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Kasubi Tombs fire puzzles security
Publish Date: Mar 18, 2010
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By Henry Mukasa, Eddie Ssejjoba
and Brian Mayanja


GUNFIRE rocked Kasubi royal burial grounds as security fired to clear the way for President Yoweri Museveni to inspect the place yesterday.

Two people died from Mulago Hospital and five others were still in critical condition after the Military Police and the Presidential Guard Brigade (PGB) battled rowdy crowds that had blocked the route to the world heritage site at Kasubi.

According to sources at Mulago, the dead were both young men with bullet wounds.

Those admitted in critical condition were Ishmael Bugembe, Abdallahtif Ssentamu and Patrick Mwanje. All had bullet wounds. Others admitted with bullet wounds were Simon Birungi, 33, and Kaloli Sserwadda, 32, a resident of Namungoona.

The Media Centre executive director, Fred Opolot, said in a statement that three fire fighters were injured and are also admitted at Mulago. Opolot said windscreens of eight vehicles were shattered.

The Tuesday night fire, whose cause is not yet known, burnt the royal tombs, the final resting place of Buganda kingdom’s royalty. Security sources said it was not clear who or how the fire started. The tombs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, were built in 1882.

Baganda loyalists converged at the tombs in the wee hours of yesterday and started cleaning up the site. The youth, the elderly, women and school children cleared the debris at the hitherto key national tourist site.

Several ornaments, medals, royal gifts and artifacts were destroyed in the inferno. Announcements were made on megaphone for workers to surrender any valuables they pick.

Lorries carried tanks of water to wash away the cinders and put out smouldering planks of timber. Several people began erecting the lubiri (traditional fence) using reeds brought in by loyal subjects.

The mood was sombre. Women wept, men sobbed, while the youth vented their anger through violent protests. Students were equally astounded by the level of destruction.

As a sign of mourning, Buganda’s blue-and-white flag flew at half-mast and a fireplace was stocked at the burnt-out entrance to the main tomb-house, Muzibu-Azaala-Mpanga.

Some Baganda wore bark cloth. Angry youth sneered at anybody who looked on with indifference. They barred those donning jackets or carrying guns from the royal site. At around 10:00am, word filtered through that Museveni would visit the site.

Thirty minutes later, Presidential Guard Brigade soldiers arrived and asked the adamant youth to remove a lorry and barricades at the entrance to the tombs but they refused. Sporadic gunfire then filled the air. People scampered to safety but quickly regrouped and took cover in the compound.

Prince David Wasajja, who was seated with several princesses, had to take cover. He was constantly on phone. When the shooting intensified, soldiers demanded that the crowd clears but many were adamant. The soldiers then started whipping anyone reluctant to leave, including those lying on the ground. During the melee, Wasajja surrounded by a small group left through the fence.

Four of Buganda’s kings; Muteesa I, Mwanga Basammula, Daudi Chwa and Sir Edward Muteesa II are buried at the Kasubi tombs. Muteesa II is the father of the reigning king, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II.

The Kabaka, who arrived at 1:45pm with the Nabagereka, Sylivia Nagginda, plus his children Prince Jjunju and Princess Sangalyambogo, inspected the tombs. Prince Wasajja, Katikkiro JB Walusimbi, Buganda ministers and a large crowd received him.

On viewing the devastation, the king drew a white handkerchief to wipe away tears. The king’s public grief triggered off wails from people standing near him. He spent a few minutes standing motionless at the main entrance to the tombs, in which his father, Muteesa and grandfathers are buried.

He did not address his subjects, but waved at them. He also inspected other houses in the complex and greeted the resident princesses. The Kabaka left after about 30 minutes. His convoy was swarmed by a large crowd which walked along from Kasubi to Nakulabye. At Sir Apollo Kaggwa junction, the Police blocked the chanting loyalists from further escorting Mutebi.

Meanwhile, some politicians who were deemed pro-government got hostile reception from crowds at the tombs.

Lubaga division chairman Peter Ssematimba, who came in a yellow T-shirt was harassed and his spectacles broken in the process.
The tombs are in Rubaga division and yellow is the ruling NRM party colour.
Maama Fiina, a traditional healer, was beaten up by youth.

NRM vice-chairman Moses Kigongo was, however, allowed to tour the burial grounds.      

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