending Society of Friends (Quakers), whose meeting for worship is based on silence, with contributions as the Spirit leads. Involved in activism for peace and justice, particularly anti-nuclear; environment too – it occurs to me that I imbibed some of this from my father, a member of the Soil Association from the 1960s, and against inappropriate chemical use. I imbibed his anger too, reduced and hopefully better channelled now.
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