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

  • Klaus

    Look, what happens to the baganda community these days. first their king is refused the right of free traveling in September last Year and now the most sacred place of their people and ancestry is burned to ashes by arson as you can assume if such a special place goes up in flames.
    This is a big disrespect for every people and 4sure it creates anger and rage. just look at who could be interested in an rioting community. i dont think the waganda, i dont think any other kampala inhabitant. But now Museveni can stand up again and act as if he is the only one who can handle the explosive situation.

    Look at the facts.
    in Sept.
    M7 Guards refused Kabaka free movement
    now:
    The Tombs were burnt and M7s Special Guards (under the held of his son) started to shoot at unarmed civilians. which Leader are you if you accept the death of 4 people just to give you the public presence you intended to get when seting the place on fire?

    this is the old story of Power: create fear amongst a particular group and present yourself as the strong man who is able to restore security. The whole thing works even nicer if the rest of the Population feels some discomfort with those arrogant baganda which want more rights for their king.

    UGANDA WAKE UP: Power is playing you!!!! You should be allowed to have your own tribal Leaders. Those are the people you can hold responsible for their actions. not a central government!
    Power is playing you!
    UGANDA BE STRONG AND CHOOSE PEACE!!! Dont accept this terrible insults on one of your neighbouring tribes – solidarize with buganda – otherwize next time its going to be you who is insulted!!!
    the story is so crazy and sad. Uganda choose PEACE!!!!

  • […] I’m headed to the 2010 Global Voices Citizen Media Summit in 10 days. Between now and then, I’ve been asked to put together a short overview of citizen media in Uganda, something I’ve had the opportunity to watch evolve from the pre-happy hour days to the citizen coverage of last September’s riots in Kampala and the burning of the Kasubi tombs. […]

  • […] on the media, but bloggers have continued to serve as citizen journalists, reporting on the burning of cultural heritage site Kasubi Tombs and the country's impending anti-homosexuality bill. This doesn't mean, however, that they […]

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