The increasing death toll from November 18 and 19 protests over the arrest of National Unity Platform (NUP) presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine has sparked debate on the plotting of the riots and the preparedness of police and the military to deal with demonstrations without causing loss of lives.
With over 30 killed in just two days, the Bobi Wine protests will go in recent history as the most fatal, only in the category of the raid on Rwenzururu Kingdom palace in Kasese years ago.
With bullets ripping rioters and non-rioters alike, police, military and their auxillary forces in plain clothes moved to restore calm in the capital Kampala.
The city centre, already congested, for hours on November 18, took the form of a war zone.
Transport was paralyzed, businesses closed and running battles ensued. Tear gas, batons, and bullets. Then chaos.
When a semblance of calm was finally restored, the reality of fatalities hit both government and opposition apologists.
PLANNED OR SPONTANEOUS?
Commentary on the protests, as expected, took political tones — and the blame game started.
Regime backers such as journalist Andrew Mwenda insist that the protests were planned.
That for long opposition figures like Dr Kizza Besigye and Bobi Wine have been waiting for an event that would spark off protests as a way of ending incumbent Yoweri Kaguta Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s now 34-year rule.
“Bobi Wine was arrested in Eastern Uganda. Immediately, people in Kampala went on rampage. Was this spontaneous? Hardly! The opposition, especially Dr. Kizza Besigye’s Defiance, which shares a common support-base with Bobi Wine’s People Power have been talking of a “Plan B”. This is based on the belief that elections cannot bring about change,” argued Mwenda.
“So they have been planning to use the campaigns to stir up a mass uprising to bring down government, and there is enough intelligence to show this. We have seen videos of a truck delivering tyres to set roadblocks. So the riots were not spontaneous but well planned acts to spread mayhem.”
But government critics assert that security agencies should have used the intelligence reports to take preemptive measures to stop the protests before they occurred — instead of meting excessive force onto Uganda.
Police insisted the protests were part of a plan to start an uprising.
Security Minister Gen Elly Tumwine castigated Bobi Wine for working with foreign agents to destroy Uganda in the manner Libya was ruined as Western powers backed opposition to push out Col Muammar Gadaffi.
According to Dr Besigye, security agencies seemed to have planned to kill as a way to help the Museveni regime instill fear into Ugandans.
“The massacre and extreme violence; the level and extent of Human Rights abuses; and the arrogance and impunity that has been displayed in various parts of Uganda are quite ominous, to say the least,” noted Besigye.
“It’s increasingly clear that the extreme violence and Human Rights abuses were premeditated, institutionally organised and executed.
Most of the killings were carried out by armed people that were in civilian clothes, who travelled in vehicles with heavily tinted glasses and civilian number plates or no number plates at all.”
The former bush war fighter and ex-personal physician to warlord Museveni also criticized security agencies for excessive use of force against unarmed protesters.
“They deliberately targeted and shot (to kill) people or whisked them away in their “civilian” vehicles.
“These killer squads must have been coordinated with the uniformed Police and Military troops that were heavily deployed in all areas because they freely mingled with them,” he continued.
“There was no threat of people armed with guns among those rioting. Indeed, there was hardly any soldier putting on body armour in anticipation of such a threat.”
But minister Tumwine said security officers had a right to kill as long as protesters attacked them.
He also revealed the deployment of plainclothes security personnel was a tactic to nab rioters.