When riots broke out in Maska, Uganda on Sept. 11, senior Angela Geer could hear gun shots and yelling from her residence hall room.
Currently, five Eastern students are studying abroad at the Uganda Christian University in Mukono, and Geer is one of them. Violent rioting in the nearby city has killed at least 21 Ugandans and injured more than 80 others.
The riots began after a misunderstanding between the central government and the Bugandan kingdom leadership (the largest tribe in Uganda). The Bugandan King, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, was scheduled to visit the capital city, Kampala, for the youth celebration days.
Word of the King’s visit upset the Banyala tribe, which claims it has been treated unfairly by the Bugandans in the past. There were also rumors of threats between groups prior to the visit, which resulted in Buganda’s prime minister, Katikiro, traveling ahead to address the situation.
Five miles from the venue, Katikiro was blocked off by the military and police because of the threats. Opportunists took advantage of this and spread word that the Prime Minster was arrested. This misunderstanding led to a series of violent riots including shootings and fires.
Geer described the situation as “quite an experience.” Although the campus remained safe throughout the days the riots occurred, those out in the streets were not as fortunate.
One of Geer’s leaders, who was a part of the group that opposed the King’s visit, was not as protected as the students. “He told us he was scared to be on the streets because the Buganda rioters were stopping people and, if they couldn’t sing the song of the Buganda, they were beaten,” Geer said. “It made us worry about our Ugandan friends a bit.”
Another local Ugandan, Pastor Bob-Gad Kalyowa from Kampala, was also affected by the riots. Upon returning home from a mission conference in a nearby village, Kalyowa was not able to travel home because of the riots.
Kalyowa said he had to “run for his life from tear gas” and was not able to return home until the following day. “Merchandise was stolen and destroyed, the building burnt and vehicles burnt too,” he said, describing the scene on the streets. “A police station was burnt down and the inmates released.”
There were also “stones and bottles being thrown about and cars in the middle of the roads,” he said.
The riots died down after two days, and currently the city is much calmer. On Sept. 30, Ugandan president Yoweri Kaguta Mseveni and the king of Buganda met to discuss the misunderstandings. More than a thousand people have been arrested in connection with the riots and the city is slowly being put back together.
The Eastern students studying in Uganda have resumed normal schedules but have themselves been changed because of this experience.
“I have come to find out that safety here is not guaranteed,” Geer said. “I never thought I would say it, but I have a new respect for our democracy.”