The image of a man, newly dead in Arua, slumped in his boss’s car, with fresh blood dripping onto the road, haunts me still. The dead man, Yasin Kawuma, young enough to be my son, but a father and husband, dead forever, killed in Arua, as though a rat in a granary, mere collateral damage in a high stakes contest between his boss and the President.
Not that either side had planned the bloody confrontation, but the high tension in the land needed just a slight provocation to trigger disproportionate response. Blood and death, the predictable consequence.
My heart goes out to Kawuma’s family. Their shock and pain are unimaginable, for it is not possible to feel their loss. Soon our tears will dry, Kawuma’s memory will recede into the dark mist, where hundreds of thousands reside, victims of our deranged politics. His family’s tears will flow for decades, with a bitterness passed on to the next generation, avengers of his death. With few exceptions, the dead in our endless orgy of national self-immolation, are either secondary players or peripheral forgettables – nameless loved ones of families and friends, who are left to mourn them, as we move on to the next fight.
Do you remember the names of the eight killed by a king’s rifle at Ndaiga in 1964? The six felled by police bullets at Nakulabye in 1964? The hundreds, perhaps thousands, murdered by their national army at Mengo and elsewhere in Buganda in 1966? The undocumented thousands upon thousands that died between 1971 and 1979, killed by assorted “security” men and “liberators”?
Hundreds of thousands more that perished in the civil wars in Luweero, West Nile, Teso, Lango and Acholi between 1981 and 2007? The uncounted thousands killed in the Rwenzururu Mountains of the Moon ages ago, and the other day? And thousands more all over the land, killed over the years by bullets that have substituted for ballots and dialogue?
As I write, news just came in that Samuel Ssekitoleko, a son of Kasanda, was killed over the weekend, in the melee that descended upon Mityana, home of Francis Zaake, the critically injured MP, who was beaten to a pulp in Arua. How I wish Ssekitoleko would be the last victim of our national madness. Alas! He will not be. Not until we, from the greatest to the least, like the Ninevites, led by the President of our country, put on sackcloth, sit down together in the dust and, fasting, call urgently upon the Lord God, and give up our evil ways and our violence. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Lord will relent and with compassion, turn from his fierce anger so that Uganda will not be reduced to its near-death experience of a few decades ago.
Read the Book of Jonah 3:10 to find out what happened to Nineveh when her people turned from their evil ways. Until that happens, our country bleeds. Militarised politicians, each waiting for the other to blink, issue threats against opponents as though they are immortal. Everyone blames everyone else. Everybody claims innocence. Yet the rivers of blood flow towards all, with the potential to drown us all.
I have made extensive inquiries about what happened in Arua and I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 3:23. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” To blame one side is futile. The people in charge of Arua, of the various campaigns and of the president’s security and transportation failed to develop a coordinated plan for the events, to ensure safety for everyone.
The bloody end of the campaigns could have been prevented.
According to eye-witnesses to the disaster, the President’s lead car forcibly pushed Opposition partisans out of the way. That act of foolishness, sent people into the trenches, triggering an impulsive response by an incensed citizen. A stone was thrown at the President’s motorcade, an act of supreme recklessness, even suicidal, that was guaranteed to trigger the fieriest wrath of the President’s armed protectors.
Besides the criminality of a physical attack on the President, one is struck by the incredible folly of the stone-thrower. Of course, one understands the anger in the land, the rage that simmers under the surface, and the mob behaviour that propelled the stone thrower to his or her thoughtless act. Yet one marvels at that person’s blindness.
Uganda is governed by military men and women, led by a military man whose military protectors have a simple brief – to shoot and kill anyone that threatens the President. At that moment, these are not rational actors, you understand. They live by a heightened fight or flight reflex that throws them into auto pilot the moment their charge is threatened. It was by God’s grace that they did not rain bullets, grenades and other destructive toys on the entire crowd of partisans.
But having shown momentary restraint, with the President safely evacuated, the SFC or their fellow armed co-workers went native, murdering Kawuma, then arresting Robert “Bobi Wine” Kyagulanyi, MP for Kyadondo East, but not before assaulting him for reasons unknown. Other MPs, journalists and other partisans were taken into custody, with reports of beatings by their captors, in an unjustifiable fit of mass madness to which Ugandans have become accustomed.
Images of Zaake, the MP for Mityana Municipality, tell a story that buries what remained of Museveni’s promise, nearly 33 years ago, of “a fundamental change, not just a change of guard.” It was an abuse of citizens’ human rights that was in the same league as what Ugandans endured under presidents Idi Amin Dada, Apollo Milton Obote II and Tito Okello Lutwa.
My reading of Arua, is that we had an already tense situation, what with the unsolved murders of Ibrahim Abiriga, MP, and Saidi Butele, his brother, and the clear signs that the President’s candidate was about to be humiliated at the polls. Then we had the President’s military machine, brimming with an arrogance founded on a history of multiple triumphs over nearly 40 years, invincible yet threatened by the rising popularity of the youthful musician-turned-radical-politician.
In the other corner, we had a restless mass of radicalised citizens, mostly youth, hungry for change, angry at the president and everything he represented, gathered together in a festive procession, the perfect milieu for maximal display of mob psychology. It was a combustible encounter, fuelled by the smell of victory and loss. A foolish act by a Presidential driver, and a foolish response by a stone thrower, ignited a fire that needs Solomonian wisdom to extinguish.