Sunday, February 12, 2012

Politics in Jinja Town

Political elections stir up trouble virtually everywhere in the world, and the Ugandan small town of Jinja is no exception. Throughout my time here I’ve heard about the riots that commonly accompany political elections and the entertaining stories that go along with them – at least to an unseasoned third party like me. So you can imagine my excitement and intrigue when I heard a few months back that there would be a re-election for Jinja’s MP due to accusations that the winning party didn’t have the papers needed (or probably more likely, wanted) to document his education.

Election Day was set for Thursday, February 9th with the results to be announced that evening. In the days leading up to the election this week there was enough busy anticipation to help even the dullest of individuals clue into what was about to take place. The most obvious sign was the numerous, and seemingly spontaneous, parades that marched down main street. Monday kicked things off in the morning with a substantial chunk of the Ugandan army marching down the street wielding not only guns, but large leafy branches as well. Tuesday was peppered with parades made up of cars, music, and woman wearing banana fiber outfits, finished off by one of the election candidates waving to the crowds from the back of a truck bed in which he stood talking on the phone. Huge masses of people swarming to the court house also caused quite a commotion throughout the day. Wednesday surprised me, with virtually no disturbances at all and before you knew it it was the big day, February 9th.

The day started off just like any other Thursday morning, however it ended very differently than your average weekday. At around 3pm my friend Liza and I were headed down Main Street, me to the office and her to talk with a local crafter. However, about 10 minutes after Liza left me she reappeared in the doorway “Sarah they’re going to set off tear gas at 4pm. We need to be out of town before then.”

“What?! I always miss the good stuff! Can’t we LEAVE at 4??” My response was a very stern NO, which is good otherwise I could have been in a VERY bad situation later.

As we quickly made a stop at the supermarket so I could make a hasty purchase of dinner ingredients Liza peppered me with questions in a “I told you so” sort of way - “Look how empty the streets are now, isn’t it weird?” “It’s so quiet out now, don’t you notice it?” - But I didn’t really feel, or see rather, the severity of the situation until she pointed out the huge police trucks. Two giant armored trucks were parked across the road, each filled with soldiers ready to release tear gas at any given moment. There were also swarms of soldiers on the ground, rerouting traffic and just making their presence known in general. This was definitely a different Jinja than I walked into this morning.

“Ok, now I guess I’m glad we decided to leave when we did,” I reluctantly admitted. . . but I still wish I could have seen some of that action that took place that night . . .

Apparently things didn’t get really heated until around 9pm. Tear gas was being set off all up and down Main Street as unruly citizens – undoubtedly reacting to an unsatisfactory election outcome – began throwing rocks and large pieces of wood at policemen, cars parked on the street, and probably anything else that they could potentially cause damage to. From the eyewitness accounts I’ve heard it sounded like a crazy night and I’m glad Liza made me leave when she did . . . just in case.