When severe weather is looming, clouds are often the first sign that skies are turning hostile. Under the right conditions, there is calm before a storm. But in the days leading to September 10, 2009 riots, there was no such a thing as “calm before the storm”.
The uproar in Parliament fed into the growing discontent in Bugerere before Kabaka’s subjects in other counties joined in the fray with consternation and violence. They accused the central government of unfairly blocking the Kabaka from visiting Kayunga, which is a statutory part of Buganda Kingdom.
The riots in Kampala broke out when police blocked a delegation representing the kingdom from visiting Kayunga. The Kabaka was planning the visit for the National Youth Day, two days later. The government explained that the leaders of the Banyala ethnic group in Kayunga had opposed the Kabaka’s visit.
The Kabaka’s supporters in various parts of the kingdom took to the streets to protest the police action, burning debris on the roads, blocking traffic, and throwing rocks.
The security forces responded with force. At least 40 people were killed during two days of civil unrest, according to Human Rights Watch.
But the continued failure to condemn the unrest in Kayunga and the uproar on the floor of the 7th Parliament could have fuelled the storm as lawmakers, especially from Buganda, pushed the government to explain the fuss over Kabaka’s visit.
Fury in Parliament
During the House sitting of September 8, the late Mathias Nsubuga, one of the Democratic Party stalwarts then, raised a matter of national importance and asked government to explain why they denied the Kabaka entry into Kayunga District.
“Government [should] give [us] reasons as to why there is this high tension because the Kabaka is going to visit one of his counties. If you have today’s [September 8, 2009] newspapers, all of them have captured it.
‘Tear gas as tension builds in Kayunga’, is the headline for the Daily Monitor while New Vision has ‘Police tear gas Mengo officials’,” Nsubuga said. He reminded government how the external mission of the NRM political wing requested the Kabaka to visit the war zones when the NRA liberation war stagnated in Masaka and Singo. The kingdom leadership at the time chose the then vice president, the late Samson Kisekka, and presidential adviser John Nagenda to accompany the Kabaka to the war zones.
Nsubuga’s submission touched many hearts, particularly MPs from Buganda. They stood up one by one to condemn those who were planning to block Kabaka’s strategic visit to Kayunga. The visit had been planned at the weekend [Saturday] but government had issued a statement, advising the Kabaka not to travel to Kayunga before sitting with the Banyala chiefdom leaders.
Mr Daudi Migereko, who was the government Chief Whip, that day stood in for the leader of government business. He promised to inform then Internal Affairs minister Kirunda Kivejinja to bring a statement to Parliament.
He also explained that meetings were ongoing between Mr Kivejinja, who was also the chairperson of the Security Council, the Katikkiro [prime minister] of Buganda and the Inspector General of Police. Before the riots broke out in Kampala, Mr Erasmus Magulumaali, who represented Kooki County, and other members had stood in the House and warned that the repercussions of blocking Kabaka’s visit could be ugly. The MPs, particularly from Buganda, threatened to walk out of the House and for some days unsuccessfully pleaded with government to allow the Kabaka to visit Kayunga.
As tempers flared before the riots, Buganda Caucus MPs walked out of the House on September 9, 2009, the eve of the riots, protesting obstinacy and continued failure to explain why the Kabaka would be blocked from visiting part of his kingdom. The government, through the Internal Affairs minister, promised a statement and talked of meetings with the kingdom officials. The riots, however, broke out before Parliament received any statement from Mr Kivejinja.
The following day (Wednesday, September 9, 2009), the anticipated government statement did not come. Ms Rebecca Kadaga, who was chairing the House, said: “This morning, I received information that consultations are going on and the MPs from Buganda will be invited to go and discuss the matter with the President tomorrow at 4pm. So, since that part of the statement is pending consultation, we shall hold on.”
This, however, angered Opposition MPs, particularly those from Buganda, who reminded Ms Kadaga that the Opposition members had not been invited to State House for a meeting with the President. Ms Kadaga, however, insisted that she is the speaker for all members and that all Buganda Caucus MPs will go to State House for a meeting.
When Mr Geoffrey Ekanya (FDC, former Tororo County) asked Ms Kadaga to tell the President to bring a statement to Parliament, she said: “Actually, I am talking to you because I spoke to him [Museveni] this morning concerning that [Buganda] matter. I am equally concerned that it is a Uganda matter. But my colleagues [from Buganda] had threatened to walk out of the House. So, he [President] will meet them but they will come back to us because the matter is for the whole country. They will have to come back to us.”
Inside Parliament on September 10
It was a regular Thursday afternoon and the House was in session. Although most of the Buganda MPs were not in the House, other lawmakers were busy debating a motion moved by then Bunya East MP James Kubeketerya, urging the government to impose a total ban on production and sale of alcoholic drinks in sachets. Ms Kadaga was chairing the session that day.
The then Speaker of Parliament, Mr Edward Ssekandi, was not in the House.
The frightening sound of unfamiliar gunshots and the frantic news about running battles in downtown Kampala sent people in and outside Parliament running. Those inside the chambers, however, did not know what was happening outside. It was Mr Ekanya who broke the news about the chaos in the city.
He moved a motion under Rule 46 of the Parliament Rules of Procedure at the time, demanding that the House adjourns the debate and discusses a matter of urgent public importance- the 2009 Buganda riots. This particular provision on “motions without notice” has since changed at least two times. From Rule 50 (b) to Rules 58 (b).
“As we are here in this House, there is a lot of gunfire downtown. There is teargas and some schools are being closed. We have received reliable information that some people may have lost life and if you go down in the streets, the 999 Police Patrol and sirens are sounding high,” Mr Ekanya told the House.
“Some of us have children in schools and it is based on that that I move this motion that government explains the state of affairs in Kampala City so that the country is informed and we know the security condition of our families, so that we do not sit here and yet some of our properties, businesses and our families’ lives may be threatened. I beg to move.”
Erute North MP Charles Angiro Gutumoi seconded the motion. At this point, there was panic in the House, including the public gallery. Some MPs left the chamber to unknown destinations and others were seem making frantic calls to their loved ones.
The Speaker then asked: “Where is the minister for Internal Affairs?
Mr Matia Kasaija, the then State minister for Internal Affairs, had stormed out of the chambers. However, when he returned, he told the House that had stepped out to receive an urgent call. But before Mr Kasaija returned to the House to explain the security situation, Ms Kadaga asked Mr Gutumoi, who was also the shadow internal affairs minister, to brief Parliament on the chaos in town.
Mr Gutumoi announced the arrest of the Katikkiro and other kingdom officials. “The matter that has been moved on the Floor is very important. You can never tell what can happen in the next 10 minutes. You may find that the building is besieged and we are being surrounded by what is happening downtown. This will be very unfortunate, and that is the reason we request that government takes it up and informs the nation as to what is happening,” he said.
“You remember yesterday [September 9, 2009] when members of the Buganda caucus marched out; we still do not know if they have met the President. There is also this impending visit of the Kabaka. As far as I have been informed, the Katikkiro has been arrested and we do not know how many arrests have been made so far or how many might have been injured, and the capacity to calm the situation,” he added.
The shadow internal affairs minister also said the MPs were not secure.
“It worries us because we have our children in schools around the city and we have to go back home in the evening or much earlier than that. How secure are we? We do not understand,” Mr Gutumoi said.
As soon as Mr Kasaija returned to the chambers, he begged the indulgence of the Deputy Speaker and said: “A few minutes ago, you saw me walking out of the chamber. I was trying to get an update [on what is going on]. Before we came here, I was in touch with the police on two things, and one of them is what Mr Gutomoi is saying on the Katikkiro.”
“The Katikkiro decided to travel to Kayunga today against our advice. We advised that he should not; that he is a very big man and when the situation is still fluid, we did not think it was worthwhile. The information I had at that time was that he was stopped at Sezibwa and very politely, he was stopped at Sezibwa [bridge] and asked to come back; but I am not fully updated, I must say,” he added.
The minister explained that police had also moved to quell the subsequent protests.
“There were a few wrong elements within our society, especially around Kisekka Market, who had mobilised people and were asking the shopkeepers to close their shops. The information I had at that time is that the police had moved in to stop that nonsense. I would beg this House to allow me to go to the office and get fully updated. Depending on when the House is adjourning this afternoon, I will come back here because I do not want to give half-truths,” he said.
Before Mr Kasaija left Parliament, he assured MPs that “the situation is totally under control and asked the House to debate because nobody will come to bother them in Parliament’.
“I can assure you that nobody will even prevent you from leaving the precincts of this Parliament. Nobody will stop you on your way home except maybe a police officer to ask you to identify yourself. So, I do not want it to be recorded that Parliament is panicking. There is no need to panic. We are in full control of the situation and nobody is going to bother you. You conduct your business,” he explained.
Although the Speaker did not adjourn the House until 5:35pm, within hours, chaos had already ensued and spread to other parts of Buganda Kingdom. House staff, journalists, lawmakers and visitors raced to escape what they thought could be an attack on Parliament. However, some MPs stayed in the chambers as others took cover in their offices.
Scenes of ransacked stores, a torched police station and cars, burning tyres and deserted streets outraged MPs. The death toll and the level of destruction compelled the President to address Parliament on September 15, 2009. The President blamed the riots on the Opposition and explained why his government blocked the Kabaka’s visit.
Different view. As tempers flared before the riots, Buganda Caucus MPs walked out of the House on September 9, 2009, the eve of the riots, protesting obstinacy and continued failure to explain why the Kabaka would be blocked from visiting part of his kingdom.