The Buganda riots of 2009 were one of the biggest tests to Uganda’s security because of their spontaneity and how they rapidly spread from the epicentre in the capital Kampala to other parts of the kingdom.
The security forces were stretched and could not be in all places where the violence exploded.
The clash between security forces and Buganda Kingdom youth who were preparing the Kabaka’s visit to Kayunga District started on September 8, 2009 after a group of about 50 anti-riot police officers under Mr Richard Mivule, the commander of central region, dispersed the group with teargas. The police sealed off the venue.
Four kingdom ministers were among the group. They included Florence Bagunywa (youth affairs), Nelson Kawalya (health), George Kumama (cooperatives), Kabuuza Muka (royal travels).
The violence was sparked by the government decision to block then Katikkiro, J.B. Wasswa, from going to Kayunga ahead of the Kabaka’s visit.
The riots claimed lives, occasioned destruction of property and further strained relations between the central government and the Mengo administration.
Troops were mobilised from different units across the country and deployed in Kampala and the surrounding areas to beef up security in the epicentre of the violence that escalated to epidemic proportions.
The security deployments extended beyond Kampala to towns of Masaka, Luweero, Mubende and Mityana where riots were emerging albeit on small scale but security intervened in time to curtail escalation.
President Museveni appointed Gen Ivan Koreta, the then deputy Chief of Defence Forces, as overall commander of the security operations.
He was deputised by Gen Kale Kayihura the then Inspector General of Police. Although Gen Koreta was the commander, Gen Kayihura was the face of the operations.
Soldiers and police were deployed along all highways leading to and out of Kampala. One of the biggest deployment was on Kampala-Gulu highway.
Soldiers patrolled the road section from Kawanda, about 16km from Kampala, to Ku Bbiri in Mulago.
Security forces perched atop high buildings, squares and the roundabouts leading into and out of the city.
The riots were an opportunity for both the police and the army to work more closely than before. They strengthened the joint night patrols in and around Kampala.
These joint patrols and deployments would later become more strengthened during the 2011 elections and Walk-to-Work protests in the same year.
The spontaneous uprising forced the national security and intelligence officers at the strategic level to rethink and rearrange the positioning of the forces in and around the Kampala Metropolitan.
Since then, the number of soldiers deployed in Kampala Metropolitan has increased. For example, 301 battalion was moved to Wakiso.
All intelligence and security officers who played key roles in this operation, have left the positions they held at that time.
Gen Aronda, who was the Chief of Defence Forces, has since died. President Museveni and his security chiefs believed the intention of the riots was to bring down his government.
According to security sources, one of the intelligence agencies believed that former Libyan leader, Col Muammar Gaddafi was behind the riots following disagreements with Mr Museveni over the former’s growing influence in African affairs.
Intelligence and security officers who played key roles to end the riots
Gen Aronda Nyakairima (now deceased)
Gen Aronda Nyakairima was the Chief of Defence Forces at the time of the riots. Given his position, he was responsible for deployment of soldiers in different locations in Buganda. He also asked Gen Kayihura and the then Chief of Military Intelligence, Brig James Mugira, to place their troops on standby to deal with any eventuality.
Gen Ivan Koreta
Gen Ivan Koreta, currently an army representative in Parliament, was the Deputy Chief of Defence Forces in 2009 and overall commander of the anti-riot operations. He was deputised by the then Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura, who was at that time a Major General. Gen Koreta held the office of Deputy Chief of Defence Forces from 2005-2013.
Maj Gen Kale Kayihura
Although he deputised Gen Koreta in the command of the operations, he wielded more power and was heavily involved in quelling the riots.Even after the riots, Gen Kayihura wrote a letter to his senior colleagues in the security hierarchy asking them to remain vigilant. He also warned that the rioters would cause chaos again during 2011 presidential elections.
Gen David Sejusa
He was the coordinator of intelligence agencies before he fell out with the regime in 2013. The general worked closely with Internal Security Organisation, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces and police to quell the riots. Under his guidance, the intelligence agencies infiltrated rioters to know their motives in advance and finally worked with police and army to neutralise them.
Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba
He was the head of Special Forces Command. His Special Forces participated in quelling violent riots in the city centre.
Gen Katumba Wamala
He was the commander of UPDF Land Forces. Most of the troops that were deployed were under his command. He is currently the State Minister of Works.
Brig Ronnie Balya
He was the director general of Internal Security Organisation. He is currently Uganda’s ambassador to South Sudan. His role was gathering intelligence about the rioters and threats posed by the rioters.
Lt Gen James Mugira
He was the chief of Military Intelligence at that time. He is currently the managing director of National Enterprises Corporation, the business wing of the army.
Ms Judith Nabakooba
She was the then police spokesperson. When the group of Buganda youth and ministers were tear-gassed, she said police were trying to stop the violent youth who were reportedly carrying machetes and clubs.
Col. Felix Kulayigye
He was the army spokesperson at that time and in charge of managing the public communication about the riots and operational issues. At one time, he was assaulted by the rioters.
Buganda riots could have been avoided, say kingdom officials
Ten years after the Buganda riots, some kingdom officials believe the clashes would have been avoided if government had exercised rule of law.
The riots exploded spontaneously after government’s decision to block Kabaka Ronald Mutebi from touring Bugerere County in Kayunga District. The Kabaka had been expected to preside over youth day celebrations.
Government issued a statement that unless the Kabaka obtained permission from the Ssabanyala, then Capt Baker Kimeze, to tour Kayunga, they would not allow him to proceed.
The Mengo administration interpreted the statement as an assault on the Kabaka’s freedom and authority.
Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga says government failure to follow the constitutional provisions led to the 2009 animosity and clashes.
“The riots could have been avoided because there were no people in Bugerere opposed to the Katikkiro’s or the Kabaka’s visit,” Mr Mayiga says.
“I think engagement between the central government and the kingdom is key in establishing a smooth working relationship between the two centres,” he adds.
Asked about what Mengo plans to do to avoid a repeat of 2009, Mr Mayiga says they will continue to abide by the Constitution. “Constitutional provisions make Bugerere part of Buganda with a constitutionally recognised traditional leader or Kabaka,” he says.
Former Buganda deputy spokesperson and now Busiro East MP Medard Ssegona says: “It was a question of applying common sense and any person would detect that the breach of Constitution against the Kabaka would attract that kind of reaction. If the Kabaka did not exercise maturity, we would have witnessed bloodshed unseen before.”
A Buganda minister, who preferred anonymity, says: “That was the peak of hate and intrigue this government exhibited against our kingdom. Although what is seen today is some good cooperation, we are just friends for convenience,” the minister says.
Mr Joseph Kawuki, the then kingdom’s youth chairperson and now Buganda’s junior minister for local government, says two days before the youth celebrations, police arrested the organisers in Kayunga.
After discussions between Mengo officials and the then Kayunga District police commander, Mr Grace Turyagumanawe, an agreement was reached to release the youth and the event was allowed to take place.
“Stalls were constructed for the exhibition at Ntenjeru Ssaza headquarters. At Bulange, the then Katikkiro, Mr JB Walusimbi, addressed journalists to announce the programme. But on arrival at Ssezibwa, police stopped him, sparking the riots,” Mr Kawuki says.
Col Shaban Bantariza, the deputy director of the Uganda Media Centre, says revisiting the Kayunga chaos is uncalled for.
“As [Daily] Monitor, what makes that date important to commemorate, over a decade now, if it’s not for reigniting the sad memories of the unfortunate incident, with consequences such as re-raising political insinuations, emotions and undertones of what happened?” Col Bantariza asked.
He says Mengo knew the socio-cultural and security implications from the different cultural groups in Kayunga regarding the visit.
Col Bantariza says whoever thinks government hates Buganda has a short memory.
“Our President fought all tides to restore Buganda Kingdom and others later. Why would government hate the kingdom? We can disagree on certain methods of pursuing certain good or even on national priorities, but that would not tantamount to hate of the kingdom,” Col Bantariza says.
He disregarded Human Rights group reports on the riots, saying they are political activists who ally with opposition politicians to smear government.
“Why would any security officer shoot into homes? That would be criminal, and anybody with some evidence, would be helpful to the State in bringing such fellows to book for justice,” Col Bantariza said.
Additional reporting by James Kabengwa