Yesterday Uganda nearly erupted. The tinder box was nearly lit. It was not a Kenya style post elections 2008 explosion, yet, where ‘hunting’ for the ‘wrong tribe’ was afoot but I was there, I was in the middle of yesterday’s eruption, trapped along Entebbe road, and I can say we are headed there. I’m a survivor of yesterday’s violence that convulsed parts of Kampala from downtown Kisekka Market (the famous second hand automobile car repair market), spread rapidly through to Nakulabye, Kasubi, Mengo-then a tossed Molotov cocktail soon we were learning Kireka, Ntinda, Nsambya were all now inaccessible-you only went there if you had to go there, that Friday 29 April 2011 morning.
This kind of craziness, barricades of tree branches, old car tyres, anything movable mounted in the middle of roads, had not really come to Entebbe before throughout the 3 weeks so far of the walk to work demonstrations. Kajjansi had witnessed some violence in week 2 of the demonstrations, but it had been more because the security apparatus overreacted than Kajjansi residents actively going out to demonstrate and then engage in stone throwing, burning tyres, and eventually robbery and looting of all that was not securely locked down.
This Friday 29 April 2011, it came to Entebbe. It did not reach Kajjansi or the centre of Entebbe, where the ‘official’ Uganda State House is located and where President Museveni usually sits when he is not at his country home of Rwakitura. But I have little doubt that if there is another demonstration that turns violent, it is going to try and reach ‘that’ Entebbe and that is when we will see live bullet shooting into the surging scattered crowds that will leave possibly in the hundreds dead.
For this Friday 29 April 2011 though, Entebbe was cut off from Kampala by the demonstrations cutting the snaking highway from Zzana and Namasuba-then Ndeeba (another famous local artisan market).
But why am I calling them demonstrations? What I saw could not have been described as demonstrations. That would be a lying definition. Can I call it a riot? A protest? The ‘explanation’ this Friday eruption is that it was a protest against the way former Presidential candidate and Forum for Democratic Change leader retired Colonel Dr. Kizza Besigye was brutally arrested on Thursday, 28th April, when after an incarceration over the Easter break at Nakasongola Prison, he was stubbornly once again trying to lead the twice weekly walk to work demonstrations he and other opposition figures have tried to lead to protest the rising costs of living brought about the high fuel prices.
It was not a ‘demonstration’ I was caught in at Zzana though. We need a new word to describe the pent up fury of flying rocks I saw heaved by faces contorted in a crying rage that went beyond bleeding hearts for what another Ugandan had been put through by security forces. It was more than a protest, it was more a demonstration, it was terribly much more and I came face to face with it. I looked it in the face and was shocked to discover it was no subterranean HG Wells fantasy beast, sat up in the front seat of the taxi I was in, next to the gap toothed grinning driver, and saw it was no Bethlehem slouch when it came to taking its vengeance as that youth, running like a streaker into the road we were on, held out his hand like Traffic policeman for us to stop-and then when we were about to, realised almost too late, in his right hand he had a huge rock and he was going to heave at the windscreen of the taxi we were in-12 human beings of us, 12 Ugandans who this morning had little idea our eyes might not live to see the evening sun-in streaking to the middle of the road, he had been trying to get a better ‘shooting’ angle...
...and then he heaved that rock at us!...
With all his might, like a javelin thrower.
And it hit us!
That is when the walk to walk protests became ‘real’ for me.
That is when I knew I could no longer be a spectator. That is when I knew I had to pick a side. That is when I knew I had to stop simply hoping for good times to come back somehow without my participation, or minimal participation.
That rock shattered my glassed in complacency.
I have the bruises and the scratches, from that shower of splintering glass. The driver was much worse off. He had to get stitches on his forehead, his left eye swelled will have to be closed up for a while-a pirate who took back his life-and he will probably lose his job because while his ‘boss’ had repeatedly ordered him to park the taxi, as news of the violence in the streets spread, he had not, determined to get his passengers to safety first-laughingly confident he could.
The adrenalin thrill of the ‘riots’ was gone for us, as he weaved and struggled to bring the taxi to a halt by the side of the road, youths baying and yelling, “Amafuta mugajawa? For you how can you afford the fuel?” We knew they were not good Samaritans. We all know what happens when an accident occurs in Uganda, and ‘helpers’ swamp around the wreckage, soon predators.
The ‘riots’, ‘demonstrations’, ‘protests’ (call it what you will, I demand a new definition) of Friday 29 April 2011 had just begun and we were right in the middle of them.