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Uganda: Students riot, Kampala burns

Two separate tragedies struck Kampala, the capital of Uganda, on Tuesday: students at Makerere University rioted after the shooting death of two of their peers. And the Kasubi Tombs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the burial location of the king of one of Uganda's largest ethnic groups, burned to the ground.

Riots at Makerere University

According to Ugandan newspapers, the riots at Makerere University, Uganda's largest university, began after two students were shot dead and another critically injured by a security guard Monday night during a meeting about the current Student Guild elections. The Daily Monitor reports two versions of the events:

Police say many students had gathered at the Hostel for the final leg of the Guild election campaigns when the watchman, suspecting one of the students could have intended to damage a vehicle in the parking lot, opened fire.

Earlier reports suggested supporters of Simon Kamau, one of the contestants in the guild presidential race, clashed with those of NRM's John Taylor, prompting the shooting of the Kenyan students.

The New Vision suggests the shootings were a result of a disagreement between one candidate and the supporter of another:

As the group prepared to leave, they were confronted in the compound by Nyongesa, who is believed to belong to the camp of John Kamau, one of the two Kenyans in the guild race.

He reportedly tried to hit [candidate John] Teira with a bench when the group rejected his calls to leave the hostel.

A brief commotion ensued, which, according to eyewitnesses, compelled the guard to fire the bullet that hit the three students.

Students responded on Tuesday by marching through Makerere University grounds, carrying signs and a coffin to protest the killings. Both newspapers report that the protests turned violent and that police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Ole Tangen Jr, a journalist living in Kampala, was one of the first to blog about the Makerere riots. He wondered why more students weren't using social media networks to spread the news:

Last night two Makerere students were shot by an armed security guard leading to widespread riots near the university today.

However no one thought to utilize Twitter to get the story out. Searches for #Makerere all day on Twitter Search resulted in nothing more than news reports. How is it that students — particularly politically-active students — are not making use of the social media tools available to them. Is it ignorance of Twitter? Is it the high cost of an internet connection? What has led to this?

A Twitter search for “makerere” largely supported his claim, with most tweets consisting of links to newspaper articles. Still, some Twitter users in Kampala were able to add some context:

@arthurnakkaka (18 hours ago): Gunshots being fired. Or its tear gas? #Makerere

@arthurnakkaka (18 hours ago): Students screaming and running. Situation getting bad #Makerere

@aspindler2 (18 hours ago): Demonstrations at Makerere Univ. Kampala uganda after shooting of 2 stdnts last night by security guard. Police firing teargas disperse crwd

@mirembe_maria (14 hours ago): The makerere University Strike has left two dead and one in critical condition, what is the way forward for the Government about all this??

Kasubi Tombs Burn

On Tuesday night, in an apparently unrelated incident, the Kasubi Tombs, the burial site of the kings of Uganda's Baganda ethnic group, burned to the ground. The current king of the Baganda people has been in the news recently for his clashes with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni. In September 2009, the tension between the two led to deadly riots in Kampala, and citizens fear that the fire could lead to future unrest.

Ugandan blogger 27th Comrade writes:

Usually it is arson when a place like that burns down. They are made of grass thatch, the tombs, so the fire will be absolutely devastating.

Already, some f***wits around me are saying “Government!” I'd be more-likely to say “Opposition!” But I guess it is more-likely some staffer who was careless with fire. Let us wait for news.

Blogger and journalist Rosebell writes:

This relationship between President Museveni’s government and Buganda Kingdom is far from rosy and this has already given fertile ground for many to think there was some foulplay. Many people seem to expect riots to breakout at dawn. We only hope there will be a thorough investigation into the burning of the tombs and that no people will lose their lives and property. This is crucial time for Buganda leadership too. The Kasubi tombs are equally a heritage for the country so i hope both sides deal with this issue with maximum restraint.

Ugandans on Twitter are equally worried:

@daphnzempire (6 hours ago): kasubi tombs is on fire..oh my God where are we headed

@Kakazi (6 hours ago): Kasubi tombs burnt down about 2hours ago.. I honestly pray it wasn't arson!! A great loss to our heritage..:-(

@mugumya (6 hours ago): I fear there might be some kind of disturbance 2moro after Kasubi tombs are gutted in Kampala

Lauren, an American who formerly lived in Kampala, remembers taking friends to visit the tombs:

The Kasubi Tombs are more than important cultural and historic structures to me. When we lived in Uganda, they were my neighbors. Our apartment was at the bottom of Kasubi Hill, and we passed the Tombs every day to and from downtown Kampala. We took numerous visitors to see the tombs to learn more about the Buganda tribe, its history and culture. I always loved passing the guards of the Tombs; dressed in the traditional saffron-colored robe and leaning against the big tree out front, they waited patiently to greet the next set of visitors.

The Kasubi Tombs in October 2008.  Photo courtesy of Lauren.

The Kasubi Tombs in October 2008. Photo courtesy of Lauren.

13 comments

  • Shyam Kapur

    I have been following both these stories on TipTop search at http://feeltiptop.com/makerere/ and http://feeltiptop.com/kasubi/ The shock and worry is shared widely among those tweeting there.

  • Interestingly, the first international report on this is from the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, which quotes police spokeswoman, Judith Nabakooba, as follows:

    “You can not establish the cause of the fire now because the people there are throwing stones at our officers. One of our policemen has been admitted at Mulago Hospital,” she said.

    “Immediately they saw our fire attendants, they started pelting stones at them,” she added

    This makes the outlook rather bleak. Even if the fire was entirely accidental, at least some people will believe it was politically/ethnically motivated arson.

    At the time of writing, however (07:51 in Kampala), the city seems to be starting work normally.

  • claraonegi

    Thats what happens when a president is president too long. Everything is blamed on the government.Thats people saying they want democracy as democracy is meant to be. Uganda unlike Rwanda and some other African countries always hits the news for the wrong reasons.Surprised many Ugandans dont want to identify?People that hold guns need to be more responsible.I say most with a right to ammunition in Uganda are trigger happy(given the right environment).Whatever happened to peaceful demonstrations.Last i knew students are not generally ARMED!

  • NALWANGA ROSE

    It is too bad for buganda to experience this at this moment due to the status that its in but i think we should pray hard as we baganda because any thing can happen at this particular moment.

  • Nicholas

    This is why M7 should not have returned these so called cultural institutions. They divide people and politicians hide in their to create hatred. The previous presidents were wise to remove them

  • The UNESCO-listed Kasubi tombs burning pits not only the Museveni government but also Baganda royalists themselves, we hear some Baganda who were oposed to this current Kabaka establishment could have set the facility a blaze.

    Kabaka’s bothers have cases in pending in court challenging Kabaka Ronald Mutebi, that he is not the legitimate king of Buganda.

    However we cant rule out the fact that government could have had a hand since Uganda is hit with a land bonanza, which rises doubts that Museveni leadership could have wanted some land for investment.

    Let there be an independent commision of inquiry otherwise Buganda has ceased to exsist any longer, her heritage and backborn is broken.

    No more Buganda, and no more culture for Baganda. But what puzzles me is that these Baganda have small gods how come they did not ditect this arsonist? +256785767700

  • omoding c clarke

    We failed to tame the Buganda issue while it was young and let it grow to the extent where it’s hard to tame. Even if the king lost his walking stick the public will view it otherwise. this should be a lesson to governments that give un equal priority to different regions for there own reason.

  • Gordon

    We don’t get this kind of news in America, the news media is more concerned with Tiger Woods return to golf. No wonder the world has a low opinion of Americans.

  • […] Read the full post at Global Voices » […]

  • Nicholas

    The Kasubi tombs burning is absurd but the way it has be politicised shows how uganda is seated on a time bomb. Many allegations have been made on the issue but only God knows who is responsible. Some ugandans especially in the opposition always rush to apportion blame to government for every misfortune that happens just like in the recent Bududa Catastrophe, Buganda riots and many others.

    They influence the ignorant rogues in town to become violent in order to cause havoc so that government is discredited when it responds to protect the innocent people with their property.

    The actions of those people at Kasubi claiming to be affected by the inferno really show what some people are and want. The Innocent Emergency Fire brigade Police men who rushed to the scene were beaten and some are still admitted in Mulago hospital. These police men are always only armed with water to put out fire but were injured by the rogues that are always deployed by opposition politicians.
    People in forces are also ugandans and entitled to life. Why should they be killed by these hooligans?

    This shows lack of respect for the security forces that are there to protect us. These people should not push our country back to the times when armed forces were feared and not paying their fares wherever they could go.

    Some politicians continue to push cultural leaders into politics the thing that led to the removal some decades back. Fire, Landslides etc have all been politicised. Where are we going?

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