Where it is illegal to walk to work

Thursday April 21st, it’s a cloudy morning on the dusty streets of Kampala. I leave home on my way to the office which is found in Namulonge, about 5 Kilometers from Kasangati, a local suburb on the outskirts of Kampala and home to the Leader of Uganda’s most prominent opposition political party, Dr. Kizza Besigye. I pass by two pickup trucks filled with policemen heading to Kasangati. The weather seems to underline the gloom and doom soon to follow.

As I make my way on a boda-boda (passenger motorcycle) trying to catch the bus to work, the police presence becomes more and more pronounced. I snake my way through the tense atmosphere created by the security forces; comprising the regular police, anti-riot and military police together with the army punctuating the road side waiting for something to happen. The Red Cross ambulances and staff are in place waiting to rescue and offer first aid if the need arises. This sadly, has become a familiar site every morning as I make my way to the office.

I manage to make it to the Bus stage all in one piece, but I’m a few minutes late and the bus has just left without me. As I wait for a taxi, another police vehicle, rushing at about 60 miles an hour passes with sirens blaring. It is at this time that I can now see a small crowd, from a distance gathering on the road and being pushed back by a joint force of military and police.

 I eventually manage to get a taxi, one of the few that were going in the Kasangati direction. A few hundred meters on the journey and my eyes start tearing. By the time I make it to the trading centre, it becomes clear that there is teargas in the atmosphere. I can now see a teargas van spraying its contents on anything that can move; into shops, houses, and even a small Primary school just beside the road.  Kids of between six and ten years old run out screaming and crying, most of them in shock, more than anything. It is now that the driver abandons his taxi and takes to his heals running into the bushes leaving everyone in the taxi. We take this as the cue to follow him into the bushes of Kasangati. The angry crowd pelts the police with stones but their resistance is quickly broken with shots in the air and teargas. Many people are injured in the riot, a pregnant woman is shot in the belly and is rushed to the national referral hospital in a critical condition.   

I later learn that Dr. Kizza Besigye was arrested in the mêlée. He and a sizable number of his supporters were walking to their offices protesting the rise in commodity prices and the Government’s failure to deal with the situation or offer any plausible explanation to the price increase of basic commodities and fuel. These riots took place in various parts of Kampala. Police stopped various opposition politicians as they tried to walk to work , many of them are unceremoniously bundled into police pickup trucks and manhandled like mere thieves.

Since the riots began, at least 8 people have been killed as a direct result of either gunshot wounds or health complication from exposure to teargas. God save us all.