Thursday, September 17, 2009

To shoot or not to shoot...?

A recent road accident along the Kampala-Gulu highway, which I was lucky to emerge from unscathed in the first place, has turned me into a frequent traveller to Bombo Police Station in the last fortnight. While returning from one such journey last Thursday, I ended up in the midst of rioting gangs who had blocked off the road right from Kawanda trading centre.

Before I left Bombo, a radio message had come through from the Central Police Station that spontaneous riots had broken out in the city and caught the force off-guard because most of the anti-riot police officers had been ferried to Kayunga district in anticipation of riots in the run up to the Kabaka’s planned visit. CPS officers were, in their radio message, calling for back-up from all police stations in the vicinity.

The problem for the force is that the very police stations that CPS expected to provide them with back were battling similar riots in their own localities. In some cases, like at the Nateete Police Post, the police officers on duty were actually overrun by the rioters who set everything in sight ablaze.

At Kawanda, where we were holed up, there was not a single policeman in sight. This left travellers from Gulu, Lira and areas alongside that highway at the mercy of the rioters, who by then were burning tyres along the road and threatening to widen the scope of their mayhem.

Sensing that the situation was getting out of hand, the police perhaps sent an SOS to the army in a bid to contain the riotous crowds.

For the travellers at Kawanda, the sight of army trucks driving into the city was a source of both relief and fear. We all knew that since the army lining up troops on the road from Kawanda to Wandegeya, the road would be opened up and we would be able to drive into the city centre.

However, one could sense right from the time they started shooting to disperse the crowds at Kawanda that some of the soldiers had not got an opportunity to refresh their shooting skills and were taking this one with both hands, literally.

Because of this, there were as many culprits that bore the brunt of the military style of law enforcement as innocent victims who just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. Like the fellows walking back home from the city centre, who were compelled – by the sound of batons and wood cracking against their backs – to carry hot ash from the dying embers of the fires on the road with their bare hands.

It was a situation that left me in a dilemma, in the same way that President Museveni’s assertion that the army should shoot riotous to main has. Without the intervention of the military, we could have been left at the mercy of the riotous – some of who were clearly acting in self-interest than that of their Kingdom or its head. However, no innocent person deserves to fall victim to the army’s style of law enforcement.

Anyone who got caught up in the violence and feared – however remotely – that they could fall victim to the rioters will have felt immense relief that the army was sent to the streets to disperse them. Yet, at the same time, one can’t help but feel for victims of the army’s heavy handed approach. It’s a tough cal to make.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kampala is burning

With at least 10 people dead by Friday evening, several cars and a police station torched, as well as prisoners released, six radio stations closed, Kampala has not witnessed such a spontaneous outburst of emotion in the recent past.

Kampala has seen large crowds riot due to the 2005 incarceration of FDC President Col. Kizza Besigye upon his return from South Africa to take on Mr Museveni for the presidency, the demonstrations to block the giveaway of parts of Mabira to investors and other recent events, but none happened so spontaneously as the one that took place late this week.

The government’s intelligence organs were clearly caught off-guard and the desperate attempts by the security organs to martial back-up from outside Kampala indicated the extent to which they were unaware that riots of this nature could break out, and ill-prepared to handle them.

Other post-mortems of this week’s riots will of course be done in different circles when the dust has settled, but some of the early lessons are already apparent. First, although many Ugandans seem indifferent to the destruction of their country, each individual has certain things that they deeply care about. What the country has lacked are politicians and political groups that can aggregate these individual concerns and show the different groups of Ugandans that their concerns will be addressed.

Of course the need to address individual concerns would never have been the case in the first place had Uganda not been so systematically fragmented. But that is an issue for another day.

Secondly, for all Buganda’s posturing as the most powerful and influential ethnic group in the country, there is little that it can achieve without involving other Ugandan communities in its struggle for whatever concessions they want from any government. Had Buganda been able to win over the other communities, yesterday’s riots would have at least brought the government to its knees if they had spread throughout the country.

For Ugandans, the lesson is very clear. Nothing is going to come on a silver platter and the sooner that sinks in, the better for the nation.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Paying taxes by sms, and other policies of a kind

As I did some quick research about Sweden before my journey to this Scandinavian country yesterday, I landed on this rather amusing information about the Swedish culture and government policies. Reading some of that information, presented unedited below, gave me the feeling this trip promises to be interesting - all three weeks of it.

Later, a report on the trip. For now, here is Sweden Unplugged: -
  • From 2004, you can pay your Swedish taxes by sending an SMS message from your cell phone.
  • The government sends you a completely filled out tax form and if it looks good you just go online and click okay to pay your taxes.
  • Taxes are generally between 50 and 70 percent of your income. (Of course your employer already pays the full amount of your salary to the government in taxes before you even get anything.)
  • Companies must lay off employees in first-in-last-out order when they are downsizing.
  • You can take sick leave during your vacation if you are ill.
  • Parents get a total of 13 months of paid maternity leave and the father is required to take at least 1 month of it. (There has been a discussion about changing this to 15 months and requiring the father and mother to each take 5 and then split the last 5 as they feel appropriate.)
  • Parental leave can be used to take off time for parenting classes before your child is born.
  • Parents can save up their maternity leave for more than 5 years (i.e., use it for doctor's appointments, school visit days, etc.).
  • Daycare cost is based on your family income with a government imposed maximum. (Currently about 1/10th as much as in the U.S.!)
  • If you have a new child, your other children get a month of free daycare so you can concentrate on the new one.
  • All employees (including graduate students) get 5 weeks of paid vacation a year.
  • All employers (as of 2004) are required to provide free massage.
  • Yearly car inspections include comprehensive safety checks as well as pollution controls.
  • Car insurance is flat-rate depending on the deductibles (i.e., no "comprehensive" vs. "collision" vs. "uninsured" vs. "medical"), and liability insurance is not required.
  • The transportation department of the Swedish government works actively to reduce the number of traffic deaths each year to zero. (Mainly by reducing the speed limits.)
  • The government installs elk fences along the sides of large roads to prevent elk from wandering into traffic.
  • There is no right turn on red.
  • Multi-lane highways often merge in large roundabouts. (Although not as obnoxiously frequently as in England.)
  • Any product you purchase is guaranteed for 1 year, and the retailer must exchange it if it fails in that time. (This includes things like clothes and shoes.)
  • All non-military property that is not fenced in, or is not a farm or someone's personal garden is open to anyone for hiking through or camping for one night.
  • Ice cream comes in blueberry and rhubarb flavors, and is never florescent. (Although the licorice ice cream can be coal black.)
  • Roughly 20 percent of the country's police stations close during the summer since everyone is off on vacation.
  • The sun rises at 3.30am in the summer.
  • The sun sets at 3.30pm in the winter.
  • Christmas is celebrated on the evening of the 24th. The father always goes out to buy a newspaper and while he is gone Santa arrives (in person) to deliver presents.
  • Swedish university students are required to pay a membership fee in the student union, but no tuition.
  • American textbooks are cheaper in Sweden than in the U.S..
  • The government has made a political choice to shut down all nuclear power plants in the country for environmental reasons. This means Sweden is forced to import dirty coal-generated power from Poland to meet its needs.
  • In Sweden IKEA is a cheap store, not a trendy store. (And they are only open until 8pm on special days.)
  • Recycling is taken so seriously that one company (FTI) is trying to put up video cameras to make sure people sort their recyclables correctly. (June 2006)
  • Privacy is taken so seriously that putting up video cameras in laundry rooms to catch vandals is illegal.
  • Learning to speak Swedish is frustrating becaues everyone in Sweden already speaks better English than you will ever speak Swedish.
  • On Easter children dress up as witches and go trick-or-treating.
  • St. Lucia is a nationally celebrated saint (complete with baked goods and TV shows), and despite the fact that she is a saint because she tore out her own eyes to avoid being seduced by a man, little children dress up like her every winter.
  • The largest ice cream restaurant in the country is located in the quaint little village of Söderköping, and sells creations that use dry ice to create bubbling smoking concoctions. No one is concerned about being sued if some foolish kid eats the dry ice.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

An insult to the conscience of a nation (Cont’d)

After posting my last piece, I got thinking about some of the most callous things that some of our leaders do and get away with; the kind of things that would get them either impeached, sacked or – if they had some humility – to resign.

The most recent and most disturbing case was of Primary Education State Minister, Peter Lokeris, heartlessly telling parents whose children died in the Budo Junior inferno to go and produce more children since they were still young, rather than bothering the government to complete investigations and bring closure to the saga by producing a report on the real cause of the fire.

When a minister, who is supposed to ensure the safety of the children under his ministry, says something so senseless, one wonders whether we have a government committed to serving people or merely being in power and enjoying the privileges that come with it at the expense of the nation.

With Minister Lokeris yet to show any remorse several weeks since he made that statement, one would have expected some reaction from the President or his Prime Minister, who is the leader of government business in Parliament. However, the fact that they do not seem to see anything wrong with such statements is perhaps an indicator of the collective conscience of the government.

After all President Museveni, who has himself lately mastered the art of rubbing Ugandans the wrong way with some of his statements, sometimes doesn’t even need to say anything to show his selfish, heartless side.

When a president, soon after getting a newly spruced multi-billion shilling State House, then asks for a new multi-billion shilling presidential jet, and, as if that is not enough, even wants to keep the entire Old Entebbe Airport for himself, then the citizens are in trouble – especially because all of these demands from the big man come at a time when people in some parts of the country like Karamoja are dying of famine.

With leaders like these, can the long-suffering Uganda really get a worse enemy?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

An insult to the conscience of a nation

How times (or is it people?) change. A decade ago, or thereabouts, Gen. David Tinyefuza was fighting for his very relevance in Ugandan politics. The man had broken ranks with his comrade President Museveni and attempted to resign from the army, only to be told by the Courts that he could not do so.

In a country where people always have a soft spot for the underdog in any battle, Gen Tinyefuza’s lone battle against a system that seemed to be bent on keeping him in the army against his will, won him a lot of sympathy from the public – never mind whether it was he or the system in the wrong.

After a protracted court battle, Gen Tinyefuza eventually lost out to the system and, after undergoing ‘rehabilitation’, mended fences with Museveni and returned to the NRA/M fold.

Whatever that rehabilitation comprised, it certainly changed Gen Tinyefuza; he tucked in his tail and has since been singing a tune that must sound like music to his master's ears - starting with his ‘apology’ to Museveni at a marriage ceremony of one of his children, in which he ridiculously claimed to have been misled.
Today, Gen Tinyefuza is one of the foremost defenders of some of the worst the excesses orchestrated by Museveni’s government. Museveni could as well set Uganda on fire and, while the country burns, Gen Tinyefuza will scamper out of the inferno and proclaim that all is well. Iraq's comical Ali wouldn't do a better job.

But even by his recent standards, this week’s declaration – while commenting on the arrest of three Buganda officials by the government – that under certain circumstances “some laws can even be suspended” was a new low.

Uganda still doesn’t have sufficient systems in place to defend the freedoms of its citizens, largely thanks to the selfish scheming of people like Gen Tinyefuza, but saying “some laws can be suspended” should surely open the eyes of many Ugandans to the fact that they are governed by people who are only interested in keeping themselves in power at all costs; not enabling Ugandans to enjoy their freedom.

Had such a statement been made by somebody in the opposition, it would have been enough to send them to the cooler on treason charges. However, because Gen Tinyefuza is part of the system in power – never mind that he is still a serving soldier who should ordinarily have no business delving into politics – he makes such an inflammatory statement and is not apprehended for it.

But Gen Tinyefuza, more than anyone else should know that times and people can change. Ten years ago, he was on the other side of the fence but today he is making all the reckless statements he wants with the protection of the system. Who knows, tables can once again turn.

If Tinyefuza is really interested in ensuring that the values and institutions that they claimed to have fought to restore in Uganda are indeed inculcated in this country’s political processes, then he should spend his time building them instead of insulting the nation and its people.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A question of pride

By this time two weeks ago, when I penned (or is it typed?) my last post, the Uganda Cranes were gearing for their first match of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers with lots optimism, if not assurance.

By the end of the day, they were three points to the good courtesy of a solitary goal from team captain Ibrahim Ssekajja against Niger. Like is always the case when the Cranes score, we sang our hearts out at Namboole, danced and waved our flags like crazy.

But the display was not ewe-inspiring. Deep in our hearts, we knew that the Cranes needed to greatly pull up their socks if they were to mount a challenge against Angola (who played at the 2006 World Cup) and Benin (who gave a good account of themselves at the 2008 African Nations Cup).

By some uncanny twist of fate, the Cranes opened their campaign facing the team they had played against in the last match of the 2008 Nations Cup qualifiers. Then, the game ended 3 – 0 in Uganda’s favour; this time round, it was Ssekajja’s solitary goal. Had Niger improved or was it the Cranes who had lost some of their firepower?

Benin, who the Cranes faced only a week after Niger, duly gave Ugandans an answer with a 4 – 1 annihilation of their national side – despite the latter having taken the lead through striker Eugene Sssepuya.

Several explanations (excuses?) have since been given for that loss – from the lame to the bizarre. Three key players were not available for selection, said the coach Lazslo Csaba. The conditions in Benin were the worst the team had ever endured in a long time, argued the stand-in team captain Timothy Batabaire. I heard thunder in the stadium as Benin’s army of witchdoctors/fans did their thing, claimed goalkeeper Dennis Onyango.

The fact is that the Cranes were beaten. The reality is that the Cranes have many issues to overcome if they are to overcome the barren spell of 30 years that the country has endured without seeing its team at the African Nations Cup (never mind the World Cup). But with our passion for football and for our country, the fans will never desert the Cranes.

So, as I go to Namboole tomorrow to watch our beloved Cranes against Angola, I know there will be thousands of other like-minded fans. We will go hoping for a win. But even if we lose, we will at least be proud that we represented our country – by cheering our boys on from the stands.

When the odds are stacked against as is the case in these qualifiers , all we ask of our boys is to fight to the final whistle so that we live Namboole with our heads held high that they are setting a foundation for a tradition that makes Namboole a footballing fortress and the Cranes a hard nut to crack.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A nation waits, and expects

Uganda’s national team, the Cranes, will tomorrow, Saturday, kick off their campaign to earn a berth in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa at the Nelson Mandela national stadium.

The Cranes have not had much luck in recent campaigns, but the team at least has a loyal nation behind them. So the 40,000-seater Mandela national stadium (located at Namboole on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital Kampala by the way, not somewhere in Johannesburg) is once again expected to fill up to the brim.

The expectations, as has been the case each time the Cranes have started such a campaign, will be enormous. And with Uganda’s soccer governing body, FUFA, having summoned a record 16 professionals, the fans will expect nothing short of a victory.

Opening day victories have in any case been formalities each time the Cranes have started such campaigns. Where the Cranes have come short in the recent past is in their failure to win sufficient games (especially away from home,) to garner sufficient points to claim a qualification slot.

Over the years the Cranes have, in the words of one pundit, come second so many times that if there was a competition for coming second, the team would still take the second position.

The most painful was of course the qualification campaign for the 2008 Nations Cup campaign where the team failed to qualify by a single goal. A second experience of that nature would be too much to bear for a nation that has already endured so much heartache.

Part of the reason the team has performed poorly in the past was the federation’s inability to transport all the team’s professionals to feature in every game of a campaign. It was a problem that reared its head again in the last campaign – with the team captain, Ibrahim Ssekajja, failing to make it for two crucial games.

This time round, with at least four games to be played in June, and the local league – as well as most leagues across the world – having been completed, even the 16 players plying their trade in foreign leagues can be maintained in camp for the entire month.

The signs look good; it is now up to the players to go out there and discard that nearly men tag that has dogged Ugandan football for ages.

A nation waits, and expects.