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Behind clashes in Lira

Protestors lit fire in the streets of Lira in riots against Police and Asian traders.

Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | The death of Dickens Okello,an 11-year-old boy, on Nov. 12 in the northeastern districtof Lira appears to have ignited tensions between Ugandans and the Asian community in the area.

Observers say the death, which sparked the recent clashes, was the tipping point of tensions that have been simmering for years due to alleged abuse meted out on Ugandans by their Asian employers.

The situation has been compounded by alleged mismanagement of reported cases by Police, locals say.

According to Charles AngiroGutomoi, the MP for Erute North, Okello met two Indians in a vehicle who tried to lure him with sweets as he returned home from school.

Gutomoi says Okello snubbed their offer but what followed after has not been clearly established. Some accounts indicate that it was a case of attempted kidnap as the two Indians chased after the boy when he turned down their sweets.

Other accounts note thatthe boy’s leg was broken, that he was hit with a blunt object before he was strangled.

Police Spokesperson EmilianKayima told The Independent that the two Indians are going to be charged with murder.

Gutomoi says residents in Lira felt that the post mortem report done at Lira Regional Referral Hospital, which indicated that Okello died of a “heart attack” was fabricated. The post mortem report angered the local community.

 “The communities of Kole and Lira were not satisfied with the results of the post mortem,” Gutomoi told The Independent. “The parents and friends of the pupil said that he had never complained about getting sick.”

Jonathan Odur, MP for Erute County South, said the post mortem result was bad enough but what worsened matters was when the police attempted to impose itself on the burial programme of Okello on Nov.17.

“Mourners objected and police responded with bullets. This led to clashes. One person died and the locals attacked Asian shops,”Odur told The Independent.

History of abuse

Odur says locals in Lira are not happy with Asians about a number of events going back in time. “There are grave crimes committed by the Asian community. The police and the justice system are not able to prosecute the culprits,” he adds.

He narrates an incident in 2013 when an Asian boss at a company called Mt. Meru returned to the company factory at 9pm and abused employees.

“He assembled all the local staff in one corner and he urinated on them,” Odur says,“This matter was reported to Lira Central Police Station but the case was mismanaged.”

Another incident, Odur says, happened about three or four years ago, when a number of girls working at Asian owned supermarkets were allegedly gang-raped and sodomized. “Police opted to protect the Asians,” he says.

He narrates more incidents. “This year a 17 year old girl working at TipTop bakery was assaulted by two Asian bosses. They forced half a kilogramme of pepper powder in her anus.” Odur says he raised the matter on the floor of parliament but adds that Speaker Kadaga mismanaged it.

“One of the people in Lira police tried to follow up the case but instead a murder case was fabricated against him,” he tells The Independent. The legislator believes the post mortem report of Okellowas doctored due to the compromised nature of the police.

Odur says the only solution will be the security forces in Lira giving way for an independent investigation to get to the bottom of the issues causing animosity in Lira.

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