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Lack of national ID encourages new cases of Panda Gali


The practices that different security agencies, particularly the Police, are carrying out in Kampala remind me of the atrocities that were inflicted on Ugandans by the past regimes of Milton Obote and Tito Okello Lutwa.

These inhuman practices left us emotionally, physically and psychologically affected.

After losing the 1980 elections, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of the UPM Party by then, picked up arms to fight Obote’s government. For the next five years life was so difficult for the people. Museveni lured many children, known locally as Kadogos, to join his rebel National Resistance Army as child soldiers.

Having realized that even children had joined the rebellion, Obote’s Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) intensified its ruthlessness. It had no mercy for anyone; young, old, pregnant women – all were considered to be guerillas fighting the government. We grew up and studied under such circumstances.

My father, Sheikh Musa Mubiru, narrates to me how military men during Obote’s reign came to our home village and arbitrarily arrested many men, some of whom have never been seen again. “They ordered us to embark on buses and lorries and they drove us to Kigo prison,” narrates Sheikh Mubiru.

The notorious Kigo prison is located on the showers of Lake Victoria, a few kilometers from the capital Kampala.

While at Kigo they were paraded before several limping prisoners, in seemingly poor and horrible health conditions, who were ordered to identify the ‘guerillas’.

There is no doubt that many people worked as informers for the wanted man, Museveni, including Zubairi Bakaali, all over the country. But the majority of the people often arrested had nothing to do with Museveni, and were in fact victims of his rebellion.

The limping prisoners at Kigo went around the paraded men, randomly indentifying the Bayekera, a local word for rebels. Those who had some money bribed their way out of prison. But many would remain incarcerated indefinitely.

Like today, Ugandans had no national identity cards then. But unlike today, the Graduated Tax ticket served as a form of universal identification. Museveni’s government abolished this form of tax, leaving nothing close even remotely to an ID. Individuals – nationals or otherwise – today make their own IDs.

Animals in the game reserves and zoos have numbers but the people of Uganda have no proper identification. No country in Africa that has no national ID except Uganda. Even Somalia that has known no government for two decades has a form of identification for her people. As we advocate for the East African Federation, we must first and foremost deal with these ‘small things’.

The absence of a national ID has caused untold pain to Ugandans. Citizens are increasingly rounded up by Police and forced onto lorries and buses in a manner reminiscent of Obote’s Panda Gali days.

Panda Gali is a Swahili word ordering someone to get on a vehicle. The Police accuse the people of being idol and having no identification. If the country has no ID, which identification is he Police asking for?

Uganda cannot behave like a failed state and expect to move forward. If the government has failed in such basic things, what achievement can it show?