On the eve of Chogm, who will benefit, and at whose expense?

Posted: November 13, 2007 in Blog

As the upcoming meeting of Commonwealth leaders (known as ‘Chogm’) draws near, more questions are being raised about just what impact this short meeting will have on everyday Ugandans.

For a long time, local politicians and other Chogm organizing officials suggested the only question in their mind was how much Ugandans will benefit from Chogm.

Re-paved roads, improved infrastructure, and intense international attention would not only improve everyday life for Ugandans, but also attract investment and tourist dollars, these officials told the public.

Those all may prove to be true. But other questions are now surfacing as well.

To what extent should Ugandans be restricted in their freedoms and rights in the name of facilitating the conference?

Will any of the funds flowing in trickle down to the vast majority of the country’s residents? Or will it all stay within the wealthiest who, not coincidently, are often in politics?

These questions arise while watching everyday life unfold here, as well as while scanning stories in the newspapers.

Of late, my boda-boda motorcycle driver has stopped working as late as normal, for fear of being arrested by the thousands of additional police officers who have been deployed throughout the city.

Recently I asked him to pick me up from the gym at about 9 p.m.  He sent me a text message earlier in the day asking me to please keep time because he was worried about being out on the road any later than that.

A friend of mine who lives above a restaurant said staff at the restaurant have stopped going home after the restaurant closes at night, because they fear being arrested for being out at night. So instead they sleep at the restaurant.

To boost security ahead of the conference, the government has brought in thousands of forces called “Special Police Constables”, or “SPCs”. These SPCs had previously worked in local villages around the country, helping police there to keep the peace. They do not have the same powers as a full police officer.

Because the demand on police in and around Kampala was so high for Chogm, the government brought in thousands of these SPCs, gave them some additional training and deployed them at nearly every intersection throughout the city, where they now stand with their fingers on the triggers of their AK-47s.

Recently while stopped at an intersection, I counted 10 of them stationed at that one intersection. This morning I counted over 20 police, soldiers and traffic wardens at this same intersection.

The government has reassured Ugandans that the SPCs are only there to help keep the peace, and will not exert excessive force.

But there have been many letters to the newspaper complaining that because the SPCs come from villages all over the country, many speak very little English, if any at all. This makes it difficult, they say, to explain your business if they stop you on the street.

Monday’s newspaper carried a story that will surely lead to further concerns about the safety of Ugandans in the presence of so many law enforcement officers.

Over the weekend, two people (one 13-year old girl and a 22-year old man) were shot and killed by SPC officers at a market in the city. There has not yet been an in-depth explanation of just how and why the incident occurred.

Also on Monday, politicians sitting on the committee that is overseeing Chogm organizing, heard an update on the transportation plan to be put in place during Chogm.

Nov. 22 and 23 will be a national holiday for Ugandans, they heard, in the hopes of reducing the stress on the area’s traffic system because there will be so many convoys of delegates traveling the city.

The minister of foreign affairs said at the meeting that Ugandans will be allowed into the city centre, as if it was a possibility that all Ugandans would be banned from their own city, but he added that there would be some restrictions at times depending on the travel of Chogm delegates.

There will also be restrictions placed on matatus (taxi vans) and boda-boda motorcycles in the city centre. They may even be banned. Amidst talk of this plan there is no mention of how Ugandans will be able to get around the city given that the vast majority of them rely on matatus and boda-bodas.

And so, at yesterday’s meeting with all this talk about travel restrictions and security issues, did a single politician ask what Ugandans should do if they have no choice but to get to and from work?

Nope. Not one. Instead, they asked the government to issue stickers to themselves to put on their cars so that they, the politicians, could move freely around the city. This would save security officials the “embarrassment” of finding out they were holding up someone as important as a politician, one of them said in explaining why the stickers were so crucial.

  1. Brandon says:

    I can imagine locking down Kampala, which I picture to be much more hustle and bustle than sleepy Lusaka, will be a tougher job than during the SADC Summit here earlier this year. Giving people the day off (if they can afford it) is a great idea though, I can remember my co-workers having to leave for work at 5am and not leaving until 9pm to avoid the traffic stoppages. Have fun, I’m sure you’ll get some great stories!

  2. […] security preparations have Christopher Mason of Caked in Red Clay troubled: To boost security ahead of the conference, the government has brought in thousands of forces […]

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