Friday, July 3, 2015

Kizza Besigye's Brutal Arrest

I woke up bright and early on Thursday 28 April 2011 but did not reach for my walking shoes because I was driving to Kasangati on Gayaza Road to deliver a message to Kizza Besigye from Olara Otunnu relating to organization of popular dissent during the walk-to-work protests. The day before, Kizza Besigye had walked from prison to Nakasongola court handcuffed to his co-accused and was granted bail on condition that he keeps the peace for seven months failing which they will be bound to pay Shs50 million to the state. Crowds came out to welcome Dr. Besigye from prison and the journey that had taken Olara Otunnu and I two hours on Monday lasted five hours as Kizza Besigye’s convoy tried to make its way to Kampala. The military set up roadblocks to check vehicles entering the city causing further delays. Tabu Butagira reported for the Monitor:
UPDATE 3:10 PM: Dr. Besigye has been granted bail.
UPDATE 5:20 PM: Crowds of frenzied supporters pour onto Kampala-Gulu highway to welcome Dr. Besigye from prison.
UPDATE 6:07 PM: Military police, riot police and regular troops have deployed in large numbers at the Northern Bypass.
UPDATE 6: 35 PM: Security personnel dressed in police uniforms have set up a roadblock at Matugga, between Bombo and Wobulenzi town, checking each and every car driving towards Kampala.
UPDATE 6:54 PM: Dr. Kizza Besigye’s convoy stretching back more than two football fields in length is passing through Kawempe-Kagoma-Kawanda.
UPDATE 7:40 PM: Dr. Besigye’s convoy has arrived in Kawempe without incident. It is almost five hours since he was set free on conditional bail.
UPDATE 8:09 PM: Dr. Besigye first escaped from the crowds in Kawempe, and then in Bwaise in an attempt to get home. Dr. Besigye is looking very exhausted but the crowds will simply not let him be.
UPDATE 8:45 PM: A very tired Dr. Besigye finally stepped out of his car and briefly addressed a huge crowd that had gathered outside his home in Kasangati…Composed and sounding unshaken by the six days of imprisonment, the FDC leader stood before the people who had deserted Kasangati town to come and receive him. This is what he told them: “ Tomorrow is a working day and we shall walk to work.”
So the reason I was driving out of my gate at Bugolobi at 5:30am in the morning was to try and catch Besigye to deliver a message before he was sent back to jail. I knew if KB said he was walking in spite of the conditions of his bail, he would be heading out early. I found him in his living room with his aides getting ready to leave, he struggled to put on his shoes with his right hand still in a cast from the injury where he was shot on Day two of the protest. One look at his face told me that perhaps this was not the right time for the conversation I had in mind but I had woken up early and arrived in time so I sat with him at the breakfast table and tried to get his attention. He cut me short before I started my second sentence calling for his aides to get up and move. Besigye is a listener. He allows everyone to talk before he gives an opinion but that morning his face looked like thunder, none of his studied patience, none of his usual jokes and chitchat today. The man was on a mission and seemed to know what was waiting once he stepped outside his gate. I knew it was wise to shut up and I did just that. I watched as he pulled together his walking gear and headed for the door and then I followed.
The plan was to drive past the riot-police - who had become a permanent fixture at his farm- drive on the short stretch to Kasangati town; and keep moving till we approached Kampala City. I jumped into my car with his late cousin Peggy and drove behind KB’s vehicle in a convoy of four to five cars. We negotiated our way past the police but they now followed him everywhere and we joked about him being the most protected man in Uganda after the president. When we reached Kalerwe he stopped to talk to the street vendors and the convoy was surrounded by police and civilian crowds excited by his presence. He got back in the car and stood through the open sunroof waving to the crowds. A man stopped the convoy to give KB a 5000/= note which he accepted, all smiles now that he was in his element with supporters. My eyes were on the policemen and I was not at ease in the crowd, Peggy said I was a coward.
As we approached the roundabout in Kawempe with roads leading to Mulago Hospital and Makerere University our crowd was swelling and we were now joined by chanting students from the University. The police was ready and they fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd. The tension was building but we remained in our cars as policemen approached and directed us to take the route via Mulago Hospital leading into Kitante Road. We held our ground saying we wanted to drive through Wandegeya but the police would not let us. We stayed there long enough for a number of us to cross the road and visit the restrooms at the petrol station. When we returned to the convoy, KB had agreed to drive via the Mulago route so I jumped back behind the wheel and we snaked our way up the road. The crowd that had dispersed returned. I watched from my car as police constables beat men with thick batons. They would fall to the ground and then get up and rejoin the crowd walking alongside the convoy.
At Mulago roundabout the road was blocked by riot police under the command of Grace Turyagumanawe. He stopped KB’s vehicle and directed him to follow Kitante Road. KB refused. I remember a conversation with us saying we wanted to visit a bank in Wandegeya. The morning traffic was building up with commuters heading to work. The size of the crowd around the vehicle, chanting loudly seemed to grow by the minute. I looked around and wondered where all these people had come from. I seem to remember Harold Kaija seated in my car and thinking I had seen him in KBs car earlier, then I noticed Peggy who had called me a coward minutes ago melting in the crowd and disappearing. I had not even noticed her leaving the car. The air was thick with tear gas and we kept our windows closed. KB was arguing with the police while civilians kept walking up to him to hand him bank notes of 1,000/=, 5,000/=, 10,000/=.
Grace Turyagumanawe became exasperated with KB and walked over to my car. He spoke to me in Runyankore, pleading with me to tell KB to follow police orders or there would be trouble because there was no way we were going through Wandegeya town. I told him if the man wanted to go to his bank in Wandegeya he had every right to use the road leading to his bank. Grace shook his head and went back to talking on his cell phone. My experienced eye had learnt to pick out plain-clothes security personnel and there were three that the guys in my car were now pointing out. I discreetly took their pictures with my Blackberry. One of them was wearing a beige colored hoodie.
In front of us more plain-clothes security men had surrounded KB’s car. He had sat back down in the back seat and closed the windows and sunroof, refusing to move and so they attacked him. The crowds were chased away again with bullets and tear gas and the security personnel went about trying to get KB out of the car. When he would not budge the man with the hoodie moved like lightning from the right side of my car and in an instant I saw him using a sledgehammer to break the window on the left hand side of vehicle directly next to where KB was seated. Meantime the man I later learnt was Gilbert Arinaitwe pulled out his pistol and me fearing the worst now started screaming, sure he was going to pull the trigger and kill KB right there as I watched. Instead he turned it round and used the butt to break the backseat window on the right hand side of the car. Then I understood what they were doing when their colleagues pulled out canisters of tear gas and pepper spray and started spraying into the car. All the five doors of the Land cruiser flew open the occupants of the car scurried out like rats fleeing a burning house; directly into the waiting brutality of the security operatives. I watched as they brought down their batons with furious force, as though they were killing snakes. They kicked them with their shoes and pounded them with batons. Jethro was bleeding from the head, Fred, the driver was being kicked on the ground, I thought he could never get up. Kizza Besigye was dragged out of the car last and he seemed to disappear in a fog of tear gas. Francis Mwijukye was being kicked around while he tried to wipe his eyes.
My mind was numb with fear and everything was hazy. I did not even see where they had taken them. I was sitting there screaming when a security man entered KB’s vehicle and moved it away. I was now the one in the middle of a roundabout blocking traffic and my mind was frozen. The guys in the car kept telling me not to panic, to just drive away, the police was approaching when I finally remembered where I was. I started the vehicle and drove towards Kitante Road trying to look for the car that had Kizza Besigye but saw nothing. I was in shock and someone was directing me to drive to the nearest police station to start the search for KB. I complied.
At 50 I have “…learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear" - Nelson Mandela
 feeling scared

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