Why? At the end of the day at least fourteen people are dead. It may seem, at least to the rest of us, that they have given their lives in vain. Their deaths may be referred to as unfortunate by the world and then quickly forgotten. But for those they leave behind, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and all manner of loved ones, the pain has only just begun. We should all feel it; we should all share the blame for their deaths, we should all learn from the mistakes that have been made.
On the face of it, it seems the riots were simply about a power hungry kingdom and an increasingly authoritarian government. The government and many others would have us believe that the Mengo based kingdom is to blame for the mess. I say look harder at the facts.
First and foremost, the decision to restore monarchies in Uganda was taken against many calls to do otherwise, the law governing these cultural institutions is supposed to ensure that they do not engage in partisan politics. Yet here we are today and these very Kingdoms threaten to bring us down. Why is it that they have come to have so much political power? How did they get to this point? What plans did our leaders put in place for such an eventuality? Did they see it coming? The truth is that the very people who said that these kingdoms should not have political power are the ones who went ahead and gave it to them. Political power is simply having influence over the people’s vote and because it was nothing more than a political move to restore these institutions, they in essence inherited this power. Further courting of these institutions by politicians has ensured that this power grow to what it is today. The situation simply brings one thing to light, that our leaders have been myopic and selfish. In pursuit of short term goals, perhaps driven by greed, they have made decisions that have impacted the country negatively. They have displayed a lack of foresight, the kind of which we expect from those that lead us.
Second, the idea that those engaging in the riots were simply opportunistic hooligans who wanted to pillage is nothing short of naiveté. Any self respecting citizen who is engaged in profitable economic activity does not simply take to the streets for anything less than the defence of human rights. The fact that the bulk of today’s youth can be considered hooligans is evidence of the failure of our government to create a thriving civilized society. It is common knowledge that things out there on the streets are tough, that some in places of power and influence are corrupt, that government has done a lot more to divide us than otherwise. Contrary to what you, the elite, may think, there is a lot of anger out there. Many people feel that the government does not work for them; they feel that it’s simply not enough to be honest and hardworking. The idea that one must know someone in a position of influence to get ahead is prevalent in our society. We have developed a thieving culture and perhaps before we point to the young man on the street and call him an opportunistic thug, we should look first at ourselves. It is not hard to see why any message of a different future would appeal to the youth and perhaps that is where these kingdoms get their political power, they appeal to the people and offer a different future. The government is aware of this and that is why something as simple as a king addressing his subjects gives them sleepless nights, they realise that it threatens to erode support for the ruling party. If the government was doing right by these young men and women, there would be no need for something as simple as “Buganda Youth Day Celebrations” to incite the kind of violence that unfolded in Kampala and around the country.
Third, the lack of respect for the rule of law is prevalent in our country. This is because the institutions set up to create, apply and enforce the law have been compromised. Our faith in them has been undermined by those without integrity and we have come to believe that recourse to the law and those sworn to uphold it, is at best futile. We all know that among our leaders are those who have engaged in activities contrary to the law of the land and still they walk free among us, unapologetic, unashamed and unrepentant. It is not hard to imagine what kind of message this sends to the average Ugandan. This disregard for the rule of law has been translated down to the very last of us. Some have resorted to apathy and hopelessness; others who cannot bear to be indifferent have resorted to violence and the very lawlessness that they seek to fight. It is simply wrong and we must find a way of addressing these issues in a civilized manner.
In the midst of the rioting I engaged the police officers in conversation and from that I gleaned the simple fact that they are inadequately trained for the job. I have no doubt that the government is doing something about this but I think it could do better. One police officer remarked that he was willing to shoot anyone who attempted to throw bricks at him while another however, had resisted taking such a course of action despite his life being threatened by the angry rioters. If you had seen the size of the bricks being thrown you would understand the former’s sentiments and applaud the latter’s conduct. These situations sometimes get really ugly and the policemen and women find themselves fighting for their lives, all because people have lost respect for law and order. This phenomenon is evident in our daily lives, in any traffic jam there are always those who feel their business is more important than others’ and proceed to make other people’s lives harder. There is a belief among us that once you know someone in high places, you can flout the law to your heart’s content. A good number of us have gotten into arguments that have ended with one party asking “DO YOU KNOW WHO I KNOW?” and proceeding to make various phone calls to so called security operatives. We need to empower our policemen and women so that they can serve and protect us. We need to first and foremost give them the kind of respect we desire from them.
Fourth, there is a lack of inspirational leadership. I have been looking around, for someone in my generation who aspires to lead the nation and I am yet to find one of you. Our leaders have failed miserably to inspire us, you will find when you talk to the youth of the nation that we have gone out there to borrow the heroes of other lands. We seek inspiration from without because our very own fail us. Most people, both young and old, feel that there is no viable alternative to President Museveni. Why? How is it that in twenty six years the entire nation has failed to produce just one person that we can rally behind? The opposition would have you believe that they can do a better job but looking at their leadership, the divisions within, we are left with a lot of doubt. Perhaps that is why many of us resort to the old adage “better the devil you know...” I have always had a lot of respect for President Museveni, but I am beginning to think that my faith is misplaced. A simple glance at an article in the Weekly Observer titled “Why President Museveni will give Mengo Federo” reveals that his principles are always shifting to suit his needs. His recognition of the Obusinga cultural institution is a departure from whatever he believed when he stated that he would not be blackmailed by the people of Kasese into making unprincipled decisions. Now he makes these decisions and we are left to wonder whether he simply plays political games or has become wiser and learnt something he did not know before, something so important that he has had to change his principles. It is only natural for a human being to acquire new knowledge and change old beliefs based on this knowledge, but we must ask ourselves whether we require anything less of our leaders than steadfastness in their, and by proxy, our principles. The idea that what transpired the last couple of days was simply the result of political games is as scary as it is appalling. Our leaders should not play with our lives in such a manner.
Fifth, it would seem that the government has failed to appropriately plan for such situations. The government would have us believe that there are evil masterminds behind any sort of demonstration and have in light of that enacted laws that bear the hallmarks of authoritarian regimes. In the event of a riot, there should be a system for disseminating information from the government that lets the people know what is happening. The police could even simply set up an SMS service that is recognised and trusted by all. This would ensure that everyone knows that the government is doing all it can to minimise the loss of innocent lives. We should embrace the technology available to us. You have to wonder why someone in that place called “above” whence come orders to arrest certain people has not yet thought of this. Surely there are brighter minds than mine being applied to these matters! At least, I hope so. The people reserve the right to assemble and associate freely, some of us have abused this right by engaging in acts of violence that lend credence to the government’s decision to infringe upon these rights. We need to work hand in hand with the government to make sure we have an appropriate strategy for these situations.
Finally, our greatest enemy is apathy. There is a lot of it out there and it saddens me. When the riots were underway, I took a breather from my duties as a citizen journalist and had a chat with my friends. I could not believe how unconcerned they all were. It seemed as if the chaos did not have anything to do with them. I told them that this violence represented far bigger concerns that just Mengo and the government. I told them that there is a lot of bitterness out there and any self respecting citizen should pay attention. There were reports that some people were being targeted because they had “long noses” which meant that they hailed from lands other than Buganda. The tribal and religious divisions among us threaten to lead to chaotic times not dissimilar to those of ages past and there is no doubt that the government has enacted policies that have greatly exacerbated this problem. It has become clear that fragmentation of the country has served little else than prop up the ruling party and benefit the well connected while the ordinary Ugandan slips further into poverty and desperation. We must all wake up to reality; we can no longer afford to be indifferent. Even those of you who have no desire to engage in partisan politics should realise that it is up to us the people to fix our nation. Our leaders can only do so much if each one of us does not give to the other the very rights we reserve for ourselves. People have died, let their lives not go unnoticed; let us learn from these things. Let us remember the dead.
U2 – Walk On