Saturday, November 7, 2009

Update on Riots in Kampala in Sept

I just read that 563 of the people accused of "involvement" in the riots that had broken out in the Bugandan regions of Kampala the day before we arrived in Sept - and were still going on for the first couple of days we were there - have been given bail. Apparently the Kabaka (king) of the Buganda kingdom offered free legal aid to the suspects, who have been charged with terrorism.

Amazingly the riots started via text message, and over a rumor that turned out to be false: the President Museveni had put the Kabaka under house arrest to keep him from visiting Kayunga (traditional Bugandan land) to mark the annual youth day. While the government of Uganda is significantly improved over the previous several governments (Idi Amin the most notorious), the concept of "free speech" is a bit tenuous. While we were there Museveni shut down 5 radio stations (or the talk part of their programming) because they were apportioning him some blame.

At any rate, "over" 25 people died, and at least 80 were injured. There was a good bit of property damage, including a police station in Mengo being burned down. Things were quite tense there when we arrived, with lots of soldiers, people calling friends and family to see how things were, etc. It was especially hard on those who make their livings at the markets, as there were no customers from Thursday to Monday. However, once it was over, things seemed to settle down. BUT....

There was then now unrest in Kayunga by a minority group, the Benyala, who oppose the Kabaka's visit. The Vice President issued a statement basically telling Bugandans that they need to just get along with everyone else, and that the tribal kingdoms are for "cultural" issues only, and politics should be left to "elected officials." Which would be a little easier to buy into if there was really much to the elections. I know Museveni is very concerned about the tribal kings trying to get political power, and thinks they are getting financial support from Qaddifi. Certainly, Qaddifi would be interested in any kind of unrest that would allow him (as President of the African Council) to have influence, for himself and for Islam. It's a very unsettling prospect! (The HUGE mosque above was paid for by Qaddifi. It's in the middle of Kampala, on a hill.)

So there you go... you are now up to date on Ugandan politics!

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