Today has been quite bizarre. Like half the population of the world (or at least those with TV or internet access) I have been watching the British Royal Wedding. The Brits may not be great at cooking - though they are getting better - and our weather is pretty awful but, by jingo, we do a good royal wedding! All the ingredients were in place: impeccable timing, wonderful frocks and lots of cute children in the crowds to make inaudible comments on TV. Good thing the wedding wasn't in Kampala. Although the weather would have been a great deal better, the ceremony would have started two hours late, the cars would have broken down because they'd never been serviced, or would have been weaving in and out to avoid huge potholes, and the horses would have bolted because they hadn't been fed. Kate's dress would have fallen apart at the seams before she even got to the aisle and Westminster Abbey would be a semi-ruin because the builders had sold off the cement to their mates and used cassava flour to stick the stones together instead. However, the British Establishment being in charge, the whole wedding day went like a dream. The crowd were led gently and courteously to where they should be by polite respectful policemen. Nobody pushed, nobody shoved and nobody decided to test out the latest brand of boys' crowd control toys.
Meanwhile, a few thousand miles away, things were a bit different. It all started yesterday. Some of you may have picked up details from the media but, in a nutshell, here is what happened. We ourselves were not eyewitnesses, so our information is taken from newspapers like the 'The Independent' and 'Daily Monitor' which, unlike most other newspapers here, are not owned by the government. You can find links to these papers and to others on the right hand column.
Absolutely predictably, the city erupted today. It was almost as if the police had deliberately provoked the population by their actions the previous day. From our office window we could hear the sounds of gunfire across the city. Some was teargas but, as usual, live bullets were also used. Plumes of smoke rose into the air from burning tyres wherever we looked. We took refuge at home only to discover that our own neighbourhood was also erupting. Indeed, there has been trouble in towns across Uganda, by the sound of it. So, we sat tight and watched the Royal Wedding, a good remedy for the jitters!
Ugandan policemen are not good at managing crowds - except for one senior officer who, a few days ago accompanied Olara Otunno, another Opposition leader, on his walk, apparently to keep him safe. Sadly, he was then suspended from duty. However, all the other officers seem to over-react at the drop of a hat, shoot at bystanders and generally cause mayhem. They seem to get away with it. Recent casualties include a two year old shot dead while she played in front of her house. By no stretch of the imagination could she be considered a threat to anyone. Wild spraying of crowds with gunfire, indiscriminate use of tear gas and pepper spray, violent beating of anyone in the way with truncheons or whatever comes to hand appear to be the order of the day.
My solution to the inadequacies of Ugandan policing is to send a contingent along to the next Royal Wedding. There they will learn to be nice, help old ladies across the road and stop little children from being crushed. Of course, they will have to leave their toys at home: no more big boys' guns for half-educated semi-trained thugs. Give them a union jack to wave instead, I say!
You may also be interested in a recent post Through a child's eyes, which deals with related issues.