Taxi drivers riot in Kampala

I got an e-mail this morning from my friend Kate, a student at Makerere, with the subject line “Kampala Riots.”

The Monitor and the New Vision both say that over 50 people were arrested on Friday after a riot sparked by a strike to protest a recent police crackdown on taxi drivers who operate without permits or whose vehicles are in poor condition. Princess writes that it may also have to do with a new law restricting taxi stops along Kampala road to City Square.

The strike, organized by the Uganda Taxi Operators and Drivers Association (UTODA) committee, seems to have started with taxi drivers and conductors and spread to boda-boda drivers via intimidation. Can anyone confirm this? Are boda-boda drivers part of UTODA?

Also, the New Vision says the crackdown started on March 31, but I can’t find a source that says if the strike started at the same time or if it started on Friday and immediately turned into a riot. Bloggers in Kampala, help.

Both Kate and Princess got caught in the riots.

Princess writes:

I get into another taxi a couple of hours later and brave the town. I say brave because the taxi drivers are on strike over this new law that demands that taxis should only stop at City Square along the Kampala-Jinja road.
Any taxi seen with passengers is immediately stoned at. Bricks, stones, sticks.
The mob are angry. Typically, Ugandans will NOT accept change. And these taxi touts are the most conservative, violent and idle of the lot.
I escape certain death by a brick by a hair’s breadth.

Soon, our taxi driver quits acting like a commando and drops us off in the middle of town. He’s scared. Doesn’t think he can outrun the mob anymore. (Did I mention he tripled our fare and then some?)

We are disgorged into the swarming mass of Kampala’s car-less; the pavements are full of people striding wearily. Kampala looks like all its inhabitants signed up for the Great Trek. I spotted a couple of people with mattresses on their heads. Rude awakening that: to disembark from a long journey from the village and find you have to WALK the rest of the way…

And just then, the police swing by.
With Kayihura’s famed tear-gas (silencer) in stark evidence.

Even the bodas are being stoned at because their owners are making a packet out of this debacle.

And Kate says:

Apparently the boda drivers and taxi drivers are striking due to some new government regulations against them, something about permits and third-part insurance, etc. I didn’t get all that he was saying (language barrier) but I understood very clearly that the drivers who were going ahead and transporting people were having rocks and sticks thrown at them by other drivers who were striking.

Francis also informed me that there were police and military troops deployed all over the city, and that there was actually military up by the Kasubi Tombs (less than a mile from my house).

Later she writes:

I look up and see about 10-15 men and women in uniform arrive to the intersection causing the situation to intensify even more, and to my left two civilian men are dragging another (possibly who set the fire) over to the police while beating him in the head. Two police take him and start dragging him up the hill to where I assume the paddy wagon was stationed. A moment later I see another civilian across the street grab this other man, throw him on the ground and proceed to stomp on his head and chest yelling for the police/military to come. A group of civilians keep beating this man as he’s laying on the ground screaming and the authorities come, cuff him and continue beating him with their billy clubs. They’re dragging the man off in the same direction as the previous man all while various people in the community are punching him in the face and the back of the head. I felt sick. Helpless and sick. I had my camera and wanted to take photos of all of these occurrences but knew better.

Reports like these worry me for the safety of my friends. They make me angry, both at those who think a riot is the only way to solve problems and at the government officials who make it so that a riot is the only way to solve problems.

They also make me wonder how much is hiding behind the scenes. The New Vision’s coverage of the riot included this:

Among the suspects were three men accused of masterminding the chaos. The Police nabbed them in Bweyogerere, another suburb.

I confess to not understanding how, exactly, chaos is masterminded, but I would think that to incite a riot one must be present at said riot.

If anyone hears anything about these three masterminds, hit me up in the comments. If no one hears anything about these three masterminds, that’s also something I’d like to know.