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.