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Has Kampala become a city only for the powerful?

Ramathan Ggoobi

Has Kampala become a city only for the powerful?

Roads have been sealed off, green belts cordoned off, and general public — the people who should enjoy the security provided — is impeded from moving freely!

Kampala is no longer the city the people of Uganda had come to take pleasure in the moment their 1986 NRA liberators landed here and combed it free of the ‘Anyanya’. A new breed of Anyanya is fast rising!

Every day a road or section of a road gets closed and the public finds itself prohibited from using it. Every day a greenbelt is sealed off and gets titivated with notice, “Man’s sensitivity to the little things and insensitivity to the greatest are the signs of a strange disorder.”  

Mr President, when you and your colleagues arrived here in January 1986, the people of Uganda understandably sighed with utmost relief. They were justifiably cheerful of you because Milton Obote and Idi Amin had literally turned Kampala and the rest of the country a place only for the privileged few. Privilege then was not defined by one’s wealth, education or status but by amount of military and/or political power one wielded. It does not require one to be a genius to tell that the same is happening today.  

I had started to think that by equating the current state of affairs to the pre-1986 Uganda, I could sound unappreciative of NRM’s contribution to this country for the last three decades. Because I was not conscious of what was going on thirty years ago, I held this unconvinced opinion until one of your fellow “liberators”, Gen. David Tinyefuza Sejusa penned an open memo condemning “…the creeping lawlessness, impunity, primitive arrogance and insensitive behaviour, which are increasingly being exhibited by some actors who manage the affairs of the state.”  

Kayihura’s wrong  view of security   

Tinye’s letter gave me a renewed sense of thinking about what really befell our beloved President. The Museveni we sang about in schools in early 1990s, as our liberator, never allowed security agencies or other government officials to harass people or make their lives a living hell. The Museveni I remember was one who some time in 1995 warned his guards against closing “roads of the wananchi” simply because they wanted to secure them for his safe passage.

Today, his police chief and Special Forces commanders are as if on a mission to seal off all the roads where they pass, hold meetings, own businesses, and even hold weddings! When Gen. Kayihura took over the premises of former British High Commission, along Parliamentary Avenue, he sealed off the lane adjacent to his office. He turned it into a one way. The lane from Jinja Road towards Parliament is only opened for him and him alone!  

The partial closure of Parliamentary Avenue set off this primitive culture of sealing off roads around Kampala. All roads around offices, hotels, and homes of the powerful are either permanently closed or partially open to a selected few. In Kaihura’s wisdom security is guaranteed when and only when roads are sealed off, green belts are cordoned off, and general public — the people who should enjoy the security provided — is impeded from moving freely.    

Closure of roads at a time when the traffic in and around Kampala is fast growing, thanks to poor culture of Ugandans wanting to drive as many vehicles in a household as their incomes can permit, is a perplexing idea.

Last weekend I was driving along Entebbe road and the traffic heading to the city centre had jammed right from Lubowa, near Roofings. We spent nearly two hours to reach Kibuye Roundabout. Everyone on the road was wondering what the hell was going on, only to find two police 999 pickups stationed in the middle of the road just after Clock Tower, purposely to ‘protect VIPs” attending COMESA Summit!

Hotels turned into garrisons

The following day, parents picking their children from Nakasero Primary School found themselves sandwiched in some ugly traffic for extended periods. Reason? Ternan Avenue, the road from Mosa Court Apartments down to Shimon Road, had been sealed off at the junction near Kampala Club by Special Forces. When journalists found out later that it was not even the President at Imperial Royale Hotel but the first lady, everyone was left wondering whether really it warranted closure of a public road.

Recently, when MPs demanded for the reopening of the road between Imperial Royale Hotel and Serena Hotel that police had closed off to the general public, Kayihura not only ignored the call but went ahead and barricaded the road with concrete hurdles, and placed a battalion of police at both ends. Kind of sending the message, “Whoever thinks we can get instructions from Parliament can go to hell.”  

Imagine sealing off roads to hotels! Are these really hotels? The last time I checked, hotels were supposed to be hospitality places and not military garrisons. Curious of what could be going on around Imperial Royale Hotel, which made it so special and thus the need for advanced security, we discovered that the first family had turned the place into a heaven of sorts. Actually at this rate, the entire Nakasero Hill might become a specially first family abode.             

Mr President, I wrote not long ago that Ugandans were wondering, where all the legendary sensitivity and courtesy of the Museveni they knew had gone. Nowadays you surround yourself more with people whose handling of the wananchi is flatly arrogant and insensitive.    

Gen. Tenyefunza was right to write, “While the rich are cleaning streets so that their big cars don’t step on the rubbish, our poor masses are sleeping on empty stomachs, sleeping in open spaces without houses, sleeping in and actually eating the rubbish being swept off the streets. Yes, development is good but development must be planned, it must not be anti-people and fascist methods must never be used against our people and in any case, that situation is not sustainable and it never has been.”

In his own words, “This is a complete reversal of the feeling and belief which our people had when they defeated dictatorship.” Even your own Spy Chief, Mr. President, believes you are now behaving like the dictators we fought and defeated in 1986.  

Mbabazi has a battalion of escorts  

Mr President, we all know that your government has had a difficult time meeting the growing demands of a rapidly increasing population, in a country haunted by its awful history of insurgency. We also appreciate the need to be security conscious in this era of urban terrorism. However, we don’t believe this country has reached the stage of the Middle East to warrant closure of roads permanently or even temporarily. This is especially happening in a country where paved roads are not that many or wide enough to accommodate the growing population of traffic.   

The city is nowadays choking with traffic jams partially created by police’s primitive habits of closing roads. Madam Musisi is busy trying to fix roads in and around Kampala but Kayihura’s police keeps on undermining her efforts.

There is also another primitive side of some leaders who have started to drive people off the road as if they were heads of state. Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi leads this group. Mbabazi is moving with a battalion of military guards, I don’t know for what reason. Prof. Apollo Nsibambi used to move around with a decent security detail of one police pickup vehicle, and I don’t think he commanded less respect.

But Mbabazi! Nearly a battalion! And when his convoy is moving, it literally shoves people off the road in the search for swag! This is what Gen. Tinye calls primitive arrogance and insensitivity.

Mr President, the people of Uganda deserve to enjoy their country in equal measure. We appreciate the powerful of this land should enjoy, to the fullest, the privileges that come with this hard-fought power, but in the process of enjoying themselves they should be cognisant of the need to respect the citizens they lead. You, the powerful should not inconvenience us while enjoying your privileges. This country, this city, is not for the selected few but for all of us, both the powerful and powerless.

Mr President, the response of the people of Kampala to one song, “Tugambire ku Jennifer,” sang by one of the many musicians your hitherto liberal regime has bred, should provide a rude awakening to you and your government of what the people of Uganda feel about the way you treat them of late. Kampala should not become a city only for the powerful.



Ramathan Ggoobi is Policy Analyst, and Researcher. He lecturers economics at Makerere University Business School (MUBS) and has co-authored several studies on Uganda's economy. For the past ten years, he has published a weekly column 'Are You Listening Mr. President' in The Sunrise Newspaper, Uganda's Leading Weekly

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