Day three of Walk to Work, 18 April 2011, I walked with a group of women including a senior politician and Member of Parliament Hon. Cecilia Ogwal. My group also included opposition activists Sarah Eperu and Margaret Wokuri. We met at the mall next to Lugogo Show grounds on Jinja Road and proceeded to the spot where we knew the usual suspects would be waiting to stop us from proceeding. I had been lucky the last two walking days and I just knew that my luck was about to run out. So that morning while dropping my daughters at school I told them if I did not pick them up by 6:00pm thenI would most likely have been arrested and they were to walk to my friend Olive Kobusingye’s house, which was close by and stay with her until I returned.
We approached the line of women police constables who by now had their act together and they told us to stop and accompany them to the police station. When we resisted they grabbed me by the arms and half lifted, half dragged me across the highway to the police station with Sarah, Margaret and Cecilia Ogwal in tow.
Other Inter Party Cooperation leaders had mobilized their activists to walk that day and police even more determined to demonstrate to the public that walking by opposition leaders and activists would not be tolerated. Even before we had started walking we heard that the President of the Democratic Party, Nobert Mao, and his colleagues Kenneth Paul Kakande, John Mary Sebuwufu, Kamya Kasozi, Moses Biriwa, Kintu David and Tadewo Kalule had been intercepted and arrested. They were charged with assault and inciting violence at City Hall Court where they declined the option of bail and were remanded to Luzira Prison until 2 May. The President of the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC;) Olara Otunnu approached Jinja Road Police Station walking from Nakawa with another group of activists as did Hon. Ibrahim Semujju Nganda, Hon. Jack Wamai and Hon. Nathan Nandala Mafabi. As soon as they reached the spot across the road from the Police Station they were all apprehended and brought into the Police Station.
I had never seen a merrier group of detainees as opposition leaders and activists arrived to hoots of laughter and backslapping. Within no time a group of lawyers including the Lord Mayor who seemed to have escaped arrest that day, Hon. Medard Segona, Hon. Abdu Katuntu and others I cannot recall, had arrived to negotiate our release. Our visitors included senior politicians like Amanya Mushega and Beti Kamya. One could be forgiven for thinking there was a top-level political meeting at the police station. None of us were taken to the squalid cells and curiously, away from the glare of TV cameras the police were really polite, offering their seats to us while they stood around trying to figure what to do with us. When we were not laughing and arguing about whether or not to make statements, we were on the phone talking to journalists or relatives to alert them of what was happening inside the police station.
I knew that my elderly parents would be shocked if they received the news of my arrest over the radio and so I called my father. He sounded very upset and told me a Runyankore proverb about a small animal that disrespectfully digs a hole in the King’s front yard. The animal gets crashed. I knew his blood pressure would be rising very fast so I mobilized some church elders in Mbarara to go and explain to him that we were not engaged in any illegal activity and were wrongfully arrested. They must have done a good job because when I called back after a few hours he had watched the news on TV and seen me in the company of eminent politicians and now he sounded proud of what we were doing.
Back at the station we failed to agree on whether to write statements about our arrest or refuse in defiance but I went along with the compliant group and narrated a long story of my illegal arrest and then signed it. I really wanted this arrest on the public record so that future law students, policemen and women could one day read it and shake their heads in wonder and amazement. As evening approached I wondered if we were about to spend a night in jail but then a bus arrived to ferry our large group to Nakawa courts where we were locked up in the holding cells to wait for a Magistrate to read us the charges proffered against us. Chris Opoka suddenly burst into a rendition of the famous protest song that became a key anthem of the US civil rights movement: ‘We Shall Overcome,’ and the court holding cell came alive with song and cheer.
Shortly thereafter we were whisked into the courtroom and the magistrate read to us the charges: Incitement to violence, disobeying police orders and holding unlawful society. The charge sheet included: Olara Otunnu, Cecilia Ogwal, Jack Womayi Wamanga, Nathan Nandala Mafabi, Ibrahim Semujju Nganda ,Anne Mugisha, Sospater Akwenyu, Sarah Eperu, Richard Nvanungi, Ezra Kyalo, Chris Opoka, Robert Mayanja, George Ogwang, Margaret Otim, Eric Sakwa, Gerald Akwedi, Margaret Wokuri and Archibald Agaba. We had supposedly incited some youth to burn tyres in the middle of the road between Kireka trading Centre and Hot Loaf Bakery on Jinja Road; threw stones at police officers, threatened to injure other persons because of their race, origin or political affiliations and disobeyed lawful orders given by police. All this was rather surprising considering that all I had been holding was a bottle of drinking water to sip while I walked peacefully! We denied the charges and were granted bail with a trial date set for 12 May 2011.
The New Vision reported that police had arrested over 100 people in Kampala on that day.
At 6:00pm my daughters told the school gatekeeper that their mother had probably been arrested and they were allowed to walk the short distance to Olive’s home. I found them there late in the evening after we were granted bailed and was completely surprised by my eleven year old daughter’s welcome. Hannah came running to me and asked: ‘Were you arrested?’ ‘Yes,’ said I. Her response? ‘Oh good, because I was starting to think you were a woosie (coward) because all your friends are getting arrested but you keep getting away!’ I shook my head and wondered what kind of kids I was raising and how twisted their minds would be by the time all this was over. I thanked Olive for babysitting and I went home with the kids to prepare for Day 4 of Walk to Work.
At 50 I know that the unexpected result of repression of ordinary citizens is that after enduring the degradation and abuse of their rights they get to a point of immunity where anything the state does to dehumanize them only fortifies their resistance.
— feeling strong.