Who is to blame for the Freedom City deaths?

Vice President Jessica Alupo (right) and Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja (left) pay their last respects to the deceased in Kakumiro yesterday. PHOTO | ALEX TUMUHIMBISE

What you need to know:

  • The Security Minister, Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi, says government is investigating the matter to establish the where things went wrong. 

Rounds of finger-pointing continue to hold sway in the aftermath of the 10 lives that police reports claim were lost during the Freedom City Mall stampede on New Year’s Eve.

Mr Erias Lukwago, the Kampala City Lord Mayor, who is the legal counsel for event organiser Abbey Musinguzi, alias Abitex, pointed a finger of blame at the police and the Freedom City Mall proprietor, Mr John Sebalamu.

“We asked the police to name the commander who was in charge of the venue at that moment when the stampede occurred, [but] they have not revealed the person to us,” he said, adding,  “The whereabouts of the venue owner are not known. We [want to know] why they were not arrested.”

Mr Lukwago’s client, Abitex, was yesterday remanded to Luzira prison on nine counts.

The Kampala City Lord Mayor believes his 52-year-old client is a scapegoat.

Mr Ismael Kirya, the President of the Uganda Young Democrats,  yesterday criticised the police for not being vigilant enough to ascertain if all the necessary measures were put in place to prevent any crowd surge.

Mr Luke Owoyesigyire, the Kampala Metropolitan Police deputy spokesperson, told this publication that the police would investigate allegations against the officers who were deployed to man security at the contentious scene of the crime.

Mr Fred Enanga, the police spokesperson, had earlier on Monday created a dichotomy in which the police ran the rule over the outside security of the venue as security personnel contracted by the event organisers took charge of the inside security.

Some members of the public said police failed to carry out the risk assessment on allowing the organisers to close most of the gates of the venue. They further allege that the police watched as revellers used a small gate that triggered the deadly stampede.

According to witnesses, the revellers were not informed early enough that they would be allowed to get out and watch fireworks. The Public Order Management Act requires the organisers to inform all participants of the traffic or assembly plan and provide sufficient stewards proportionate to the number of participants in the public meeting or gathering.

Mr Damon Kamese, the Executive Director of Uganda Child Rights NGO Network (UNCRNN),  said while a blame game is unhealthy; it is important for event organisers to always work with police, venue owners, as well as child rights specialists—if children are part of a gathering. All this is intended to ensure the safety of their clients.

Mr Kamese said ambulances should be available or contacts of people who can offer emergency services should be shared with the clients so that they can be contacted on time in case of an emergency.

He further noted that if children are part of the gathering, separate services—including separate toilets, entrances and exit, and seats—should be provided. The children also should be under the care of their parents or guardians.

An eyewitness at Freedom City told this publication on Sunday that no ambulance was at the scene by the time of the stampede. Police patrol pickups were, therefore, initially used to evacuate victims.

Our source also added that although there is no specific law that bars children from attending such events, it is imperative that parents take custody of their children.

One of the parents who lost two children during the stampede said she had four children. When the master of ceremonies announced that it was time to get out and watch the fireworks, she took care of the two young ones. The older children—aged 10 and 14 —were left to fend for themselves.

 The Security Minister, Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi, said the government is investigating the matter to establish where and how things went wrong.

“We want to know whether there was negligence on the part of the organisers and the facility itself. The investigations will give us the culprit to blame. Whether the arrangements and facilities were adequate for such a number of people. All those are being investigated and we shall come to the truth,” he said.

Maj Gen Muhwezi advised all organisers of concerts to always take due care of their clients.

“They should not only be interested in making money, but must think about the safety of people,” he said, adding, “They should always work with police because police are trained to protect the lives of people and keep law and order.”

The law says

Part three of  the Public Order Management Act, 2013, however, states that the police are tasked to provide security for both the participants and other publics likely to be affected.

In addition, the Act requires that Police carry out risk assessment on all factors before the public meeting/gathering. It is also mandated to notify the organiser or their agent accordingly, identify an appropriate traffic plan to allow the flow of both vehicle and human traffic and preserve law and order before, during and after a public meeting.

What they say

Erias Lukwago, Kampala Lord Mayor and lawyer to Abitex

We asked the police to name the commander who was in charge of the venue at that moment when the stampede occurred, they have not revealed the person to us, the whereabouts of the venue owner is not known. Why are they not arrested?

The concert organisers notified the police as required by the law to ensure security, and they guided them on how to proceed. We are, therefore, asking why are policemen and private guards who were on duty that night not arrested?

Mr John Sebalamu (Freedom City owner), who ordered all other gates to be closed with padlocks, and leave only one entry-exit gate, is also still at large, why? Should we believe that some people are above the law?

We have earlier warned about the same thing, for Nakivubo stadium which is still under construction, the stadium is all surrounded by shops with narrow escape routes, you wait for another problem which is going to come from Nakivubo Stadium when it’s opened.

Police were paid to guard the venue, concert and also to protect people inside and at parking where fireworks was displayed, police are trained in crowd control and management, police are given money to control the crowd, it should have identified such risks.

So, police and the venue owners are fully responsible for the situation and death of the people we lost and we are demanding their arrest so that they can face the charges.

Staff Member, Freedom City

On December 31, we opened the children’s park at 9am and closed it at 7pm. We also closed the kids section, including the swimming pool, after ensuring that no child was still in the park. We have locks on the gates that do not allow any access to the designated areas.

After closing the park, we left the whole place to the person who had hired the venue (Abitex) to use for the show. Everything happened at 12am and none of us was here because we had closed.

The event organizer had to manage everything, including the security, because he had his own security and we didn’t have any right over the entrance, even people who were collecting the money were his people. For us, we were to  [deal] with kids because we are trained and we finished early and we handed everything to Abitex.

Even though we had a worker here, he was not in charge of the event and he had no control over anything. [For] security he used UBER who were in charge of inside and they were also collecting the money at the entrance.

What happened after, our venue was not responsible after the MC announced that they would go and watch the display of fireworks which was at the side of the parking lot and only one was open. The parking is bigger than this but what caused trouble was that small door. The rest of the doors had bouncers. The whole trouble happened in that small door.

Mr Balaam Barugahare, National Promoters’ Associations member

Abitex’s concert could have had an error as an event organizer, but it’s not such a big error because Abitex as an event organiser [had] to notify the police, ensure that artistes perform and pay them. Our interest is collecting money but in this regard, the owner of the venue Mr Sebalamu should have ensured that the exit points were all open.

At Freedom City, there was only one door opened and the door had fireproof locks. When you have fire proof locks, what do you expect when the MC goes ahead to announce in a closed arena that fireworks is going to be outside the parking... what do you expect and when you have one entrance?

The owner of the venue, Mr Sebalamu, is 100 percent reliable for what happened, and so the security who were put in place should have ensured that all the gates to parking were opened prior.

The event organizer hired the place whose locks at the gates of the venue belonged to Freedom City and when they tried to ask the guards to open the gates they almost shot them. I don’t want to enter the police investigation. I want to be as fair as possible.

Abitex would have informed the IGP that he had been denied the keys to the locks and the IGP also had a representative on ground. The errors are inter-linked, security has errors.

The way of resolving such issues is putting in place a mitigation plan, accesses should be more than five, fireworks should be an outdoor event, children should stay in the park and don’t advertise children when you know they should not come. I don’t blame parents who went with their children.

So let them not arrest the promoter alone but also the commander who was in charge of the venue, the owner of the venue and the management of the venue. Why did they lock the venue, so we want fairness, let everyone answer his own charge.

They should also have notified the people that they would display fireworks by 10pm at the parking lot, not telling them five minutes prior.

Event organisers are guided by the police and given conditions on what we have to fulfil, some of the key guidelines include having enough security manpower to control the crowd, having a fire brigade in case it is a big  event, walks through machines, an ambulance, ensuring that you have toilets, that’s a rule given by KCCA, getting a receipt from the venue and clearing with a National Environmental Management Authority.  We also guided that children should not be allowed in the night.

There are concerts made for elders and there are concerts made for children, there are designated venues like freedom city and others which have kid’s parks.

Mr Andrew Bajjo Mukasa, Event Organiser

It is alleged that the MC asked people to watch the display of fireworks at the parking lot using one small entry which resulted in the stampede.

They have arrested only one person, the event organiser, because he supports the other side of the government. I want to see that justice prevails to the owner of the venue because the police asked him to open doors for the people and he refused. Now the police are playing politics.

Everyone is to blame including the parents who allowed the children in the concert up to that time.

Luke Oweyesigyire, Deputy Spokesperson Kampala Metropolitan Area

Police will investigate Mr Erias Lukwago’s allegations against the police officers deployed at the venue in question.