Monday, June 4, 2012

Threatening The Life of Prime Minister Mbabazi

The key words to look out for in this week’s cowardly tales are: ‘identify yourself’ and ‘orders from above.’

Despite the global terrorist threat from Al Queada, Al Shabab and whoever else has issues with governments, walk up to Buckingham Palace in England and take a picture of it and just see what happens. Nothing. Again, press your face against the railings and see what happens. Nothing.

Then swing round to 10, Downing Street, the official residence of Prime Minister, David Cameron, and do the same thing. Nothing happens. In fact go to the Houses of Parliament, go over to Washington DC to the White House and do the same thing. Nothing happens.

Go a step further, whip out your camera and take pictures. No bodyguards, nobody in paramilitary uniform, police or military police will jump out of the shrubbery demanding to know who you are, and who gave you permission to take pictures and why you are taking them.

That is not to say that the security agencies in the UK, US, Germany and Australia for example, do not take the terrorist threat seriously. They do, but they are mind full of the bigger picture - the image they will put out there if they arrested you and were heavy handed for merely taking pictures and especially when you pose no threat to national security.

Here in Uganda, the security agencies have a different approach to public relations. Their approach – well they don’t have any approach and they don’t know what PR means except of course threatening you with an AK-47, beating you up, and whisking you away to some unknown location and into a dungeon to be interrogated for hours on end.

Another thing about Uganda, is that, there are a number of public buildings that Wanainchi supposedly cannot take pictures of.

A few weeks ago I tried to take a picture of the World War II memorial statute in City Square and the conversation I had with the policeman dressed in full anti riot kit went along these lines.

Anti-Riot Policeman: “You man, identify yourself”

Me: “I am TB and I dabble in the media amongst other things.”

Anti-Riot Policeman: “Who said you can take a picture?”

Me: “Is this not a public park? Anyway I am taking a picture of the World War II memorial statue.”

Anti-Riot Policeman: “But you man, what is wrong with you? This is a sensitive area and we don’t allow people to take pictures anywhere in this vicinity. If you don’t leave now, I going to arrest you and charge you with trespass.”

Me: “Taking a picture of a WWII memorial is a security threat?

Anti-Riot Policeman: “Affande call the patrol and we take him to CPS!”

Between going to CPS and my freedom, I picked freedom, put the camera away and left.

With that, in Uganda it is illegal to take pictures of the WWII memorial statute, just as it is to take pictures of State House, Parliament, Bank of Uganda, Entebbe Airport, Summit View Kololo where the television and radio masts are located, Owen Falls Dam, the presidential Gulfstream jet and judiciary buildings amongst others.

The people in the security services, especially that elusive man or woman called, Orders From Above have their reasons to deem it illegal, treasonable and grounds for arrest if you are caught taking pictures of those places.

But let’s pause there for a while. Just who on earth is this person called Orders From Above? If you got into a wrangle with the rank and file of the police force, army or military police, they always tell you that: “We got orders from above and that is that. Don’t question us further!”

Getting back, so I am not a big football fan but seeing the invitation to watch the finals of the Champions League between Chelsea and Bayern Munich, came from Julius Kayoboke, who is the Area Export Manager for Heineken International at Cayenne, it was too good an invitation to turn down.

Heineken International, have to be commended for throwing a bash that was befitting of the finals. There was plenty of food and drink plus a crowd though not sporting Chelsea or Bayern colours got into the thick of the action. Better still, for Dr. John, it was his first outing to Cayenne so there was a need to contend with his malo, while Nodin, – well he was just there and trying to intimidate.

But what was surprising, was the choice of chief guest – the Hon. PM Amama Mbabazi and his wife Jacqueline. I didn’t think PM was that much into football and unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to ask him which team he was rooting for.

Just before the penalty shootout that decided the match, I took myself into the car park for some fresh air, and there is was. PM’s new ride – a sleek black Mercedes Benz that is supposed to have cost we, the taxpayer, a whooping sh600!

I didn’t have the time to think about the consequences for out came the Nokia cell phone, and snap, snap, I took a couple of pictures.

Do you think I got time to admire the photographs? No, for within seconds, the entire security apparatus from military police, policemen (in black, blue camouflage, khaki, and plain blue) plus army men had jumped onto me and were ruffling me up. Surely they must have gotten the wrong person. Here is a transcript of the conversation I had as I was handcuffed and taken to the police patrol.

Affande: “Identify yourself!”

Me: “Err, TB”

Affande: “What are you doing, why are you taking pictures of PM’s car?”

Me: “By the time a government official is riding in a car that costs sh600m, it becomes a public interest story.”

Affande: “Are you trying to endanger the life of the PM? Are you trying to plant a bomb in his car?”

Me: “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves! Where is the bomb and how am I endangering his life?”

Affande didn’t get a chance answer for the patrol pick-up had lurched forward, lights flashing and siren wailing as they sped me down to Kira Road police station.

When the booking officer asked for the charge, he was told: “This is a delicate case. That’s the information we got from orders from above.”

This had to be a first. Orders From Above does indeed exist. Apart from that, he or she does know who I am and that my case is delicate? Hmm.

They didn’t throw me into the coolers, but rather I had to sit it out for the best part of the night and into Sunday. At 7:00am when the shift changed I had yet to be charged because they were still waiting for Orders From Above to turn up.

He showed face at 11:00 am and he turned out to be a rather youthful man – and held a police rank – that of DPC, Kiira Road Police Station.

After a grilling – you know the usual police questions (identify yourself, where are you coming from, what tribe are you, do you know what you did wrong, you think you are above the law, you were endangering PMs life), I was taken upstairs and into the CID office where I was formally charged. I was charged with ‘making threats against the PM’.

For a minute there I thought I was on crack cocaine! “Is taking a picture of the PMs car a crime and how does it endanger PMs life” so I asked CID officer.

CID Officer: “You man, taking a picture of PMs car, is endangering his life.”

Me: “But how?”

CID Officer: “You think you just take a picture of his car? It is a criminal offence. For all we know, you wanted to plant a bomb in it.”

Okay so CID Officer vindicated me. Going by his questioning, it was he and not I who was on crack cocaine! I was eventually released on a police bond and told to report back on Friday at 10:00am.

If taking a picture of PMs car or that of other ministers and high ranking government officials has become a crime that warrants arrest, what will Orders From Above dream up next? Perhaps we will soon find out that, taking pictures of PM, M7 and VP will soon be an offence that warrants arrest.

To Be Continued…

Pictures: NTV, New Vision, Daily Monitor

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