Why did they have to die? Poor souls. Why? Why? Why? This is the matter straining my mind and tugging at my heart. This is poetic injustice, for one to lose his or her life because of falling prey to calculated deception and manipulation.
That is the fate of the estimated 30 mostly young people who lost their lives in the riots that flared after the arrest of presidential candidate Kyagulanyi Sentamu Robert (Bobi Wine) on charges of aiding the spread of the killer disease Covid-19. I say “flared” because the acts were not spontaneous or fully relating to the arrest. All along, there was a plan to rise up and make use of the campaign period to stir up something unusual to, both, kill the election mood and also soil the name of NRM and President Yoweri Museveni; to show that he was not in charge or that he was brutal and uncaring.
Good enough, there is a line between NRM politics and security matters. NRM is an innocent corporate organisation vying for the mandate of citizens like any other party, while matters of law enforcement and security remain the preserve of the armed forces. For the record, no Ugandan is above the law, whether a presidential candidate, president, MP, monarch, diplomat, religious leader, famous artiste, wealthy don or royal.
One can only be above the law by avoiding breaking it or aiding its breach.
Anybody can be picked or summoned to be interviewed on a particular matter of law after which they can either get off the hook or be required to follow the due process of the law. Law enforcement is not an enjoyable area but it usually helps to calmly comply with lawful orders to minimise the risk of confrontation.
This is basic knowledge to the ordinary Ugandan who is usually law-abiding, orderly, appreciative and supportive of the armed forces because of their progressive presence in their lives. Uganda’s armed forces under the overall leadership of President Museveni are among the most disciplined, respected and people-friendly forces in the world. If they can go to Somalia and treat Somalians like angels, a fact well known worldwide, how would they treat Ugandans, their fellow nationals who are their parents, siblings, friends, in-laws?
Ugandans are accustomed to the armed forces because, as it was always famously propagated in earlier days of NRM, the gun was demystified; in the past it was a tool of terror, today it is a tool of safety and security. Ugandans enjoy dressing in imitations of military fatigues because they feel comfort and at peace with the army (and security organs generally). That is why Bobi Wine and group are so attached to the beret that without it they feel as if their heads are empty. It is all about pride in the officers and men in the armed forces organised and maintained by the NRM government.
But the gun retains its lethal power and any time a combatant is on deployment, there is always a high chance that his tool of trade will come into use. There is already enough work to do, detecting and neutralising negative forces that are always plotting attack after attack. Sometimes it is non-combat operations like development, community outreach and infrastructure projects much as all these activities are aimed at strengthening the security apparatus.
So, for the uniformed guys coming out to take action is a painful, costly action as they are used to facing direct armed adversaries. They treat civilians with total respect and kid gloves; by the time they come out tough, the situation is dire.
That is what happened when the riots broke out. The riots did not start with Bobi Wine’s arrest; they were quietly brewing and the groups involved were looking for a spark to trigger off events. That’s why tires, containers of flammable substances, machetes (and, may be, guns) were at the ready. Others were bold enough to use anything they could land their hands on like hammers, rocks, sticks, iron bars; many innocent people were injured and killed by these loosely organised groups but few are talking about this.
It is very unfortunate that lives were lost, property destroyed, people attacked and robbed and normal business and life disrupted. Attempts are on to undo the gains of NRM, of which security is a strong pillar, and the evidence has began to surface.
I understand that the greater responsibility for cherishing peace and tranquility and preserving it lies with the civilian population, but many don’t realise this powerful position they are. If they are misled by self-seekers to engage in any action that triggers the long arm of the state to pounce, the price to pay is unbelievable. It is the majority Ugandans who refuse to engage in unproductive and destructive confrontations who are most useful to Uganda’s struggle for progress and a secure future. They are the ones who will continue deciding the path we take as a nation; the hotheaded ones will pass like the wind.
One wonders what all the angry noise and reactions were for when the suspect was going to appear in court, have the charges read to him and secure bail like any other person! Who is going to compensate Ugandans and government for the inconvenience, losses and disrepute caused over a small matter?
Who will pay back for the lives of those who perished and in which currency? May their souls rest in eternal peace!
The author is a Presidential Assistant in Charge of Media Management