The Uganda Young Democrats members (UYD) were at it again yesterday – attempting to celebrate what they said was President Museveni’s 75th birthday in Masaka Town.
Plans for the event had begun about a week ago. Mr Paddy Kiganda Ssenkungu, the UYD national deputy spokesperson, at a press conference in Masaka last week said: “It is going to be an annual event celebrated in different towns of Uganda.”
Mr Ssenkungu also claimed that according to UYD research desk, Mr Museveni was born on December 4, 1937 to Amosi Kaguta and Esteri Kokundeka at Rwamagana Village, Kayonza Sub-county in Rwanda.
“He liberated the country from bad leadership before we were born and we now view him like Nelson Mandela,” Mr Kiganda said. “In South Africa, every year, the birthday of the great leader, Mandela, is celebrated and so even here in Uganda, we must use the freedom Museveni brought about to celebrate his birthday.”
The earlier proposed venue for the party was Masaka Mayor’s Gardens. Mr Ssenkungu had claimed that the chief celebrant, Mr Museveni himself, had been informed and that several other people, including MPs, were expected at the party. He also said UYD was aware that last year’s attempt to hold the party was quashed because it had not been properly organised. However, this time, all preparations, including informing the police, had been done.
Yesterday, the plans were quickly changed after a heavy deployment of police was noticed at the Mayor’s Gardens.
Instead, Masaka UYD Secretary General John Baptist Ntuuwa and his deputy Hakim Kizza, began sending text messages, saying the main party had been relocated to Nyendo Taxi Park at 10am. Three cakes were made and according to Mr Ntuuwa, they were to be cut and eaten in the three divisions of Masaka Town. The youths had also got a walking stick to be presented to the main celebrant because, they said, as an old man, he might need to use it to walk properly.
They also had placards with messages calling on Museveni to leave power. The would-be celebrations started with a procession at around 10.30am with the group chanting DP slogans. They could have been about 70 or more at the initial stages but the crowd swelled as more people joined the procession.
About 20 minutes later, riot police fired tear gas to disperse the group. Some eight members of UYD, including Yasin Ssemwogerere, Ntuuwa, Moses Bigirwa, Isma Kayima, and five market vendors, were arrested in the scuffle. They were taken to Masaka Central Police Station. But those who had the cakes ran to the toilets in Nyendo Central Market.
Residents of Nyendo reacted by pelting stones at the police, destroying the windscreens of the Force’s van. The southern regional police commander, Mr Simon Peter Wafana, said the party was illegal and there was no way they could allow the youths to continue with it. He added that police would prefer criminal charges against the suspects, including unlawful assembly.
The President’s age remains a matter of contention, with some opposition MPs saying he is already 75 although records show that he was born in 1944 and is, therefore, 68 years old.