Sunday 19 June 2011

A Picket at Parliament - When it comes to money there is no opposition

By Charles A. O. Makmot
On Monday May 31, 2011, I delivered a letter of notification to the Police Headquarters on Parliament Avenue for a picket that we, as Concerned Citizens, intended to hold at Parliament on Thursday June 2, 2011. The letter was duly received by the Inspector General of Police’s office. I later received a call from the Director/Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of Operations and he expressed his interest in meeting me and getting to know who these “Concerned Citizens” were.
After taking into advisement, it was agreed that I attend this meeting alone. It was a cordial and professionally handled meeting, a stark contrast from the “meetings” that several Ugandans have had with the Police on the streets of Kampala City and several towns in the countryside. The most heartbreaking of these stories is the one of Julian Nalwanga, a two-and-a-half year old beautiful little girl that met her untimely death at the hands of this very same now “professional” police force that I was sharing smiles and cordial discussions with.
In the end, they informed me that the Speaker of Parliament’s “blessing” was required for us to hold such an event within the precincts of Parliament. If that “blessing” was forthcoming, then his office would be more than willing to police the event. I left his office a little irked because this was information that I could have been told over the phone. Of course, their intent to know who these “Concerned Citizens” who dare to notify them rather than seek permission was not lost on me. It made me realize that when you request for permission, they actually realize that you are ignorant of your rights and give you a big, “NO!” However, when you indicate that you are only notifying them, then the entire ball game changes. It becomes a game of ping-pong (in this case with Her Majesty the Speaker’s Chambers) with you as the ball.
With the full knowledge that I was the unfortunate ball in their sarcastic game, I also wrote to the Speaker of Parliament and delivered the letter the next day, Wednesday June 1, 2011. It was received by the Speaker’s Chambers and I was promised a response when the Speaker could pull herself away from the Appointments’ Committee proceedings where the vetting of “His Excellency” Tibuhaburwa’s  “appointees was taking place all day. I specifically informed them that time was of the essence since our Picket was to take place the next day.
Having not received any objection, my team and I descended on Parliament at the appointed time. While I waited outside one of the gates for some of them to arrive, I received a call from the Speaker’s Chambers that my response was ready. I promptly entered Parliament and made my way to the Speaker’s Chambers. I sat in the waiting room and tried to digest the gist of her words to me.
It is difficult to describe the feeling that I felt when I read the words in the Speaker’s letter! She not only informed me that Parliament was on recess, but that all the information reported in the Press was untrue. That MPs were not, repeat NOT, seeking:
  1. Softer loans and tax free luxury vehicles for themselves;
  2. Advance payments of up to UGX 50 million each to cushion themselves from high interest rates that the rest of us pay to get a bank loan and;
  3. An increase in their pay checks to buffer themselves from double digit inflation.
That, and I quote, “The closed meeting was a mentoring session to the Members of the 9th Parliament on financial discipline, conning tricks by members of the public, unplanned and multiple indebtedness, conning tricks via the internet, e.t.c.” She goes on to write, and I quote, “A number of Members in the 7th and 8th Parliament were conned of money via the internet whereby messages were sent to Members informing them that a dead person had left a fortune of USD 40,000,000 (forty million dollars) and that if they supplied their bank accounts, they could receive part of that money. Several lost money through that channel.”

It really got me thinking: What kind of caliber of Members of Parliament do we have in our country? Is it possible that such basic orientation for students joining a Secondary School or University is what the taxpayers’ money is being wasted on? It sickened me when I thought that several of our MPs were as na├»ve enough as to get duped by internet con-artists! Nevertheless, I exited the Speaker’s Chambers but not before noting to the Speaker’s Secretary that the letter didn’t mention my Picket at all!

I returned to the agreed meeting place and found that my other colleagues had arrived. Our banner, a blown-up version, of the petition was safely tucked away in a handbag of one of the ladies (Thank God that large handbags are now fashionable). We were only 8 people there but we would have to do. After a short briefing, we decided to enter Parliament one by one. Given our experience the Monday before when we were nearly arrested outside Parliament for delivering copies of the petition to our MPs, we didn’t want to create attention from the Police by going in a crowd.

Once inside, we sought guidance from Hon. Beatrice Anywar who advised us, in light of the Speaker’s noncommittal response, to hand over the petition to the Opposition Chief Whip, who was in office. We managed to get the press into Ms. Winnie Kiiza’s office and she graciously received our petition, even though we had not given her prior notice.

It is critical to note that several MPs shunned us when they saw the contents of our petition. Most notable among these was Hon. Fungaroo Kaps Hassan, MP for Obongi Constituency. He was quick to say, “I’m not party to that” and walked away. It was after seeing this that one of my colleagues remarked, When it comes to money, there is no opposition.”

It is our intent to hold our Picket at Parliament in the near future because the issues we are raising are extremely fundamental and need to be addressed. Uganda has the largest Parliament per capita in the entire world, the Second largest cabinet in Afrika and the third largest in the world. This is unsustainable for a poor country and needs to be addressed as a matter of national importance.

For God and My Country,

Activist For Change

Thursday 2 June 2011

I smiled as I was caned by the military!

How I Welcomed Besigye on 12th May, 2011
By Brian Bwesigye

Where do I start from? It is hard to decide where to start the details of today from. Let me go to Kigezi High School (2001 - 2003)! 

In my senior two at Kigezi High School, a parent following a false report of her daughter used the Kabale police station to arrest and detain our then Food Captain, Solo we called our beloved Food Captain. Dissatisfied with the wrongful and unlawful arrest and detention of our food captain, the students' body unanimously agreed to boycott all school meals until; the Food Captain was released from Police custody. Instead of going for lunch, immaculately dressed in our smart school uniform, we decide to march peacefully and orderly to the Kabale Police station to demand the release of Solo. We were led by our Head Prefect then, Mr. Kwehangana Isaac, nick-named Kweecha! We peacefully reached the station and were told to march back to school by the police. We refused until Kweecha agreed with the police men that he would stay and come back to school with Solo. We returned to school but never ate until Solo was released the very day. We had peacefully expressed ourselves and we got results!

In 2003, I was in my senior four, dissatisfied with the Headmaster of Kigezi High School then and his entire administration, the senior four class decided that we petition the senior Kabale district administration and let them know of our grievances and maybe they do something about them. I was tasked to write down eighteen reasons why action was necessary against the Headmaster and his administration.  The peaceful means however did not yield results then. We had marched on a Saturday to the district administration offices smartly dressed in our uniform but the district administration promised to take action, they never. That Headmaster was transferred from the school later, more than two years after our peaceful march. 
Fast-forward to 2011, a cool seven-eight years later and the memories of peaceful but public expression come back. This time, in scenes unfathomable by a teenager I was when at Kigezi High.

Morning Warning.
I did not make up my mind to walk to Entebbe to welcome Besigye until early in the morning of Thursday 12th, May, 2011. I got a text message informing me that Besigye was returning on Thursday on a Friday night. I did not trust the message because it was sent on an MTN line, (I am protesting against MTN for its unethical conduct of business.) I thought it was NRM propaganda and trickery getting me to think of it and then walk there and get burnt. I contacted some close relatives of Besigye and confirmed. I then decided to go and show solidarity with the doctor. The first person I informed of my decision told me that I still have a lot to accomplish and that my spirit needs to be known by more people among other reasons which I read to mean, I should stay home. I responded thus, "I am not going to a theatre of death but if it takes my life to bring equity to Ugandans, I'd regard that as a privilege." I honestly did not know that I would later see dead bodies of civilians after being shot by the, military, I used the theatre of death expression as a hyperbole, I was wrong, it was real. 

The way to Entebbe
I set out to Entebbe by boda-boda! I had planned to go by boda-boda to Najjanakumbi and from there head to Entebbe. On reaching Najjanakumbi, I found crowds already gathered on the roadside, it was still morning, some few minutes after 10:00am. I wrote on my facebook wall, "Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye is in Uganda, jetted in minutes back. In my dark goggles, never mind the weather, I am lining along the Entebbe Road-side with many others to show solidarity with the opposition leader. In other news, our tormentors are at Entebbe swearing to torment us for the next five years." The weather was chilly at that time.  

I received a call from a concerned friend warning me of what was in store for us, she said bullets! I did not believe, but I thought about it. I wrote on my wall; "Now if they teargas us, my nose, mouth, ears and everything else is exposed! If they pink-dye us, God knows what I'll do with my light blue and white checked short sleeved shirt and my Khaki trousers, if they rubber-bullet us, or fire live bullets at us, my entire body is exposed of course! Those worries are swallowed by our sheer numbers and the merry mood that is reigning supreme here!" Indeed, the mood was merry. 

When trucks of policemen heading to Entebbe to reinforce, bypassed us at Najjanakumbi and the waiting crowds mockingly waved at the mean looking policemen, I made the decision, consciously though to continue to fetch the main convoy - to walk until I met them.

Seguku and the Kajjansi first taste of teargas.
The crowds at Seguku were larger than those at Namasuba and other stop-overs I had passed by. I tried to make small talk with a fellow walker, as we saw men and women, young and old people chanting "Omuzira waffe" (Our Hero –Ed)! The walker noted that she had never seen such a crowd waiting for one man for two days. She added that even on Wednesday, when Besigye's flight was blocked the crowds were thick. We entered into a taxi, having learnt that the convoy with Besigye was still as far as Abayita Babiri.  
At Kajjansi, we were stopped, but allowed later. The 'convoy' of boda bodas heading to Entebbe were being stopped. The stopped boda bodas formed a crowd and started chanting anti-Police slogans, they were tear-gassed! Our taxi which had stopped to offload some passengers had to continue to allow us escape the tear-gas, but we had swallowed some already. Then, a few meters in front, the driver announced that he could not move on.  We disembarked and I started walking again. 

As I walked, teargas trucks, a police towing vehicle, military trucks bypassed me heading to Entebbe at break-neck speed. I was around Kitende then, also on my own way there. The sun was particularly hot around that time; I boarded a taxi again, not to melt under the sun.

Kisubi and the Namulanda first close-encounter with the military.
At Kisubi, the crowd was THICK! The taxi-man decided to stop there fearing that the Besigye convoy was near. I started footing again. The road was blocked halfway. Amidst rumours that the Besigye convoy was stuck at Abayita Babiri after police and military vehicles cut them off, I decided to ask some members of the crowd what they thought, "We will go there and pick him ourselves," a lady told me as the police and military looked at the surging crowd.

I realized after passing through the crowd that the Besigye convoy was indeed still far, at Abayita Babiri as rumoured, but it had spent there forever, since Najjanakumbi, the convoy wasn't moving yet I had moved as far as Kitende? Maybe the convoy would be diverted. That was before I saw another crowd, this time agitated in front. It was at Namulanda, near one of the said planned diversions. The military was caning people to clear the road. I was of course walking on the sides, so presumed I was safe.

I was wrong, I wasn't safe, and they were following the people to cane them even when they were off the road. We run into gardens and nearby homes. The military could only allow cars pass on the road, so, me on foot could not pass to continue my walk to Entebbe. I had to plot a way of passing past the dozens of heavily armed military and policemen. They were visibly annoyed at the chanting crowds. The regular chant was, "Twagala Colonel, oba tuffa tuffe," (We love Colonel even unto death – Ed)  this being chanted in the face of tens of police and military in the middle of the road at Namulanda.

Walking was proving dangerous by the look of things; I jumped on to a boda boda.

And I met the convoy!!!
It was the boda boda man who saw the convoy before me! It was at Kisubi, but visible from far. I persuaded him to ride until we reached closer. He agreed and when we reached at least at the tip of the convoy, I paid him and joined. I snaked my way until I reached close proximity with the dark blue Surf Col. Besigye was riding in and his wife. I joined hands with other people who were forming a shield around the vehicle. We moved. Then, a moment of madness on the side of the military men.

They caned all of us who were walking on the road around the vehicles, telling us to walk in the roadside bushes, beyond the pavement. They were three canes that pushed me off the road into the bushes. Then, I tried to fumble to update my facebook status. And that is when I was caught and caned!!! When he gave me the first, I looked at him and found myself smiling. He gave more, rapidly on every part of my body, the head, the stomach, the back, the legs, the arms, from head to toe, generally. Even when I was running from him, into a roadside trench, he gave me more. That was at the Kisubi Seminary gate.

Then bullets started raging, we were in the trench. We saw one aiming his gun at us in the trench, and we rushed out of the trench and the next thing I knew we were inside someone's bedroom!!!! That is where I realized that my shirt and trouser were now brown dirty, my body full of bruises, goggles shattered and so much in pain! In such times, you make instant friends. Outside, the canes were raging, so were the bullets! We stayed in a stranger's bedroom for two hours.

The friendship and guerrilla-like movement!
In the two hours we were stuck in the bedroom, we all became friends with each other and in the process of sharing experiences; a three-member party was formed. Three of us in that bedroom had come from Kampala to purposely welcome Besigye, the rest were residents of the area. That is how the university student and the cyclist joined me or did I join them in the next stage of the welcome experience.

We started plotting how to proceed. The road was blocked at Kitara for boda bodas. Where would we pass? The cyclist said he was worried that he did not have enough fuel; I offered two litres, so that the three of us could reach Kampala safely. A short-cut was introduced to us, one that runs around the Kisubi seminary complex and would take us to Namulanda. We jumped on the boda boda and rode through the murram road. And we reached the hill overlooking Namulanda almost in time for bullets to rage. We stayed in the bush.

Then, thinking that the bullets were over, we started again, heading for the highway, ALAS, more bullets, we ran again this time abandoning the boda boda. Then, we temporarily gave up on following Besigye, administered first aid on ourselves and when we felt that it was safe, rode in the bushes again, towards Kajjansi, we were far off the roads. We alighted at Kajjansi but there was teargas, we rode away through a feeder road leading us to Seguku.

There we had chance to rest, took water and even charged our phones. I updated my status thus, "After scenes of dodging bullets, hiding in bushes, my party of three injured young adults including a boda boda cyclist is now at Seguku taking a break, charging our phones and drinking some water ... Besigye is still behind, we will re-join his convoy when he reaches Seguku where we are and we will be beaten again ... I will write a detailed account of how we have ended up riding a motorcycle in bushes ..."

The final stretch for me and jumping over dead bodies
Learning from past mistakes, we all agreed to keep a 500m distance in front of Besigye's convoy, to be able to detect danger and run away in time. When the convoy reached Seguku, we resumed our journey and were riding among the front party of boda bodas. 

The military and police were not beating us up by then. At Zana, it was Carnival mood, though teargas trucks were in the middle of the crowd. Some people in the crowd were drumming, others singing thus, "Toka bara bara eh, Besigye ame ingia ... Toa mamba yako, tunataka Besigye"(Clear the road, Besigye is here...Remove your Mamba (armoured artillery vehicle)...We want to see Besigye - Ed)
Many groups were joining us, and by the time we reached Najjanakumbi, the songs had changed to, "Lwaki alayira nga yabba obuluru, eh lwaki alayira" (Why is he swearing in -ie. Museveni - after stealing an election – Ed ). The military was still holding their guns and sticks, but not yet using them. Then as we approached Kibuye, TEAR GAS started rocking! Then bullets! Then helicopter gunships flying over us! Then poisoned water! Then dead bodies! Three of them, I saw with my naked eyes! Tension. I hid in a residential apartment nearby and from the third floor in someone's house; I was watching Besigye atop his car in the face of the shooting.

By the time there was some uneasy calm, our boda boda colleague was missing. We waited for the traffic jam to clear. As it did, we then agreed to take taxis to the taxi-park and get home. We had welcomed Besigye, not so?

As we stepped out of our hideout, the military was on the roadside caning everyone who was walking. Raising two hands was not saving even. We strategically stayed in the door of the flat until we saw a taxi stop. We then run and swarmed it - survived the canes. From the taxi-park, I boarded a Kagugube-bound taxi and then settled!

Why does a government that was "elected" harass its citizens? Kill them? Amin's did not claim to be elected, this one claims to have been elected! It is a shame!