The World

In Uganda, Rioters Strip Women Wearing Trousers

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rioters attacked and stripped about 20 Ugandan women who were wearing trousers last week during deadly riots in Kampala. The humiliations were part of a major confrontation between a traditional kingdom and President Yoweri Museveni's government.



Rioters in a Kampala suburb

KAMPALA, Uganda (WOMENSENEWS)--Male rioters in a suburb here on September 11 attacked about 20 women wearing trousers.

The men, in Rubaga, a Kampala suburb, began detaining women during their protests, police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba said at a press conference that took place that same day.

Women wearing skirts were allowed to pass, Nabakooba said, but those wearing trousers were forcibly undressed and left to walk home in their underwear.

The abuse occurred amid violence in the Ugandan capital, which officials say has claimed 14 lives and injured about 70.

Women's rights advocate Jackie Asiimwe denounced the rioters for using the clash to abuse women and commit criminal acts in New Vision, a Kampala-based newspaper. "It is an invasion of women's privacy," the newspaper quoted Asiimwe as saying.

Trousers a Western Thing

"Traditionally, trousers are not acceptable and are a Western thing," Rizzan Nassuna, a writer and human rights advocate in Kampala told Women's eNews. "In (the kingdom of) Buganda, you are supposed to wear long skirts. This is coming out of a local belief that women are not supposed to wear trousers, but this has never been formalized or really come out in the open. They violated their dignity as women, making them walk naked, because they are wearing trousers."

In neighboring Sudan, journalist Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein was recently arrested for wearing trousers in Khartoum before being released on September 8.

Nassuna, however, said she doubted any direct connection between the two incidents. Instead, she viewed the attack on women wearing pants as a byproduct of a larger effort by protesters to assert the customs of their Buganda kingdom, a pre-colonial cultural and political structure that, with 5.5 million members in a country of 30.9 million, is the largest of Uganda's traditional communities.

The riots were sparked on September 10 when the Ugandan government blocked an advance team for the Kabaka, the king of the Buganda kingdom, from entering Kayunga, a district in central Uganda.

The inspector general of police, Major General Kale Kayihura, said in a press conference on September 12 that the clashes spread from the city center to more than 11 suburbs of Kampala, a city of about 1.6 million people. He said that so far 14 people have died in the disturbances and more than 70 have been injured.

Kayihura said that the police had arrested 550 people since Thursday and charged 83. "Investigations are still on," he said at the press conference.

Some Unnecessary Force Used

He said some police officers had used unnecessary force after they were instructed by their commanders and the Ugandan president to kill looters on sight. "I know that some police officers mistreated civilians during the riots," said Kayihura. "This should stop immediately."

Two minority ethnic groups in Kayunga, the Banyala and Baluuli, have been demanding this month to secede from the kingdom to establish cultural autonomy.

On September 9, President Yoweri Museveni, citing fears that the king's visit might trigger violence in the district, said that the Kabaka could not visit Kayunga unless leaders from the minority groups, Buganda representatives and government officials met beforehand.

In the ensuing violent backlash to that decision, a mob burned two people to death in the suburb of Ndeeba on September 10. One woman was almost lynched by a mob in Namirembe, a neighborhood in Kampala, after youth declared her not to be a Muganda, or a member of the Baganda people. She was saved by police.

Justine Busulwa, an accountant who works in Kampala, gave Women's eNews an account of barely surviving the riots.

She said in an interview that when news of the riots first broke last week her boss initially locked the office to protect the workers. She eventually left her office late and had a motorbike driver take her home to avoid using public transport. On her way home, she passed through Wandegaya, a Kampala neighborhood, and saw riots erupting.

A Ugandan soldier stopped her, but rather than protecting her, she said he asked her to lie down on the ground and began taunting her for not being a Muganda, or member of the kingdom, even though she belongs to that ethnic group.

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