Last week, a few young men discovered, contrary to their devout devotion to the English Premier League, that they could actually live without Arsenal Football Club (FC), an English football club.
A few hours in the custody of the Uganda Police Force disabused the young men of their fervent commitment to Arsenal FC. On January 23, several firebrand supporters of Arsenal, on a high from their team’s January 22 defeat of rivals Manchester United, took their celebration to the streets of Jinja town.
The victorious fans sang loudly as their five-car convoy snaked along the main street, complete with a trophy to headline their victory parade. Soon these Arsenal devotees would find themselves dominating the local headlines and to our national chagrin, international news headlines too.
According to Daily Monitor, the parade came to a screeching halt when a police patrol car pulled up in front of the procession. Eight Arsenal fans found themselves hoisted by the trousers into the safe custody of police detention. The police, quick to dispel nefarious notions that they are a secret society of Arsenal haters, told the media they stopped the Arsenal procession because the participants had not sought police permission.
The police, with zeal reserved for any public display that is not in support of the ruling party, went all in. They asked the Arsenal supporters a few questions about Arsenal. Turns out the police was onto something - the luckless supporters of Arsenal failed the test. Therafa, the police found the group suspicious.
How do you support and follow Arsenal yet you cannot spell ‘Arsenal’? The police found them unworthy of Arsenal! Then again, once the Ugandan police have you by the back of your trousers, your feet almost off the ground, the game is up.
The formerly elated Arsenal supporters discovered enlightenment they never saw coming - if you must express yourself in public, do your research. For failing to ‘lisach’, the now-intimidated Arsenal supporters earned themselves a night in police custody and were released the next day.
James Mubi, the Kiira Region police spokesperson, channeling Police spokesperson Fred Enanga, suggested alternative means of expression for the Arsenal supporters. Mubi suggested, “If their intention was to taunt Manchester United fans, they should have taken to social media where such banter is exchanged, or recorded a TikTok video from a bar, instead of going on the streets where there is traffic and businesses.”
The implication being social media has neither traffic nor business; assemble there. Who will tell Mubi of the social media onslaught against the extortion and corruption at Entebbe International Airport?
News in Uganda unfolds at meteoric speeds; it is a struggle to keep up with the facts amidst all our juicy palpitation - inducing news headlines. Yet the facts remain.
In March 2020, the Constitutional court annulled section 8 of the Public Order Management Act (POMA), stripping the police of its power to stop or disperse public gatherings. The ruling declared there was no evidence to prove that such gatherings sabotaged economic growth - an excuse the police affectionately store alongside the teargas and bullets for dispersing public gatherings.
The court ruling was a throwback to 2007 in which the Constitutional court declared section 32 of the Police Act inconsistent with the Constitution that guarantees the right to freedom of assembly. Thus, it is not just Arsenal fans who need to keep up with the facts and do ‘lisach.’
Retired Assistant Inspector of Police, Asan Kasingye, through his Twitter account, criticized the arrest of the Arsenal fans, noting that the arresting officers lacked common sense required of such officers. The common sense perhaps to do their research.
Thanks to Uganda Police’s failure or refusal or selective amnesia to keep up with Constitutional court rulings on public gatherings, Uganda trended in international media over the arrest. Be consoled. Foras, we are not like our frosty friendly neighbor Rwanda with whom we have a schizophrenic relationship of loving envy wrapped in festering suspicion.
Rwanda, our enterprising neighbour with the steely-eyed focus, has a rather moneyed relationship with Arsenal FC. In May 2018, Rwanda, whose president and our national uncle, is mad about Arsenal, recruited the services of the club to drive Rwanda’s tourism campaign. Epic!
The three-year deal was worth £30 million, reported Africa Report. In 2021, Rwanda renewed its deal with Arsenal to a four- year deal worth £40 million. The East African revealed that due to Covid-19 knocking out international travel and tourism, Rwanda did not reap as expected from the initial deal.
Thus, it expects to reap much more from the 2021 extension. But who needs the burden of research, foresight and bold focus when an international media powerhouse like CNN has listed Uganda as one of 23 top destinations to visit this year?
CNN has already done the research. So, yes, come to Uganda but only if you know your Arsenal facts.
The writer is a tayaad muzzukulu