When Besigye ruled Kampala

Sunday November 8 2015

Besigye’s procession snakes

Besigye’s procession snakes through Banda stage in Kyambogo. 

By Allan Chekwech, Rachel Mabala and Abubaker Lubowa

The Clock Tower on Entebbe Road roundabout tolls; it is 9am. Columns of the rank and file police and military officers form most of the population at the roundabout and major junctions in the city.

At Queen’s Way are sections of people wearing blue T-shirts; colours of the country’s largest Opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).

Armed with notebooks, pens and cameras, we head towards Najjanankumbi, the home of FDC, as another colleague goes to Nakawa junction on Jinja Road to catch the mood there. But we are late. At Kibuye roundabout, we encounter scores of skaters – all wearing blue T-shirts - going about their pet thing, doing it with so much ease and drawing crowds.

Soon, noise from a distant crowd starts filtering through; the faint ululation and cheers grow louder as dozens of boda boda cyclists ride towards Kibuye roundabout.

On a closer look, behind the bikers is Dr Besigye’s white Land Cruiser; the politician – dressed in navy blue suit, a white shirt and blue tie - emerging from the car’s roof and waving the party’s V symbol to the crowds. We join the convoy.

Destination Namboole
The destination is Namboole stadium, some 15km away, where the Opposition figure is expected to be nominated for the 2016 elections.

We expect the procession to go through the lower Katwe, but they choose to use the one lane, Queens Way, [perhaps to avoid the heavy traffic jam]. A police patrol pick-up truck comes in the picture, as though leading the convoy but the procession does not dance to its tunes.

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As we reach Clock Tower on Entebbe Road, the deployment we earlier saw blocks the procession from going through the city centre. The group is asked to go through Nsambya traffic lights, Mukwano Road and then Jinja Road. The crowd is swelling every minute.

“Let’s obey the rules!” One man shouts although the noise does not let his message reach his intended audience.
It is 10am. At Spear junction in Nakawa, police have deployed heavily. The tear gas canons, patrol pick-up trucks have been parked in such a menacing manner that it barricades the junctions.

There is a crowd here waiting for Dr Besigye. The weather is getting warmer and becoming more reasonable to discard the heavy jackets. It is more noisy here than in Kibuye.

Some of them are painted blue from head to toe, brandishing tree branches and posters. Other supporters dressed in party colours join the boda boda riders. They chant, show off freestyle motor biking and mocking police officers that this time, just look on.

Meanwhile, an omnibus (Costa) emerges from the Uganda Revenue Authority direction and stops just at the junction. Tororo County MP Geofrey Ekanya alights from the bus.

He walks straight to the Kampala Metropolitan traffic boss Norman Musinga. He pleads to be let through. The Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Mr Wafula Oguttu, also disembarks from the same bus and joins Ekanya in asking for way. It appears the bus is carrying Opposition bigwigs, who sit in calmly.

Dr Besigye arrives and asks the police officers to move the trucks blocking his way. The crowd makes deafening chants, waving at the Opposition politicians. After about five minutes, they are let through. Besigye’s car led by boda boda riders takes the lead and the bus follows in their tail.

However, police restrain three quarters of the crowd. They oblige and resort to entertaining themselves as they await their politicians to return from Namboole stadium.

The crowd redirects traffic. They plan how to follow Dr Besigye to Namboole through either Naalya or Kinawataka suburbs.
At Banda stage in Kyambogo, a crowd welcomes the procession; it is here that they start giving Dr Besigye money although the convoy is moving a little faster. The same happens in Kireka, but the crowd does not pull immediately.
At Namboole, there is a mammoth crowd outside the stadium. They jubilate, chant and sing as Dr Besigye and party officials go for nomination.

The Nakivubo trek
At exactly 12pm, the nomination is done and the procession prepares to head to Nakivubo War Memorial Stadium for the nomination rally.

Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago (with a skin draped on his shoulders) and Kyadondo East MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda lead the park.

They both emerge on the car’s roof, Mr Ssemujju waving to his home crowd the FDC party sign and Mr Lukwago interchanging the DP folded fist sign and FDC V sign.

A car separates them from Rubaga North MP Moses Kasibante and Makindye Division councillor Allan Ssewanyana who are also sharing a car roof. Kawempe mayor Mubarak Munyagwa follows the queue atop a KCCA double cabin pick-up truck. This park is followed closely by a truck carrying a music system that constantly plays the ‘Besigye ame ingia” song.

Budadiri West legislator and party secretary general Nandala Mafabi is unique. He is not on a sunroof. He is being carried shoulder-high, akin to his antics in Bugisu, his stronghold, whenever he has rallies.

A host of other cars, including another truck with a public address system, follow Dr Besigye’s, which is closely trailed by party president Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu who is sharing his Tundra roof with his wife, Julia. Kampala Woman MP Nabilah Naggayi Sempala dressed in blue gomesi comes soon after Muntu’s car. She is being driven in a Toyota Noah.
Kasilo County MP Elijah Okupa follows suit in his Pajero Mitsibushi and several other officials follow the procession.
“Omuloodi, omuloodi”, “MP waffe, MP waffe”, are the dominant chants as Mr Lukwago and Mr Ssemujju enter Kireka.

This is where the crowd explodes. Thousands join on the road. Others stand on storied buildings to watch the goings-on. Dr Besigye stops to address the Kireka crowd, where he summarises his promise if elected and recognises Muntu. Meanwhile, Ssemujju and Lukwago, unaware that Besigye has stopped continue with the procession.

After Kireka market, just before Banda, a crowd blocks the road. They claim Dr Besigye has been standing for long and he must come out of his car and rest on a sofa in a nearby carpentry shop.

He moves and sits on it but pleads with them that he is time barred. “Agende nne Entebbe eyo”… “Let him go with the chair,” the owner of the shop says. The seat is carried to the top of Dr Besigye’s vehicle. Besigye calls the owner of the seat, says something into his ear before shaking his hand in agreement.

Meanwhile, Dr Besigye’s aide Francis Mwijukye has joined the now presidential candidate on the car roof. He has a green polythene bag where money from supporters is being collected. In a rear spectacle, a man springs from the crowd on to the bonnet and gives Dr Besigye money. Others follow suit.
It is 1:30pm and the procession is just at Nabisunsa. From the distance, the crowd comprising people from all walks of life waiting at Spear junction can be seen. It takes 21 minutes to get to Spear junction.

As the procession moves towards Nakawa, there is a woman from Mukono whose toenails are bleeding. She says she was stepped on, lost her sandals but is confident to walk back to Mukono.

“I don’t care. I had never seen Besigye. I walked all the way from Mukono. I had only Shs5, 000 but I have given it to Doctor. I will walk back home,” she says before walking away. She says her name as Jane.

At the famous Small Gate stage in Nakawa, this is where Besigye gets the largest contributions. Others offer dollars, others shillings.

“Tumuwe dakitari sente banaye… atalina mulimu” meaning “We give doctor money, he doesn’t have a job”.

At about 3pm, we approach Jinja Road Warid clock tower. The procession is now stretching a kilometre. A host of the supporters tout the security personnel. Pointing at the Electoral Commission buildings, they say: “This is the place where our votes are stolen from. This time we are going to be very careful. You will not rig our vote again.”

At the Jinja Road lights, there are nine UN trucks parked together with the police teargas cannons and pick-up trucks.

The crowd asks police officers armed to the teeth to allow them move through the city centre. However, Lukwago and Ssemujju who ask the supporters to go through Mukwano road save the situation.

“Kasita Omuloodi ayogedde” meaning “As long as the Lord Mayor has spoken”.

Dozens of people praise Lukwago as the procession moves. “Gwe omuloodi. Omuloodi oli wa kabi,” they chant as Lukwago smiles and nodes in approval.
Besigye arrives 15 minutes later at the Mukwano roundabout, much to the ululation of supporters who have been waiting here for hours. He is given flowerpots, which he puts atop his vehicle to complete a sitting room-like look.

Meanwhile, government officials and what appear to be guests in an attempt to drive through Mukwano roundabout fail to make it. The police officers driving them shake their heads in wonder as traffic redirects them.

“Twakowa, twakowa. Besigye ye president,” a man rants as the government vehicles drive past.

At Villa Park opposite Nsambya Police Barracks, a group of people offer Besigye more dollars. The clock is fast ticking away; it is approaching 4pm and the crowd in Nakivubo is waiting. In downtown, a sea of supporters intercepts the procession. Besigye is given several items including bread, handkerchiefs, and sandals, among others.

It is way past 5pm; five hours since the procession left Namboole and Besigye’s car is making its way into Nakivubo. We call it a day as reporters inside the stadium take on the mantle.

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