Monday, June 29, 2015

Walk to Work - Day 2

Our fears that the Walk to Work campaign might not get the publicity we wanted due to campaign fatigue turned out to be completely misplaced. The Uganda Police Force and the military provided the perfect backdrops and drama that makes for excellent national and international news and the Inspector General of Police became our main spokesperson. All we had to do really was to get up in the morning and wear our walking shoes and we were guaranteed the next day’s headlines in the region and quite a number of mentions on international news networks. Correspondents from the BBC, Reuters, Bloomberg and other popular news stations sought me. All I had to do was simply wake up, stretch and reach for my sneakers. A communicator’s dream.
The second day of walk to work campaign was 14 April 2011 and this time the police was better prepared for us. I had resisted arrest on Monday because there were no female constables on duty and would not allow to be touched by the men. On Thursday we saw the women lined up at the same spot we had been stopped the first day as we approached Jinja Road Police Station. On that day I had walked with Maj. John Kazoora and Hon. Wadri Kassiano and instead of walking into the waiting ambush we detoured into the New Vision and Bukedde offices where we talked to journalists about being hounded off the streets by police now in full riot gear. The heavy police and military deployment was very visible in Kampala that morning and while we were still at the Vision Offices we received calls from supporters that the forces were concentrated in Kasangati on Gayaza Road where Kizza Besigye had been stopped from walking and a crowd was gathering. We left the newsroom and headed to Gayaza Road and as we got closer it looked like as though we were approaching a battle scene. Demonstrators had barricaded the roads as we got closer to Kasangati and in some places we had to detour off the tarmac to keep heading to our destination.
On the first day of the demonstrations television journalists had aired the drama as Kizza Besigye attempted to walk to work. He had been stopped and when he refused to obey police orders to turn back he was manhandled, thrown in the back of a pick-up truck and held for a while at a police station before being charged in a court of law and released. On 14 April 2014, police came out in full riot mode to stop a man whose only weapon was his two feet. The police obviously had orders to ensure that KB never reaches the city center on foot and they were prepared to do anything and everything to stop him. The manner in which he had been publicly manhandled on Day one had simply given him the publicity needed to draw crowds around him as he made his second attempt on Day two.
When we finally made our way to Kasangati town the scene was simply chaotic. We found Kizza Besigye holed up in a trench by the roadside with supporters surrounding him so that the police would not reach him to arrest him again. I squeezed my way through the crowd and slid down in the trench besides him and his aides to ask if there was anything they needed. KB had been transformed by the surroundings and his appearance was nothing like the stately figure he cut as a presidential candidate. He was now a street warrior, covered in mud and fitting in well with the street vendors that had formed a human shield around him. The air was still foggy from the tear gas that the police had used to stop the walkers in their tracks. We had been prepared for this and had little surgeon’s masks to cover our mouth and nose and carried water to wash our eyes and reduce the sting of the tear gas and pepper spray. The trench that Kizza Besigye had chosen to dig in, refusing to retreat back to his home; was outside a health center and Red Cross workers could be seen helping evacuate patients into ambulances which rushed them to Mulago Hospital as they too had been affected by the tear gas meant for the activists. Kizza Besigye told me he needed nothing and I climbed out of the trench and headed back to Kampala to do my media and publicity bit.
Later the activists and the crowd decided to try another attempt to walk towards Kampala and all hell broke loose. John Njoroge of the Monitor chronicled the day’s events on Gayaza Road:
10:43 EAT: A group of men dressed in the uniform of Uganda Prisons arrive at the chaotic scene in Kasangati, says our reporter John Njoroge. It is unclear if they are prison warders since they ordinarily do not take part in crowd control or arresting suspects, unless there are fleeing prisoners.
10:53 EAT: Vigilantes barricade access to Kasangati police station. Chaos and heavy shooting still ongoing as more supporters join to block Dr. Besigye’s arrest by police.
12:15 EAT: Besigye pulls out of trench, starts walking afresh: Retired UPDF Colonel and former personal physician to President Museveni is out of the trench and trekking with many supporters accompanying him, reports John Njoroge. The former Inter-Party Cooperation presidential flag bearer first sat under a tree at Kasangati health centre, before embarking on a second phase of the walk he began from his home at 6:30am on Thursday. More details follow shortly
12:20 EAT: Columns of heavily armed soldiers deploy in Kalerwe as situation gets out of hand with crowds joining walk to work protests
12:38 EAT: Dr. Besigye has been shot in the right hand after soldiers, who have taken over from police, opened fire. People pleading that they stop shooting
1242 EAT: Opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye has been taken to Kampala hospital in Kololo
And the BBC report of that day:
‘Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye has been injured after the military opened fire to disperse protesters in the capital, Kampala.
He told the BBC he was not sure if it was a rubber bullet or live ammunition that hit his hand. More than six other opposition politicians were arrested in the walk-to-work protest against high prices. There were then angry demonstrations in several towns where the police used tear gas and fired into the air…for the second time this week, the opposition asked people to walk to work to protest against rising fuel and food prices. Police had tried to arrest Dr. Besigye but hundreds of his supporters surrounded him.
The army then stepped in, charging the crowd and during the effort to arrest him he was shot in the hand.
"I really don't know what hit me. I have a fracture on one of the fingers and a wound," Dr. Besigye told the BBC at the hospital afterwards.
Opposition supporters tried to set up barricades and the police also sealed off many roads in Kampala. The recently elected mayor of Kampala, Erias Lukwago, was among the opposition leaders arrested. Human rights groups have condemned the response to the protests. The Uganda Law Society said the country was being turned into a police state.
The BBC's East Africa correspondent Will Ross says the opposition started the walk-to-work campaigns on Monday, aware that any attempt to demonstrate in one place would be swiftly broken up by police. Those who participated were small in number. But our reporter says Mr. Museveni's government was clearly very worried about the possibility of demonstrations spreading and so opposition politicians, including Dr. Besigye, were arrested.
They were charged with inciting violence and later released.
As well as the high price of basic commodities, the opposition is also angry at government spending.
Reports emerged recently that several fighter jets were being bought from Russia for around $750m (£459m).
Parliament was also asked to approve a budget of more than $1.5m to fund President Museveni's swearing-in ceremony following his recent election victory.
At 50 I know that even out most optimistic forecast was upstaged by the state’s response to our small but determined group and from then on we spent more time reacting to events rather than planning our next move.

feeling shocked

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