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Uganda: Nine Dead in Kampala Riots

Riots in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, have led to the deaths of at least nine people (BBC) as members of the Baganda ethnic group clashed with police and military forces on Thursday and Friday.

The riots are an escalation of an ongoing feud between the central Ugandan government and the King (or “Kabaka”) of the Baganda tribe, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II. The Baganda people belong to the Kingdom of Buganda,* and they are the largest Ugandan ethnic group.

Last week, Mutebi announced that he was planning an official visit to Kayunga, a district about 45km (28 miles) northeast of Kampala. The district is part of the Kingdom of Buganda, but it is also home to many members of the Banyala ethnic group, many of whom would prefer to establish their own independent kingdom.

Banyala leaders announced they would protest the visit and warned Mutebi not to come. The central government responded by warning Mutebi to stay out of the district and arresting several Baganda people in the area who were erecting exhibition stalls and tents in preparation for his arrival.

Kampala on fire.  Photo courtesy of Rhino via Solomon King.

Kampala on fire. Photo courtesy of Rhino via Solomon King.

The news of the arrests angered many members of the Baganda tribe. In Kampala on Wednesday, Flourescent wrote:

I was seated in a taxi this morning when CBS broadcast its morning news. Of course the Kayunga thing was among the top stories. There was a man in front of me who was so infuriated and this is what he said: “Ye lwaki bajooga Kabaka waffe bwebatyo? …hmmm? …Tebamanyi nagwebazannya naye. Tujakubookya! Nze singa naliyo eyo ekayunga tewali munyala yandivuddewo mulamu!” (Why are they undermining our Kabaka? …They don’t even know who they are playing with …We will BURN them! Me if I had been in Kayunga no Munyala [Note: a Munyala is a member of the Banyala tribe] would have been left alive!”)

Despite rising tensions, Mutebi continued preparations to visit Kayunga, sending his premier to the district on Thursday to make the necessary arrangements. However, the government blocked the premier from entering the district, citing security concerns. In Kampala, people who supported the visit protested the government's actions. Police retaliated, and the situation quickly escalated into full-fledged rioting.

Fresh Apples witnessed the riots, which took place throughout the day on Thursday. He reports:

Police are firing live AK rounds & tear gas at demonstrators who set ablaze a Police station in the Old [taxi] park.

I can hear the numerous gun shots. Taxis are being diverted back to city suburbs. The police is even hitting vehicles trying to pass through the city. Breaking windows.

GayUganda, who also lives in Kampala, describes the riots:

A real, bonafide people’s revolt.

Fire in the streets. Empty streets. The main roads are closed. And chaos reigns supreme. And the anthem of the uprising, the Buganda anthem. God, how many people knew it before now?

Ugandans in the capital were also using Twitter and Facebook to report what was happening:

@solomonking (20 hours ago): “Standing near our taxi stage, it's 8pm and people are crossing over with their hands up. Fire in the middle of the road.”

@solomonking (20 hours ago): “Okay. We're like running for our lives.”

Other Ugandans (with privacy-protected Twitter accounts) reported “Kampala on fire” and “trapped in the middle of a city that's on fire… police is shooting tear gas and live rounds! God save us!”

@appfrica (4 hours ago): “Going out and buying [cell phone] airtime to transfer to people who can't leave their homes. #kampala #ugandawitness”

Araalingua, an American living in Kampala, collected a number of Facebook status updates from friends in the city:

  • Riots in Kampala?!! Police stations burned and people dead in the streets… What do the Baganda want to achieve-they're own sovereign state???
  • is caught up in fighting that he has no role in. Bullets, roadblocks, bonfires, traffic n army soldiers everywhere. I miss home right now.
  • the sound of gunfire outside my window kinda bothers me… hope u guyz r safe.

Tumwi at Ugandan Insomniac wonders about the government's role in the riots:

The number of innocents who died during the fracas has broken my heart. The destruction was uncalled for. But was it preventable…of course. Surely President Yoweri Museveni and his government should have discovered, after 20-some years, that you cannot suppress dissent by force. It didn’t work for them in the 1980s and by jove, it won’t happen now.

*Note: In many of the languages spoken in Uganda, prefixes are used to distinguish people and places. For example, the King of the Baganda tribe rules over the Kingdom of Buganda. [Return to paragraph.]

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