Its 4am Thursday Morning March 17th 2010. Just got home after witnessing the fire at the Kasubi tombs. The fire was intense and unrelenting. The crowd mirrored that and became belligerent. By the time we arrived at 10:30pm the fire trucks had smashed windscreens and were nowhere near the fire.
All round were people wailing and rolling in the mud mourning and cursing the government. The rumour is that a vehicle with no number plates was seen in the area and a jerry can used for petrol was found at the back. Not enough for a judge but enough for a people who witnessed a string of still unsoved school fires last year, closure of "their" station and the blocking of their King's movements leading to riots. In their eyes and hearts, this was yet another attack on the Baganda by a callous and desperate government. hence the police and military were not welcome. The mood was defiant to the point that live bullets only attracted the crowd rather than scatter them.
Bullets were being fired accompanied by the odd can of teargas. It was a standoff. the police and army were being blocked from entering by a crowd that suspected them of setting the fire (that means government) and trying to "finish Buganda". After several attempts at entering by the riot police, and an almost non-appearance appearance of the katikiro, everyone turned to the fire and decided they must put it out.
From the looks of it the roof caught fire early and buckled the metal I-beams which then collapsed into the centre of the masiro. The entire roof was now in the middle of the hut and on fire. Most people wanted to get the remains of the four kings out but the heat was too intense and the path was blocked by mounds of burning grass.
After intense negotiation with General Katumba Wamala, having agreed to stop the shooting and leave the military and riot police outside, the fire engines began to enter. It was 11:45am - 4 hours after the fire had started.
The scenes that followed were heartening as the firemen were taking instructions from the young men who had done some of the work including, amazingly, found "safe" routes into the middle of the inferno. In the end the firemen were handing the hose-guns to the boys and letting them run in and do battle with the flames. Men and women lined the perimeter taking grass from the brave men inside and passed it out to be spreadout to cool down. The grass covered burning material underneath which flamed immediately upon being uncovered. The firemen were on standby to blasts these flames with a good burst as soon as they flared. By now there were three fire trucks including the monster from Entebbe Airport with remote control water cannons.
In a poignant moment the crowd burst into singing the Buganda national anthem as they had found a deep layer of unburnt grass. This, they felt, meant that the artefacts underneath were not burnt. The people leaped into action singing at the top of their voices all the while shouting that "the leopard is ok" (ngo nnamu). In reference to the late King's pet leopard that was kept duly stuffed in the tombs. By the time I left we could not tell if this was the case. We shall return in the morning.
MAny lessons to be learnt. Another mystery to be solved. In the end the drunk/idiot/ or spy who General Katumba Wamala had to rescue by pulling out his pistol, may be the best answer as the drunk had claimed that he was paid to do this and he has won. At least with this there would be no doubt as to what should be done next.