On the 10th of September 2009, violent unrest broke out in Kampala, the capital of Uganda in East Africa. Groups of youngsters attacked people and destroyed property. Police and army responded with force. Within two or three days, 27 people were killed and many more injured. Journalists were arrested and hundreds of people taken into custody.The rioting came after the central government moved to prevent the Kabaka (king) of the Baganda people – Uganda's largest ethnic group – from visiting a part of his traditional territory. Although Uganda is a republic, the constitution allows kings and other traditional leaders in most areas where they existed before Independence in 1962. Officially, their traditional leadership is meant to play an exclusively cultural role and they are barred from participating in politics. In reality, the riots demonstrated the great extent to which culture and politics intersect.
As the country recovered from the civil disturbances, many Ugandans began to make sense of why and how the violence was able to spread so quickly throughout Kampala. In a combined statement, civil society based organisations expressed their grave concern about what happened and signaled that the riots are symptomatic of deeper tensions in society. Their statement included:
In this paper, Emily Drani and John De Coninck of CCFU reflect on the September riots. The conversation took place in October 2009, when Ute Seela, co-chair of the Promoting Pluralism Knowledge Programme visited them to discuss ongoing work. The conversation sheds new light on the background of the unrest and its implications for the work of the knowledge programme in Uganda.