The number of deaths from violent demonstrations which engulfed the Ugandan capital last week has now reached 24. Over 80 people were injured and about 600 people were arrested, of which at least 309 have appeared before the Ugandan courts.
In the aftermath, it has become apparent that the riots were much more than simple clashes between the supporters of two different ethnic groups. The unrest was a clear manifestation of discontent with the conditions in which most Ugandans live and the sentiment that the government isn’t doing enough to alleviate hardships people face every day. It isn’t a coincidence that the most intense rioting happened in Bwaise, Kawempe and Ndeeba, some of Kampala’s poorest neighborhoods and opposition strongholds. As one Ugandan analyst told me, “The majority of people who turned up to riot were not there to support the Kabaka [the king of the Buganda ethnic group]. Marginalized people came out rioting; these were hungry and angry people.”
The political dimension of the violence was certainly not lost on President Museveni and prominent Ugandan politicians. Leaders from the Forum for Democratic Change, or FDC, and the Democratic Party – Uganda’s two biggest opposition parties – accused President Museveni of deliberately trying to weaken the influence of the Kabaka, the spiritual leader and king of the Buganda kingdom.
In response, top government officials issued warnings to opposition leaders to stop politicizing the issue of the Buganda kingdom. Yesterday, President Museveni called for the arrest of Democratic Party publicity secretary Betty Nambooze for allegedly organizing last week’s riots. If arrested, this would not be the first time for Ms. Nambooze. Last year, she was arrested and accused of promoting sectarianism, a case which is currently stalled.
Whether the riots were spontaneous or organized remains unclear. Opposition politicians and officials from the Buganda kingdom have denied organizing the riots. FDC’s Dr. Besigye said in a recent press conference that the riots represented a culmination of a protracted conflict between President Museveni and the Buganda kingdom. A source in the Bugandan kingdom told me that the riots were spontaneous and fuelled by economic deprivation with the Kabaka’s tour providing the spark.
President Museveni seems to have gotten the message. In an address to Parliament yesterday, the president promised to create jobs for urban youths by investing over 30 billion Ugandan shillings (roughly $15 million).