Last Monday about 35 women from the Inter Party Cooperation (IPC), an umbrella opposition grouping, were arrested as they tried to deliver a letter to the Electoral Commission Chairman, Hajj Dr Eng. Badru Kiggundu, calling for his resignation.
In an environment where demonstrations of any variety are strongly discouraged, their “success” shows the adaptive methods the Opposition is resorting to and signal the changing face of political protest.
Ingrid Kamateneti Turinawe, the chairperson of FDC’s women’s league, who was the chief planner of the demonstration, told Inside Politics that their success showed that the State security and intelligence could be beaten.
How it unfolded
She explained that the decision to stage a women’s demonstration was introduced to IPC leaders’ summit a month before and that the IPC leaders endorsed the idea.
After the leaders’ approval, a team started organising women from different parts of the country to come to Kampala and participate in the demonstration. The aim, according to Turinawe, was to find 500 participants but because of insufficient resources only 200 women showed up.
On January 17 a meeting was convened at a secret location in Kampala where it was agreed that the demo would take place the following day.
This is different from other planned demonstrations which have a longer gestation period in that the decision was taken 24 hours before the actual event.
Every party in the IPC was asked to bring 50 women though FDC alone had about 150 women who were ready to participate in the demonstration.
However a snag was hit. Not all the women showed up for the pre-demo meeting. This compelled Turinawe and others to resort to phone calls and SMS.
Ms Turinawe said she suspected that her mobile was being tapped by police a day before the demonstration after she received numerous phone calls from senior police officers grilling her about the event.
Kampala Metropolitan Regional Police Commander, Andrew Sorowen was the first to call her. She claimed he threatened her of serious consequences if the demo went ahead. Three other “police officers” who could not reveal their identities also called her and threatened to arrest her.
“Sorowen called me and said to me: ‘Ingrid, you are trying to organise women from the village to come and undress at city square and then go to Parliament,’” she said, adding, “ But I assured him that he was behaving ignorantly.”
It appears, she said, that the Police then called women leaders from other parties like CP and JEEMA whose numbers they tapped from the numerous phone calls Ms Turinawe had made.
These women, too, were threatened against taking part in the demonstration.
Ms Turinawe said after the Police’s threats, CP women pulled out while JEEMA and UPC could each send only two women.
She said fearing that other women would dessert she stopped mentioning the police phone calls.
The following morning, the Police, which was not aware of the venue of the demonstration, sealed off the city square and deployed heavily along the streets going to Parliament.
However in a surprise move, the women arrived individually and gathered at Centenary Park and even had a cup of coffee by posing as ordinary customers. Each one had a bag carrying IPC T-Shirts which they would put on as they stormed the EC and a traditional cloth called leso.
The two lookouts they had placed at City Square and EC offices started giving them news. The one at City Square informed them that the anti-riot police had sealed off the whole venue while one at EC headquarters told them that only regular police were manning the EC premises. He or she also assured them that there was no sign of serious police deployment.
At this point the women, now 130 in number, decided to move. The police were unprepared. Three of the women entered the EC through the gate while others stood under the tree outside the EC offices.
Only after they had entered the EC offices did six police trucks with armed police arrive. They started beating the women arresting 33 while the rest took off at the sight of police beating.