In the West Nile district of Arua, Uganda, security forces shot an MP’s driver dead.
Quickly, they whisked off, tortured and allegedly left the MP with a damaged kidney.
They clobbered another MP and left him on life support with a swollen face and smashed fingers. But that’s not the end; a woman in their custody arrived in court visibility in pain, bleeding from her private parts.
And the reason? Stones. Someone threw stones at the president’s car!
Forget the stones for a second, let’s dial it back to the beginning of this whole fracas. In June, an MP affiliated with the governing party was shot dead.
This called for a by-election in Arua, which attracted a whopping 12 candidates.
In a bid to retain that seat, the party chairperson, president of Uganda for the past 32 years Yoweri Museveni, sped off to Arua to campaign for the party candidate.
So did self-proclaimed ghetto president and Afrobeat singer-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi AKA Bobi Wine. The 35-year-old, who has impressively turned his 15-year fan base into votes, was campaigning for a key opposition candidate. And his Arua crowd was massive; many will even argue that it was way bigger than the president’s.
Then something happened – bullets were fired! Arua went into shock, as would the whole country.
The bullet caught Bobi’s driver just as he parked the car. Bobi confirmed this in a chilling tweet, saying: “Police has shot my driver dead thinking they’ve shot at me. My hotel is now coddoned off by police and SFC [sic],” he wrote.
Soon police and the Special Forces Command (SFC) were combing through the Pacific Hotel, where Bobi was staying. Bobi and 29 others, including MPs, were arrested.
It was chaos. Government needed to avail an explanation, and it did. Stones, they claimed; it all started with stones.
The president’s press secretary soon posted pictures of a car without its rear glass, with the caption: “The president’s car that was attacked by opposition supporters, smashing the hind window, this evening in Arua town.”
Social media went crazy, as did the streets. Many wondered what kind of stone that was and how a bulletproof car could easily give way to stones.
They wondered if the 73-year-old Museveni was even safe.
“I have done that for the past 48 years. I defended myself against [Idi] Amin’s soldiers on [January 22 1973] in Mbale, against the Kenyan policeman Patrick Shaw in Nairobi in 1978, against Tabuley [Charles Tabuley was a commander with the Kony rebel group called Lord’s Resitance Army (LRA)] near Atiriri in 2003, etc,” boasted the elderly man, whose security costs the taxpayers about R1.3 million daily.
That, however, did not answer the question of how the president could have been travelling in a car that basic.
“The stones they threw broke the rear glass window of the car, the part where I put some luggage. That window glass is not armoured. There was no harm on the old man with a hat,” he offered in a letter he especially addressed to us “his grandchildren”.
Yes, our president calls us his bazukulu (grandchildren).
Just as the country breathed a sigh, we learnt that Bobi had been whisked off to army barracks. A man who had never served in the army was to be charged by the court martial. His family could not access him and the closest to answers we had were images of the MP on life support.
When the questions became deafening, a new “explanation” from government emerged.
Upon searching Bobi’s hotel room, security forces had allegedly found two sub-machine guns.
These, typically the monopoly of security forces, were found together with 35 7.62x39mm-calibre bullets.
The hotel owner cried foul, accusing the security forces of planting the rifles.
But why would a man with live ammunition be throwing stones? The charges, which Bobi’s lawyer called bogus, were later dropped. So whose sub-machine guns were those?
This week was awash with protests, and the army and police embraced brutality. Reuters journalist James Akena was beaten like a common village witch.
It was captured on video. The men in uniform looked like they were on special assignment to beat up journalists. It felt like a message.
Bernard Tabaire, a media trainer and newspaper columnist, observed: “If journalists be present, they must pay.”
Bobi might be free of the possession of guns charge, but he still faces a treason charge.
This to the Ugandan is not news. Out here, there is a thin line between being a member of the opposition and being treasonous.