Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Walk to Work - Day 4

On Day four of the walk-to-work protests, 21 April 2011, I did not walk because I woke up to a series of crises that kept me glued to the Internet seeking help for activists and innocent citizens who had become ‘collateral damage’ during the protests. In between walking days, I teamed up with Ingrid Turinawe, Maj. John Kazoora and other activists to visit activists who were in jail and hospital - to take them food, find them lawyers or buy them drugs and supplies to treat the injuries they incurred during the street battles that followed each attempt to arrest Kizza Besigye and other opposition leaders in Kampala. I looked at the emails that I sent out back then to refresh my mind of what an activist did on the days when they did not walk-to-work.
My first email on the morning of Day four was to a Human Rights Organization seeking help for a missing activist:
‘Dear Maria,
Activist Robert Mayanja who usually walks with me to work was taken from his home at around 3am by about 30 armed men. They told his wife that he would be at Jinja Road Police Station and would later be charged with treason. Abdu Katuntu a lawyer with FDC is trying to trace him and so far he has been unsuccessful. Can you help us in anyway? Robert is an opposition activist. He is unemployed.
Anne Mugisha’
The day before I had been to Mulago Hospital to visit Brenda, a pregnant woman who had been shot in the scuffle to arrest Kizza Besigye on Day two of walk-to-work. The newspapers published a very disturbing picture of the woman being lifted onto a police pick-up truck with half her intestines hanging out of a hole in her belly. I posted a message to the Africa Democracy Forum internet group where I had become a member during my days as a Reagan-Fascell Fellow.
‘Keep an eye on Uganda.
Look out for democracy activists in Uganda who are peacefully protesting escalated food and fuel prices in the face of police brutality. I met Brenda (see attached photo if you dare;) on Sunday at the national referral hospital in Mulago. She was an innocent bystander who got caught up in the violence that police meted out on peaceful protestors. The police shot her in the stomach. When she fell they hauled her onto a police truck (no ambulances for the poor in Uganda) and rushed her to Mulago. Her stomach was cut open to insert her intestines back where they were supposed to be. She was in terrible pain when we visited her in Ward 6A Mulago. She had been moved to a private ward by the Police following the negative publicity (resulting from the ghastly picture which was published in the papers.) Yet when we got there the nurse attending to her asked us for help. They were using regular gauze dressing on her stomach wound and it hurt terribly to remove it for cleaning. The nurse asked if we could get Vaseline gauze for Brenda and then said she was also out of antibiotics and plaster to hold the gauze! That is Mulago private ward for you - no basic supplies for dressing wounds! We purchased what she needed in Wandegeya and took it to her. Brenda was in so much pain, I felt terrible for crying in front of her. The baby in her womb survived the bullet, but figure this: the baby is growing and will be stretching her abdomen where she is wounded. It will be turning and kicking against that wound. Only a woman can (barely) imagine her nightmare.
Remember Uganda!
Anne Mugisha’
At Kasangati on Gayaza Road it was Dr. Kizza Besigye’s fourth attempt to participate in the walk-to-work campaign but this time he had left his home driving. His vehicle ‘ran out of fuel’ at Kubiiri near Mulago. He opened the door and resorted to walking for the rest of the journey. When supporters surrounded him and started walking with him towards town, police swung into action and a mini scuffle ensued as supporters tried to stop the police from arresting KB. Police fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd, loaded him into a police van and took him to Wandegeya police before heading to Nabweru court where he, Aaron Kaija, Jethro Nuwagaba and Francis Mwijukye were charged with holding unlawful assembly. This time he was denied bail and remanded to Nakasongola prison until April 27 2011. Democratic Party president Nobert Mao and six other party members, who had been remanded in Luzira Prison on Day three of the protests, were also transferred to Nakasongola Prison following threats by DP youth to storm Luzira Prison to demonstrate against the incarceration of their party leaders. I wrote an email to a rights group in London about the incident:
‘Activists for Change (A4C) is a pressure group formed post election to protest the high inflation rate which has made the cost of living very high. More people are walking because they cannot afford taxi fares; more families have only one meal a day because increase in fuel prices has led to increase in food prices. A4C called on middle class Ugandans to show solidarity with the common man by walking to work and asked political leaders to join the effort.
Kizza Besigye and other opposition political leaders answered the call. KB has been arrested three times as he attempted to walk-to-work. The first time he was charged with inciting violence and obstructing traffic. The second time he was arrested for causing riots. This time he has been charged with unlawful assembly and remanded to a jail half way across the country in Nakasongola. His bail hearing has been set for on Wed. 27th April after the Easter break.
The country is very tense. All violence is coming from the police as they try to stop opposition politicians from walking to work because they believe we may cause a ‘Tahrir Square’ or ‘Tunisia’ effect. So far at least half a dozen people have been killed in the battles sparked by police brutality against unarmed/peaceful walkers. Arresting KB has only raised the tension and we can expect more violence
Anne Mugisha’
Later that afternoon on Day four of the protest in Masaka Town, Julian Nalwanga, a two-and-a-half year old baby girl, was killed by a stray bullet as the Police battled boda boda cyclists and mechanics during the walk-to-work protests. I wrote to the Kenyan President about this:
Subject: Uganda - Human Rights
Date: Fri, 22 Apr 2011 16:18:03 -0400
'Mr. President,
As you think about attending the swearing-in ceremony of President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda next month, I ask you to consider the short life of Juliana and base the decision of your attendance on this as well as other factors:
Baby Juliana Nalwanga became the fifth victim to lose her life to reckless brutal police brutality during what should have been a peaceful walk-to-work protest over the rising cost of living in Uganda. She was killed by a policeman's stray bullet on April 21st, 2011. The grisly picture of the bleeding body of a baby fondly known as 'Gift' has been cruelly etched on our minds and conscience forever. It was difficult to look directly at Gift's little body, her head and chest shattered by a trigger happy policeman who probably returned to his own children at the end of his work day; leaving behind the lifeless, broken body of a two-year old baby.
Juliana must not become a statistic. She must remain front and center of Uganda's struggle for the right to assemble and to protest peacefully. What started as a peaceful protest to underline the suffering of ordinary Ugandans faced with sky rocketing food and fuel prices, due to double-digit inflation; has turned into a bitter struggle to defend our basic freedoms and rights. The struggle is now about moving freely to find work and to earn a living, a struggle to express ourselves freely, to associate freely and to protest peacefully. These freedoms are guaranteed by our Constitution but they are denied us in the most inhumane way by a brutal, law breaking police force.
The unnecessary suffering and loss of life that has followed our determination to assert our rights and freedoms is unprecedented. The brutality has only made our resolve to assert those rights and freedoms stronger. We shall walk and walk until our government understands that their duty is to safeguard and not to violate our rights and freedoms; until the government does its job and responds meaningfully to our demands.
In future when we look back to this sad chapter in our country's life, the picture that will forever be imprinted on our minds is that of the little, broken and bleeding body of two year old Juliana Nalwanga - (Gift.) We will remember the friends who supported our struggle and we will also remember those who looked on with indifference.
God rest her little soul in eternal peace.
Anne Mugisha'
At 50 I know that in the tumultuous events surrounding protests of this scale it was easy to lose sight of individual victims of police brutality but for those who are scarred and those with a grave to remind them the dark days of April 2011 will never be forgotten.

— feeling sad.

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