so, i guess peaceful protest ain't on the 'yessir' listSo, a couple of hours ago I headed downtown on a boda boda to meet Katie for lunch at Cafe Pap. As we (me and the boda driver) headed into town and onto Kampala Road, I felt my phone vibrate and answered it while still driving along on the motorcycle. It was Katie calling to warn me 'not to go on Kampala road, there's this massive protest going on.' To which I replied, "Too late! Already on Kampala Rd! And i can hear the protest I think I'm getting..." and then I hung up before I was able to finish my sentence with the word 'close'. I had frantically shoved my phone back into my bag and started yelling at the driver to GO GO GO because i looked behind me and realised we were about 20 feet ahead of a police truck that was spewing tear gas at the protesters. At the moment i saw the truck so did everyone else - and everyone just took off, running in all directions. The protesters themselves seemed pretty oblivious until the last minute and probably got the worst of it. The boda boda driver swerved off down a sidestreet to get out of the 'line of fire' and I speed-walked down towards Katie's office to warn her not to come up to Kampala Road to meet me. (We had lunch at a Ugandan restaurant near her office instead, as it meant we wouldn't have cross the teargassed Kampala Road. I had matoke, potato, beans, greens, cassava and chicken stew for lunch. ) An hour later after we'd eaten, I headed back up to Kampala Rd (I needed to go to the forex bureau) only to discover that people were still walking around with handkercheifs over their noses and mouths. I tried to breathe as little as possible (easier said than done) and got away with a sneeze or two.
Incidentally, this is actually the second time in the last few months that I've been in the line of fire of tear gassing. The first incident also involved me being in the wrong place at the wrong time, when I was heading to my apartment, located about half a mile from Makerere University. Apparently the student elections there are pretty controvertial stuff, and the police truck with the gas tanks was leaking so badly that that my cab driver had to pull over so we could each scramble blindly for our door handles so that we could get out of the tear-gas-filled car and and cough and sneeze and scratch out our eyes for a couple of minutes. When we got back to my apartment I invited the taxi driver in for a glass of water, as we were both having trouble with the 'breathing' and thing.
Both of these incidents involved pretty peaceful protest. I mean, how violent could student elections have gotten? And from what I saw of the protest today, the weapon of choice was slogan-bearing placards and chanting.
Could some aid agency please give the Kampala City Police some megaphones? (Or, alternatively, a crash course in Intro to Democracy?)