Shops in Moroto Town in Karamoja sub-region closed and business came to a standstill on Friday evening following news that the former presidential candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye, who was later charged with treason, was being moved away from the police cells to another place.
The houses cleared and the streets filled. Traders locked up shops. Hundreds of locals abandoned their homes.
They poured out to the streets and Moroto Police Station to bid farewell to Dr Besigye with gifts of tomatoes, chicken, turkeys and cash. Most of them had earlier been denied access to see Besigye at Moroto Police Station.
Curiosity was raging high among the residents after seeing a helicopter land in the bushes at Nakapelimen ground. Whether the helicopter was a decoy to dupe the crowds into one direction as the State took Besigye to a different destination or it was a mere coincidence, is a matter of imagination.
Crowds camped at the police station entrance waiting for Besigye to come out. Police attempts to chase them away were futile and a scuffle ensued. The residents had speculated that the chopper, which had landed in Moroto town, had come to fly Besigye back to Kampala.
They were right on the departure but wrong on the destination.
At exactly 6.15pm, Dr Besigye was indeed removed from the police cells aboard a black tinted pick-up but was not taken to Kampala as anticipated. He was taken to Moroto Chief Magistrate’s Court under tight security by counter terrorism and anti-riot police, and military personnel with a police escort fleet.
The helicopter that had gone to pick Dr Besigye landed at Moroto town at 6.10pm but left without him at 6.50pm and returned to Kampala.
Disappointed residents went back to their homes with their gifts.
Dr Besigye was charged with treason in Moroto Chief Magistrate’s Court at 6pm, one hour past court’s official working time.
The Moroto Chief Magistrate, Mr Charles Yeteise, read him treason charges for only three minutes. Dr Besigye was not allowed to say anything in court nor was he represented by a lawyer. Sunday Monitor learnt that Dr Besigye was charged without him making a statement with police after he refused to make one.
He was then whisked away to Moroto prison until May 25 when he will reappear for mention of his case.
Treason is a capital offence only tried by the High Court and attracts up to a death sentence on conviction.
Meanwhile, Mr Roland Mugume, the Rukungiri Municipality MP, who arrived in Moroto to see Besigye during the detention, spent three days at Moroto Police Station seeking to see the FDC leader without success.
Dr Besigye, the runner-up in the February presidential elections, was on Wednesday arrested in Kampala after a shock appearance in the city centre having beaten the round-the-clock blockade and surveillance of his home.
As the scuffle with the police was going on, a video showing Dr Besigye swearing in as new president of Uganda was running on You Tube and being shared on Facebook and other social media platforms.
The video shows Besigye, flanked by other FDC party officials, at an undisclosed location taking both the presidential oath and oath of allegiance before “a lady judge/commissioner of oath” who is unidentifiable as her face is turned away from the camera.
Social media shutdown
Three hours later, the Uganda Communications Commission shut down all social media platforms citing “security reasons” without further elaborating.
After the arrest on Wednesday, Besigye was bundled into a police van and taken away to an unknown place but a police helicopter later landed with him at Nadunget Airstrip in Moroto at 6pm. He was transported from there by road under tight security to Moroto Police Station.
Police accused him of holding an unlawful swearing-in. At Moroto police cells, the public was barred from seeing him.
In the morning of Saturday, the public was still in a restive mood. They were mobilising to go to Moroto Prison to see Dr Besigye.
Journalists were barred from even taking photographs of Besigye. Counter-terrorism police threatened to shoot any journalist who would take photos of Dr Besigye. They claimed they were acting on orders from “above”.
Karimojong elders call for dialogue
Many residents in Karamoja appealed to President Museveni to have dialogue with Dr Besigye to resolve their political differences.
The elders made the call on Friday evening in separate interviews with Sunday Monitor after Dr Besigye had been charged with treason and remanded.
Mr Samuel Lokol, an elder who witnessed the colonial administration, said Uganda is on the verge of returning to the past days where the British imperialists used to detain independence struggle leaders in the remote Karamoja.
“My appeal to President Museveni as a Karimojong elder and a Ugandan citizen is that torturing and manhandling your political rival will not guarantee peace in this country. The only way to assure us Ugandans that peace will last in the country is when you as a leader sit together with your political rivals and agree,” he said.
Mr Lokol said Dr Besigye is like an in-law to them because some of his aunties are married in Karamoja.
“The wife to the late Naburi who was minister during the Amin regime was an aunt to Dr Besigye and I still remember Besigye stayed in Karamoja when he was still young,” Mr Lokol said.
John Lokure, another elder, said Mr Museveni should listen to Dr Besigye because the FDC leader could have good ideas that can help the President improve his leadership of the country.