It was real chaos in the city. September 10 and 11, 2009, will forever be remembered in Kampala. Gunfire and thick clouds of smoke could be seen and heard all over the city. Cars and a police station were set on fire by rioters who blocked roads with burning tyres and huge stones.
This forced armoured vehicles, soldiers and regular police to be deployed to quell rioters. More than 20 people were reportedly killed, including a little baby hit by a stray bullet who breathed his last on arrival at Mulago hospital.
Cause of chaos? Buganda Kingdom loyalists were protesting the government decision to block an advance team for the Kabaka from visiting Kayunga District. The situation deteriorated when a rumour went around about the arrest and detention of the Kabaka.
In Rubaga Division in Kampala, the situation went from bad to worse when angry rioters attacked and set on fire Nateete Police Station and all the vehicles found parked within its premises. The rioters accomplished their mission as they sang the Buganda Kingdom anthem with a rare gusto.
About a kilometre away, at Musigula (Mbugo) stage security men patrolled all corners, arresting residents suspected of having taken part in the rioting. These were joined by another group in civilian attire who seemed to be on a money making spree. They arrested a big number of residents who could only buy their freedom by parting with Shs50,000 and above each.
It was here that then 35-year-old boda boda operator Gerald Kagga and three of his colleagues were picked up.
“A military pick-up suddenly closed in and made an abrupt stop at our stage. They got out, pointed guns at us and ordered that we jump on the back of the vehicle. Our plea to be spared since we had committed no crime fell on deaf ears,” recalls Kagga.
The four boda boda operators were joined by Kizza, a butcher dragged from a nearby butchery where he was attending to his customers. All the five “rioters” were thrown at the back of the vehicle and off it sped to Kibuye Police Station.
“There we found a big group of people that had been arrested from different parts of Rubaga Division. We were ordered to make statements confirming that we had taken part in razing Nateete Police Station, something we turned down,” says Kagga.
From Kibuye, the group numbering about 70 was driven under tight security in a military lorry to the Wembley operation headquarters in Kireka. Here they were informed about security cameras stationed around Nateete Town and surrounding areas that captured them taking part in the riot.
The detainees, Kagga says, were thereafter treated to a “grand welcome” consisting of beatings and torture in order to make them admit to the crime.
Two weeks later, they were referred back to Kibuye from where on September 26, 2009, they were taken to Makindye Magistrate’s Court and later remanded to Luzira upper prison where hardcore criminals are usually locked up.
Before this came up, Kagga’s relatives had been advised by a senior police officer at the Kibuye station to cough Shs1.5 million to facilitate the bailing out of Kagga who would be separated from the rest of the group that would be heading for remand at Luzira.
The amount was raised and given to the officer who assured them that it was just a matter of time before Kagga gained his freedom. Later at the Makindye court, Kagga and his relatives got the shock of their lives when his name was among those read for prisoners destined for Luzira. With the money gone and no freedom bought, Kagga and his relatives broke down into tears as the dreaded maroon bus arrived to transport the prisoners to Luzira.
Life in Luzira
For the two and half years Kagga and friends spent at Luzira maximum prison, they appeared in court on a countless number of times for the mention of their case.
“Life in Luzira was unbearable. There we found prisoners that had spent more than five years without being sentenced, let alone being produced in court. To our total surprise though, we were never tortured and being on remand, we were spared from doing any type of work unlike those prisoners that were serving their jail terms.”
According to Kagga, they would be served one meal a day which comprised of posho and beans that usually would come at around 10am. It was only on big days such as Easter and Christmas that the menu change.
“On such days prisoners would each be served one small piece of meat. Though many cows used to be donated and slaughtered, most meat went to prison warders and senior prison officers,” he recalls. During his stay at Luzira, Kagga celebrated two Easters and Christmases.
They were at times delighted to be joined by VIPs such as former NSSF boss David Chandi Jamwa and former Arua Municipality MP Hussein Akbar Godi who would at times not be seated far away from where he was.
If there was anything Kagga enjoyed most during his stay at Luzira prison, it was participating in sports activities, notably football.
“At Luzira, prisoners enjoy and play serious football where clubs are formed and named after top Spanish and English premiership clubs like Barcelona, Madrid, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. Players used to be bought from club to club and offered money which they deposited on their prison bank accounts,” he joyfully recalls.
Finally the long awaited day came. On April 11, 2011, something unexpected happened. Following mounting pressure to the government from human rights activists, Kagga and other prisoners jailed during the riots were once again produced at the Makindye court for the mention of their case.
To their surprise, the government prosecutor this time didn’t object to them being granted bail. Thus what had all along appeared impossible finally became possible before their case was finally dropped. Many of them were seen crying like babies the moment the magistrate granted them bail.
Outside court, the excitement was beyond description. Kagga was lifted shoulder high by relatives who included his wife Brenda Nankya and primary schooling daughters, Winnie Nabukeera and Susan Nabukenya.
“With the assistance from in laws, Brenda worked tirelessly to sustain the family. They made sure that the children ate something and most important of all that they continued schooling,” he says.
Luckily for Kagga, his landlady at Kyengera on Masaka Road was understanding; She always comforted his wife and told her never to worry about rent but pay whatever amount she would manage to raise.