Ugandan Journalist Survives Riots
From the Parkville Luminary
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA—On the same day that I arrived in South Africa to teach and tour, my Ugandan “sister”, Gloria, almost died.
When I read her tale below, I was flooded me with emotions—anger, fear, and relief among them. This is the story, in her own words (edited for length and style), of how she got caught up in rioting in Kampala and narrowly missed being seriously injured or even killed.
“It all started with an early morning trip to do everything (errands) on Friday…As we entered town from Entebbe road, …we saw people running for their lives. Police patrol cars started moving in different directions and all of a sudden our taxi came to stop and we came out of the car. I told Peggy it would be safer to walk into a bank. We did this smartly (quickly) as I could not run very far, I lost all the energy, We entered a bank thinking it was the safest place and after about 30 minutes the situation got very tense and the bank manger came and chased us out. This is downtown Kampala where all the hooligans reside.
At this point, (the protesters) were in front of the bank where we took refuge. They were burning tires, hurling stones at police men and robbing people walking along the road side. Soon we were forced out of the bank with two other women, and as soon as we came out, we were tear gassed in the face, Peggy began crying and joined the women in washing their faces. I was not yet feeling the pain, but just five minutes later, I felt the tear gas enter my throat and I began coughing badly and could hardly breathe.
We begged the bank to let us in and we took refuge in vain as the street was covered with teargas and instead the security man pushed Peggy away by force. At this point, another kind security guard directed us to move back towards town which we did. The other women disappeared too. We moved towards town hold our nose and hands with pain crying for help and we could not move any further. Here, more tear gas was hurled at us. (Photo--Gloria on the left, with myself and our friend Venis Omona).
…We entered in a trench but could not stay for long, dirty smelly and risky, we moved along the valley and stated to climb up just the two of us when somebody open a small door and come in. We entered this small metal shop and sat. (Outside), rowdy youth were burning tires in front of the shop. The smoke was unbearable, all roads at this time were closed. It was already 12pm. We then heard more tear gas and gunshots just in front of the metal shop and we all lay down on the floor.
…Shortly police began patrolling the streets (so) e jumped on a boda-boda (motorbike taxi). We just rode only 200 meters and met people running for safety. The boda man insisted on riding fast with us but we refused and we came out and started a long walk home. We used short cuts ended near American embassy. On our way we met youth robbing people several times and the trick I did was to walk like a very sick and weak person while bending on Peggy’s shoulder. I was so scared because inside my bag (purse) I had Peggy’s school fees (since I had planned to pay) her fees today.
…We found our way to the valley and climbed up to find the road was all blocked. We had to walk through a longer distance and we then could use the direct route to my house, because here one person had been shot dead in front of the road to my house, so it became very risky. Along the way we met policemen being chest by rioters and some watch helplessly as the youth burn tires on the road …(Finally), I met a man who knew (my husband) and led us through a safer shortcut to my house. At home, my young kids (ages 9 and 1 ½) were all sleeping down on the floor watching the wedding of Prince William and Kate. My daughter Cindy told me by lying down because they were trying to reduce the chance of stray bullets getting them…We also joined them on the floor.
…I will never forget this day when police tear gassed me and my nice. As a journalist, I think tear gas should not be used on innocent people. I thank God for protecting me, and keeping kids school fees safely. Finally, I pray for a peaceful ending of this conflict.”
After reading her story, it’s hard not to get preachy about how lucky we are to live in peaceful Parkville. From here on out, as I go about my daily life, I’ll think about Gloria whenever I start getting whiny about my petty, comparatively insignificant problems.