26 September 2017

Uganda: Scuffle Breaks Out At Parliament, City Hall Over Red Headbands

Photo: Alex Esagala/Monitor
MPs wear red headbands to show they're opposed to the amendment of Article 102 (b) of the Constitution during a meeting at Parliament.

Kampala — There are sporadic confrontations happening at Parliament and the nearby City Hall between lawmakers and councillors on the one side and police on the other as the law enforcement agencies scramble to restrain the political leaders from accessing their offices with the red bandanas.

Lawmakers opposed to the lifting of the presidential age limit last week caught security flat-footed when they pulled and wore the red headbands in the chamber after plans by the ruling party to seek leave of Parliament and introduce a motion to amend Article 102(b) of the Constitution failed.

They emerged on the foyer of the Parliament building, singing and dancing while punching in the air with clenched fists. MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda (Kira Municipality, FDC) says the bandana is to symbolise their readiness to die in defence of the Constitution.

Last week's surprise peaceful protest appears to have prepared and provoked the police to ensure no lawmaker this time accesses the House with the headbands, something Opposition Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) councillors copied. This led to confrontation at the gate of City Hall, leading to the arrest of some individuals.

At Parliament, police failed to restrain Kyadondo East MP, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine who displayed a calm composure as a decoy before sneaking out.

In the Tuesday confrontations, Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko told off the law enforcers, assuring them that legislators had discretion on how to dress and can only be challenged in the chamber on a point of Order.

Another team of parliamentarians led by Aruu MP, Mr Odonga Otto and his Lwemiyaga counterpart, Mr Theodore Ssekikubo tackled the guards head-on, forcing their way and sprinting up the stairs to join their colleagues assembled in the office of the Leaders of Opposition.

Mr Otto shoved off police officers who had cordoned off the entrance via the South Wing of Parliament and forcefully entered Parliament.

"I can even come in here wearing a G-string...," Mr Otto says while outstretching his hands, with ribbons tied to both.

The officers chased after Mr Otto up to the 5th Floor of Parliament where he was going to attend a meeting in the Leader of Opposition's Boardroom.

Together, they sang the first stanza of the national anthem as out-of-breathe journalists huddled in the hallway.

Some of the MPs opposed to lifting of the presidential age limit say the red ribbons signify "resistance against bloodshed."

On his part, MP Ssekikubo refuses to be frisked. He elbows off an officer who insisted on checking him.

Police officers have meanwhile confiscated ribbons and whistles from MPs Gilbert Olanya (Kilak County South) and Reagan Okumu (Aswa County).

Despite Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah last week complaining the police deployment was "excessive", Parliament has again been ringed off by Anti-Terrorism police with snipers perched at many entrances.

The precincts of Parliament are filled with armed plain-clothed security officers who are keeping an eye on each lawmaker who have vowed to block Igara West MP, Mr Rahael Magyezi from tabling his intended motion to scrap a provision that limits the upper age of a potential President at 75 years.

Critics say the change is to remove a legal hurdle for President, now 73-years-old, and allow him to stand again in 2021.

KCCA councillors join debate

Kampala city leaders headed by the Lord Mayor, Mr Erias Lukwago are convened at KCCA gardens to voice their concerns against the proposed removal of the age limit cap from the Constitution.

The leaders, majority of whom are donned in red attires and a red ribbon tied around their foreheads, have vowed to fight until MPs back off the controversial bill to amend the Constitution.

Mr Lukwago said the Constitution is the fundamental law in the land and tinkering with it would send the country into chaos.

"We are not sounding war drums but we want a peaceful transition of power. Mr Museveni must respect the will of the people and retire peacefully. If he insists on amending the Constitution, we are ready to defend our rights," Mr Lukwago said.

Ms Happy Nasasira, the Nakawa Female Councillor accused Mr Museveni of telling lies to Ugandans when he earlier said that he would retire peacefully.

"Why doesn't the President want to be a statesman? If he had earlier told the whole country that the problem of Africa is leaders who overstay in power, why is he doing the same? As leaders, we shall not accept age limit removal because it will affect us especially the youth," she said.

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