When rioters ruled Kampala

“In my beat, I was covering Kampala metropolitan, and knew most of the top officers in the region. The riots in Kampala caught both the locals and law enforcers by surprise. There were anticipated riots in Kayunga District, but not in the city centre, following announcement on one of the local radio stations that the Katikkiro [John Baptist Walusimbi] had been barred from going to Kayunga.

There was a police deployment at Sezibwa bridge on Kayunga Road. I was at the Central Police Station (CPS) in Kampala getting reports of what was happening in Kayunga from senior police officers. At CPS, all was calm.

As I prepared to leave the station to go to back to office, news came in that there was trouble at the Kisekka Market, downtown Kampala.

Traders were marching from the market towards State House Nakasero. I found them near Watoto Church on Kampala Road.

Knowing that Kisekka Market was the epicentre of riots in Kampala, police had deployed there.

The police at the market was engaged in community policing, using dialogue with the rioters. But along the way, their efforts did not yield fruits as the rioters marched towards State House. Whatever they wanted to do there was not known.

All along, police tried to avoid using force, but the situation was getting out of control. Moses Kafero, the then Kampala South Metropolitan police commander, got information that the rioters were moving to State House. By then, they had reached the French Embassy on Kyaggwe Road.

He ordered that teargas be used to disperse them. When this order was implemented, the rioters ran back to Kiseka Market. That is when the riots spread to other parts of downtown Kampala. Police had focused more on Kiseka Market than the wider Central Business District. Areas like the Old Taxi Park turned into battle zones between the rioters and the police.

Rioters at Kiseka Market started pelting the police with stones and other objects. The police in the market realised they were outnumbered and started withdrawing. A police woman fired two bullets in the air to disperse the crowds, now aancing towards us. The bullet hit a concrete wall and bounced back, narrowly missing my photographer. That was when we scattered from there.

Information reached us as we were trying to find a secure place around the market that riots had spread to other parts of the city. I left Kiseka Market and moved towards Owino [St Balikuddembe Market] via Baganda Bus Park.

All shops on the way and the gates to Owino market were closed. There were bonfires in the middle of the roads started by the rioters.

I moved back towards the Old Taxi Park. I wanted to reach the police booth near Ben Kiwanuka traffic lights for safety.

At the police booth, I saw rioters coming from the direction of Arua Park and Luwum Street aancing towards us. One officer shot in the air to disperse the aancing crowds, but they surged forward and he ran out towards the Old Taxi Park.

The second officer followed. I could not stay there so I followed them and watched as the rioters descended on the booth from a distance. They first released the suspects in the police cell, before setting the booth on fire. By this time, police was very much stretched and thin on the ground.

At around 3.30pm, I had moved to Shoprite on Entebbe Road. That was when I saw military police officers in armoured cars coming from the direction of Entebbe.

At the traffic lights, some branched to Nakivubo side, while others took Ben Kiwanuka Street. By this time, there was not a single policeman in sight. The rioters had taken over control of the streets, throwing all sorts of objects and destroying anything in their way.

At Mukwano Arcade on Ben Kiwanuka Street, the military police came under attack from rioters hiding up on the third floor of the arcade, hitting them with stones and other objects. The officers fired back and a bullet hit a private security guard, who died on the spot.

A military police pickup truck came to take his body. It drove to the Fire Brigade headquarters near Clock Tower on Entebbe Road, which had become their operation command post.

Journalists attacked

I had to run away from downtown as journalists had also become targets of the rioters. They never wanted their photos taken as they threw stones at the security officers.

I moved to Burton Street and Luwum Street junction next to Barclays Bank where the police were battling with rioters in the Old Taxi Park. By this time, all roads coming from downtown Kampala to City Square (Constitutional Square), Bank of Uganda and CPS, had been blocked.

Close to 5pm, the military police foot patrols took to the streets, filling the void created by the absence of the police.

They started entering the arcades to arrest the rioters who were throwing stones and other objects. That was when some calm returned to the city centre. The stranded people in the park and other buildings started leaving the city centre.

Back at CPS, there were military cars all being manned by military police. From there, I headed back to office to file my story. I had to walk all the way back to Namuwongo as there was no alternative means of transport.

As it approached 10pm, I had to go home [Najanankumbi on Entebbe Road] but there was no means of public transport. I walked from Namuwongo up to home. At Kibuye roundabout, I heard bullet sounds coming from Ndeeba side where rioting was still ongoing. But I managed to get home. Fortunately, there were other people walking home as well.