By John Njoroge
LC V boss’ ordeal shows how unfulfilled promises endanger public officials
At first, he is hit with a bottle top but within seconds, stones, sticks, dirty water and dust are hitting him from all directions. A crowd numbering in the hundreds has steadily gathered around him and it is growing fast. With every passing minute, it is becoming more violent and abusive.
‘We are sick and tired of you stealing and lying to us for all these years,’ somebody shouts. ‘We are going to teach you a lesson,’ another roars, ‘You will be an example to your friends.’
The barrage of stones and dust intensifies. A few ‘brave’ people try to help him. ‘Let’s walk calmly away. Do not panic, you may excite them negatively,’ somebody advises.
A sort of stealth withdrawal begins amidst the stoning, the caning and the dust. They attempt to make a detour by getting off the road but they are blocked. The huge crowd on either side seems to be herding him and his ‘rescuers’ further and deeper along the road; little does he know that just ahead of him, an even larger crowd is waiting. It is a trap and he had fallen right into it.
He is no common thief; rather, he is the top most politician in Wakiso district; Local Council V chairperson, Ian Kyeyune. The date is August 3, 2009 and the mob that held him hostage consisted of his constituents, the people living in Masajja village along Busabala Road.
‘This road has been like this for ten years now,’ Mariam Namayanja laments as she points at the red earth road. ‘On a daily basis, many vehicles pass through here causing dust to rise, which ends up in our homes. I had to close my restaurant because of this road. Now I have no income of my own. My children are ever sick with cough and flu because of this dust.’
Another elderly resident agrees with Namayanja. ‘Walk into any of the shops or homes along this road and see for yourself. Everything is dusty; in the shops, sugar, flour, etc are full of dirt and dust from this road. In my home, I can show you, our clothes, utensils, beddings and furniture are all full of dust. It does not matter how many times you clean up, it makes no difference.’
The 11km stretch of Busabala Road begins at the the Kibuye area on Entebbe road and ends at the Lake Victoria. Only two kilometres of the eleven kilometers is tarmacked, the two being within Kampala district while the rest is in Wakiso district. The dirt road is plied daily by over 100 commuter taxis, private cars, and heavy duty trucks carrying construction materials and retail goods heading to the lake to be later transported by water to islands on Lake Victoria.
Susan Kataike, the Ministry of Works spokesperson says the road is an urban town council road.
‘Its construction, repair and maintenance is the responsibility of Wakiso district,’ she says, ‘government every financial year remits money to Wakiso district according to their budgetary requirement and what is available. The Wakiso district leadership is responsible for all the roads in its district, that one inclusive.’
According to Kyeyune, Shs 2.5 billion (about the same amount spent on just 10 of the new Shs 200 million cars bought for ministers) is needed to tarmac the road. This financial year, Shs 400million was budgeted for all the roads in Wakiso district. The money for Busabala Road is not specified but Kyeyune says that in the last seven years, he has had the road graded five times. He attributes the increase in dust this year to climate change, lack of rain. He says that the road had been graded last month in preparation for the rain which normally keeps the soil together. Asked about the use of water, Kyeyune says it would be too expensive for the district.
Kyeyune recalls that on the day he was attacked, he was in a meeting with Works and Transport Minister John Nasasira.
‘Nasasira informed me that Busabala road was blocked and the protestors were demanding for me,’ Kyeyune recounts, ‘the vehicles that normally use the road were not being allowed through on either ends.’
Kyeyune says he feared for his life. ‘I did not want to go there but Nasasira convinced me that it would be better to meet these people and talk to them, assure them that the situation would change soon since government had taken up the responsibility of repairing the road.’
Minister Nasasira called the Kampala Metropolitan Police director Andrew Sorowen to get a status report. Sorowen, who was at the scene, assured him that the police were in control of the situation and that it would be completely safe for Kyeyune to address the protestors. Besides, apart from the barricades, there had been no incidences of violence, neither vandalising of vehicles nor looting of property.
Kyeyune on the other hand, not convinced about his safety, left Nasasira’s office and went about his other businesses until the protest created another situation. ‘Sorowen called me and said the traffic was piling up all the way to the Entebbe highway, causing a bad traffic jam. The residents would only remove the barricades if I addressed them. He said they were peaceful. So I went there.’
On arrival, Kyeyune was welcomed with applause, hugs and handshakes with the local councilors, the police and some of the protestors. ‘We want to show you how much we are suffering here. We are requesting you to tour this area and see for yourself,’ the protestors told him.
Convinced by the police presence and the friendly nature of the welcome, Kyeyune agreed to a guided tour. Skillfully the protesters lured Kyeyune away from the police. Before he knew it, he was left with Andrew Serugo, his police escort and had been surrounded by hundreds of angry residents.
‘They were all around us,’ Serugo recalls. ‘They had all sorts of crude weapons. I was armed with an AK 47, they could see it, but this did not stop them from assaulting my boss and me. They hulled all sorts of abuses and threats at us. The situation was very tense for me. I did not know what to do. Should I fire in the air, should I push them away from him? I however did not lose my composure because when I looked at my boss he was calm.’
Kyeyune says he will never forget those moments. ‘In the middle of the confusion, I knew any slight miscalculation and we would be killed. I could clearly see that we were alone and outnumbered. I told Serugo not to do anything foolish; not to fire or push the people away and he followed my instructions. If he had fired in the air to scare that crowd, we would have been killed by that mob. I realised I had been tricked and was in serious trouble. I remained calm and did everything they asked me to do.’
Kyeyune was later forced to sit on the ground. Water, stones and more dust were poured on him. He was verbally abused and physically kicked by among others, the same people who tricked him into the tour and later pretended to help him. He was later forced to address the mob amidst insults.
The mob asked him how he felt, whether he enjoyed the dust, and whether he still felt self-important.
‘Tell us, now that you have tasted this dust, when will you and your Movement government repair this road?’ the mob taunted him further, ‘You are ever talking to President Museveni, why don’t you tell him about this place?’
At this point, Kyeyune had been pushed to a raised area on the side of the road. He was given a microphone connected to a megaphone. All through the ordeal, journalist from print and television media houses were snapping away at his every moment.
He was later frog matched to his car amidst laughter and ridicule from the mob. More dust was poured into his vehicle, his headlamps where smashed and body of his car hit by stones.
‘The police noticed when it was too late,’ he says. ‘They could not do much.’
By the time they descended on the protestors the damage was already done. Kyeyune had been beaten, abused, assaulted and publically disrespected. The trio (his driver, his police escort and himself) drove to the district headquarters in Wakiso before he went back to his home.
Why mob attack?
Ian Kyeyune was a victim of mob justice. Luckily for him, apart from sustaining minor head injuries and public humiliation, he did not lose his life. A majority of reported cases of mob justice usually end with fatalities.
Across Uganda, incidences like this and worse are common. Petty offenders and social misfits are often beaten with total disregard to their individual rights and in some cases in the full presence of the police.
In Kyeyune’s case, the police was tricked into believing that the crowd was peaceful. Kyeyune too was fooled by them only to be led into a trap that could have ended his life had it not been for restraint on the part of his police escort.
According to the annual crime report of 2008 released in March 2009, police noted that more people were taking the law into their own hands. The number of people killed by mobs had doubled from 184 in 2007 to 368 in 2008. And now the trend is shifting to angry mobs attacking politicians.
On the same day of Kyeyune’s attack, on hearing what happened to Kyeyune, a mob gathered in Kawempe Division and vowed to lynch their division local leaders over the filthy conditions at the Kawempe area particularly the market. An attempt was made to march to the division council offices but the move was aborted.
Two days after Kyeyune’s incident, two assistants of Vice-President Gilbert Bukenya narrowly escaped being lynched by angry residents in the same district. Teddy Nantongo, Bukenya’s lawyer and Joyce Turyahikayo his secretary at his Kakiri office were almost killed in Mpeggwe village, Kakiri sub-county for siding with a landlord who wanted to evict squatters from his land.
On the same day, a teacher in Soroti was canned by angry parents who found him drinking potent gin (kasese) during work hours. Several National Forestry Authority (NFA) enforcement officers have been killed in the last three months for either trying to stop illegal timber loggers from getting their way or stopping the transportation of illegally acquired timber.
According to a study conducted by the Institute of War and Peace reporting in 2008, researchers and mental health experts who visited northern Uganda attributed the rise in cases of mob justice in the region to the many years of war, which in turn created a culture in which people are quick to turn to violence. In the urban area of Uganda, drug abuse, disregard for the rule of law, poverty and hooliganism were named as causes of mob justice.
Kyeyune on his part attributes what happened to him to frustration, increasing poverty and the reluctance of the central government in listening to local governments.
‘These people have genuine concerns. The approach was improper but it’s maybe driven by frustration. I have for the last seven years written to government over that road. In my last meeting with the president I brought it up and just last month, government took over the responsibility of that road. These people are poor, and on top of that underprivileged. Frustration can drive anybody wild. I am not scared and don’t think that this incident will affect my political future. I am an obedient servant of this district and there is so much to show for this. My people just need help.’
Kyeyune escaped with his life but, with increasing poverty, drug abuse, unemployment and frustration over the poor state of roads and other government services, how safe are the leaders of these angry men and women?
Previous attacks on public officials
On February 25th 2009, Kampala Mayor Hajji Nasser Ntege Sebagala was charged at and stoned by angry market vendors who had lost their merchandise after a fire gutted down St Balikudembe market commonly known as Owino market. The traders claimed that Sebagala was pretending to be a sympathizer yet he was part of a group that wanted the vendors out of the market so as to convert the area into a parking yard and shopping malls.
While touring her constituency, in June 2008, Kampala District MP Nabila Sempala was attacked by police who dragged her off to a police station in unclear circumstances. Initially, no charges where preferred on her. The police, mostly consisting of female Special Police Constable (SPC) tore her skirt and held indecently as if in a bid to embarrass her by undressing her. In protest, on the day of presenting the 08/09 National Budget, opposition MPs walked out of parliament.
Protazio Kintu, the LCIII chairperson Nakawa was reportedly attacked and his vehicle vandalised over the state of the Naguru, Nakawa roads.