The September 2009 riots came 43 years after the first riots in the same area in 1966 . Both riots were against the central government’s treatment of Buganda’s cultural leader, the Kabaka.
In the 1966 riots, the police were attacked and its officers killed, while in 2009, the police officers went on the offensive.
The 2009 riots were a repeat of what happened in 1966. It all started in Kayunga before spreading to other towns in Buganda. The Kayunga police attack by ex-servicemen in 1966 inspired people in Buganda to take on the State. A similar scenario played out in 2009 as the riots spread from Kayunga to other towns in Buganda.
Buganda was well represented among the 77,000 Ugandans enlisted for the World War II. When the enlisted Baganda returned home, they were not insignificant as they had left their villages.
One such returning veteran was Robert Kakembo, who went on to write a pamphlet ‘An African Soldier Speak’, in which he described the African soldier as “often from remote regions, who came into the army ignorant.”
Kakembo says the returning soldier was different.
“Each returned home smartly dressed, with plenty of money. He is fat and strong, clean and clever, with plenty to talk about. Such men will never submit to the neglect that the uneducated masses, back home in the villages, undergo….. He does not want to accept things blindly, he wants to know why, and he wants to give his views.”
Men with such exposure and experience had to be in the good books of the administration.
They demanded the king to get rid of the old guard and have it replaced with the young and exposed Baganda for the progress of the kingdom.
To deal with such people, the Kabaka took a different approach. To appease them without fulfilling their demands, he appointed one of their kind, Mikaeri Kawalya Kaggwa, as the finance minister in 1945.
This appointment excited them. “Now the Kabaka is fed up with his chiefs and is waiting for the askaris (soldiers) whom he wants to appoint.”
On top of the appointment of their kind who later became the kingdom’s premier, the returning soldiers were given huge chunks of land.
Many were resettled in Nazigo in Kayunga. The area was named Mukiseveni (home of the returned soldiers), some were made chiefs. With such donations, a threat to the giver was a threat to them and they were bound to defend the Kabaka.
1966 police attack
George William Ssebowa was a newspaper agent and vendor and laundry service provider in Kayunga Town in 1966. From his home in Namabagi in Kayunga, the 95-year-old recalls the events leading to his journey as a newspaper vendor after a short stay in Kampala as a construction site porter.
“I was earning 30 cents a day as a porter at Mulago hospital and later Mbuya Military Barracks. But the 1949 riots forced me back home. In 1950, I started vending newspapers and working as a dobbi in Kayunga Town,” recalls the old man
Popular vernacular newspapers at the time included Munno and Ngabo while the English papers included the Uganda Argus.
“Luganda newspapers were costing 15 cents, while the English papers were sold at 20 cents. They reported the rising tension between Mengo and the central government extensively,” he adds.
Fearing for the worst for Buganda, the ex-servicemen in Kayunga hatched a retaliation plan should the central government attack the palace.
“Because of their love for the king and the institution, the Baseveni in Kayunga were ready to do anything to defend their king. It was at my shop that the plan to attack Kayunga Police Station in case anything happened to the Kabaka was hatched. The organisers were Mpindi, Amisi Sendowoza, Kweli from Busaana and my uncle Sentamu, all ex-servicemen”.
Ssebowa narrates that minutes before they attacked the police station, the ex-servicemen had mobilised a good number of followers as back up. “They marched from my shop towards the police station, a distance of less than a kilometre, with no fighting weapon. What I did not know was that pangas (machetes) and spears had been hidden on the way to the police station. As they marched to the police, I gathered my client’s clothes and the newspapers, to lock up and join them. But as I was locking up, I thought the worst may come and instead decided to go home.”
“As I was about to reach home, I heard the first bullet. I increased my pace without running, as I got into the house gunshots became too many, from the window I saw people running from all directions,” Ssebowa narrates.
He says when he asked what was happening, he was told a popular police officer, Malobo Station and the officer in-charge at the police had been killed.
“ They were killed with pangas.”
As calm was restored, the suspects were picked up.
Ssebowa, having provided a planning space, became a wanted man.
“Information had gone out that the attackers had been meeting at my work place to plan the raid at the police station. Accompanied by the village leaders, police came to my house to pick me. Fortunately, having anticipated that I had left the house with my family earlier. They broke into the house and destroyed everything. I think if they could, they would have demolished it as well,” Ssebowa says.
For the next three years, Ssebowa played hide and seek with the local authorities even when his family members returned home. His relief came in 1971 when a military coup toppled the government.
While Ssebowa was privy to the 1966 plan to raid Kayunga Police Station, Mr Khalid Lubwama, who had just moved to his new home in Busabila in Kitwe Kayonza County, was not.
On the morning of the attack, he was just cautioned by his elder brother, an ex-service man, not to leave home that day. “It was a Friday when the palace was attacked. I was in Busabila with my elder brother Ali Walusimbi, a World War II veteran. As he left home that morning, he told me not to leave home for my own safety,” the 85-year-old retired produce dealer recalls.
Fearing for his family which he had left in Nongo Village in Kasawo, more than 40km away, Lubwama did not heed his elder brother’s advice.
He risked and used village paths back home, despite hearing gun shots.
“At Nakyesa, I found a car riddled with bullets, I continued and joined the main road at Bukoloto where the road was covered with broken glasses, it looked like it was snow.”
Though Lubwama managed to get home unscatched, the worst was awaiting him.
“I found my family and neighbours hiding in the bush. As people started coming out of their hiding later that day, we didn’t see the soldiers coming but suddenly, there was gunfire everywhere. We had to run to hide. One boy called Semakula was killed in his father’s shop where he was hiding,” Lubwama reveals.
He adds that when the soldiers left, the villagers decided to dig up the roads to deny military vehicles access.
“Those of us who could not believe that our beloved king was gone put up more resistance. We dug up roads to stop government soldiers reaching us. We dug up the stream which connects Kigogwa to Kyabazala,” he recounts.
Lubwama attributes the reaction of the people of Kayunga in 1966 to the presence of ex-servicemen in the area. They had been resettled there by the king and they owed their survival to him. “The Baseveni in Kayunga were willing to put their lives on the line for the king, they mobilised the people to put up the resistance.”
Fast forward to the 2009 Kayunga riots, following the central government barring Kabaka Ronald Mutebi from travelling to the area.
John Kayizi was working in the accounts department at Kayunga District headquarters when he volunteered on one of the organising committees preparing Kabaka Mutebi’s visit in 2009. The committee was in the final preparatory meeting with some Mengo ministers when police came and accused them of holding an illegal meeting.
“I was volunteering out of love for my cultural institution, though I was accused of working against the government because I was a civil servant. When police interrupted the meeting and chaos broke out, Kayizi escaped to the safety of his home. The chaos spread to other parts of Buganda, in Kampala including Natete where a police station and a bus were burnt.
“Police started arresting the rioters, they also started picking up those involved in the preparation of the visit. That’s when I became a target. I decided to stay at home in Nazigo and hid in the house for three days. Plain-clothed men were loitering around my house waiting for me to step out and grab me but I stayed indoors.”
Kayizi’s luck ran out when he ventured to go to pick up his sick grandmother and take her to hospital.
“I was in my brother’s car, after the Sezibwa Bridge I saw two military pickups following us, I knew they were coming for me. Just after Kabimbiri Trading Centre on the Mukono-Kayunga Road, one of the pickup truck came from behind and intercepted us.
They said they wanted me, my brother pleaded with them that he was ready to drive wherever they wanted me.
He was ordered to drive to Kayunga Police Station and we drove back in the middle of the two military pickup trucks.
The following day, Kayizzi and 40 others were taken to court in Kayunga, starting a two-year journey in the courts of law until 2011 when the case was dismissed.
In all times that Kayunga has played host to pro-Mengo riots there have been victors and victims among the residents.
After the 1966 riots, a number of Kabaka Yekka supporters residing outside Mukiseveni were victimised.
“Uganda People’s Congress wingers picked Murish from his home in Namanoga and took him to Busabira from where they killed him,” recalls Lubwama.
Though Kayizzi was lucky to be taken to court and get out of jail alive, many who put their lives on the line for the kingdom in 1996 did not have that luxury of being taken to court, leave alone coming out alive.
“Many of the old men in Kayunga were arrested and died in prison. Sentogo, our representative to the Lukiiko, was arrested during the riots, he never came back. Some ex-servicemen who had participated in the attack like Kikonyogo, Kweli and Sendowoza died in prison,” says Ssebowa.