By Edith Wandera
The government isndeploying the UPDF to re-enforce the police; the latter which already has violently been shutting down people’s businesses – supposedly to enforce government measures to combat COVID-19. In a dragnet conducted in the Fort Portal area since Wednesday, the RDC Stephen Asiimwe led security in pulling people out of their premises, door to door including old men or pregnant women, according to reports. In confirmation of deployment of the military in these activities, Capt. Edrine Mawanda the UPDF Mountain Division Spokesperson said: “the Army is backing the police in the operation.”
This operation, “carried out with utmost violence”, according to reports from eyewitnesses, was accompanied by many screams, cries and tears. It is reported that in the sub counties of Kasenda, Mugusu, and Karago the military and police clobbered up to 150 people, loaded them like so many sacks of beans onto mini trucks, and detained them in various police cells.
The decision to unleash the military on defenseless civilians is a development that comes in the wake of scenes of widespread repression by police that have shocked audiences internationally as pictures and videos of the carnage from all over Uganda flood social media.
The images show policemen beating people until they are a bloody mess. They show police beating and dispersing market men and women with sticks, batons, and gun butts. Market women are seen trying to run away, screaming and begging for mercy, as cops chase them down and rain blows on them. Video and still images show policemen looting food, fruit and everything they can get their hands on from market stalls.
“Uganda Police basically has become an anarchic force,” said many on Twitter.
Now the country is even in more fear as UPDF enters the fray, to back up the police.
The violent enforcement of Museveni’s directive that people shut down businesses and stay indoors is taking place in a context whereby the government did not prepare people for the lockdown. This action of the president was “carried out in the careless way he usually does things, with no consideration for people at all”, many that took to Twitter and Facebook complained.
The approach most other governments have taken during the COVID-19 pandemic has been first to issue notice of lockdowns in time. They lay out clear guidelines, provide toll-free numbers, and make clear which businesses are to stay open during which times; which ones are to completely shut down, and explanations why. Everything is done to mitigate possible chaos.
Apparently the government has calculated that the best way to go about things is to use armed forces with teargas canisters, guns, batons, and “panda garis”.
When Ugandans – clearly uninformed about what to do survive during ‘Museveni’s 32-day curfew’ – try to do some work to put food on their tables, they get beaten!, cried one woman this Wednesday. She had just suffered a heavy blow with a stick from a riot policeman.
Journalists that have covered the state violence express shock. Canary Mugume of NBS TV yesterday, Friday 27, wrote on Twitter: “my colleague and I are glad to have documented the brutality of police, LDU (Local Defense Units) and the Army yesterday downtown.” Mugisha posts a number of images of the chaotic scenes.
What really pains Ugandans, say journalists and other observers, is how ordinary people are suffering the brunt of state violence yet the acts of NRM regime big shots, military or government officials that are more responsible than anything else for the spread of COVID-19 in Uganda.
In one of the biggest scandals of the current Coronavirus scare in the country, it was discovered that two weeks ago officials in a security capacity at Entebbe Airport took bribes from 40 Chinese to let them enter Kampala without tests or quarantine. NBS TV traced these people to the Naguru neighborhood, in a crowded apartment building. Three of them have since tested positive to COVID-19.
Ugandans are asking themselves just how many foreigners have entered the country the way the Chinese did. Other than the foreigners, social media commentators have been exposing how big NRM politicians or UPDF brass have been turning coming to the airport, picking relatives, friends or associates, and simply driving away with none daring stop them.
The public has learnt that many other people have been paying bribes to avoid quarantine, and leaving the airport untested. “Yet police, LDUs and military are busy inflicting violence on poor people and looting them, what an injustice!” fumed one of the many Ugandan Twitter accounts.