Freedom City: Who is to Blame for the Tragedy?
It is 16 days ever since the tragic New Year’s celebrations at Freedom City in Wakiso. However, there have been counter-accusations on who is to blame for the stampede that led to the death of 11 people. It is no longer news that police arrested and prosecuted event promoter and proprietor of Abitex Promotions, Abby Musinguzi, and one of the night’s emcees Francis Juuko.
Although Musinguzi and Juuko are currently out of jail on court bail, some quarters are questioning why the police officers who were in charge of the venue as well as the property proprietor of Freedom city, John Sebalamu have also been prosecuted. According to the police, the problem started when Musinguzi printed more than 15,000 tickets, which is over and above the capacity of the Freedom City Auditorium.
Police Spokesperson, Fred Enanga, claims that the venue admitted 5,000 partygoers extra something Musinguzi and his team vehemently dismiss. “The organizers put profits over the safety of revelers and concertgoers. There was also negligence on the part of the organizers for overcrowding, beyond the 15,000 capacity, lack of standby medical staff, skilled bouncers, admissions of children without parents or guardians,” Enanga said.
Although police have since pushed all the blame on Abitex Promotions, there have been voices that only a handful of police officers were deployed to manage the crowd of 20,000 partygoers. It is alleged that security had agreed to deploy over 30 covert and overt officers to manage the crowd but about 20 were instead tasked to manage 20,000 revelers.
Charles Nsaba, the Kampala South Regional police commander in whose area this tragedy happened refutes claims of insufficient deployments. Nsaba says that they took all the necessary security measures and security cannot be blamed for whatever happened because it was the organizer’s negligence.
Nsaba says his personnel would take the blame or even face prosecution now if anyone bypassed them with a gun or bomb and hurt the revelers. Like Enanga, Nsaba insists whatever happened was a stampede that can even happen at well-organized events like weddings if someone abruptly announced something that needs people to swiftly get out.
Grace Matsiko, a security analyst and chairman of The Uganda Private Security Association -TUPSA, says that trouble started when Abitex Promotions hired unskilled guards commonly known as bouncers to manage crowds in the inner rings.
Enanga explains that in the last meeting between Abitex Promotions and KMP South security, it was agreed that the organizer takes charge of the inner ring to help secure their cash collections. Police say, Musinguzi resorted to hiring bouncers from UUBA Bouncers Association, who have been at large ever since the incident occurred.
Matsiko and Nsaba explain that crowd control includes among other things sticking to the planned numbers in regard to the capacity of the venue, providing access, exit and evacuation routes, deployment of skilled persons to guide who sits where, limiting access to intoxicating substances such as alcohol, and making a risk assessment.
Much as Musinguzi is accused of printing tickets that were more than the capacity of the venue, Nsaba says everything was moving very well and every person was sitting and the whole event was smooth until the night’s emcee Juuko announced that the revelers needed to move out to watch fireworks.
“If you are five people or 10 in your house, if somebody made an abrupt announcement that requires everyone to move, people will knock each. Crowd control is what? ideally, people were well organized. Contrary to the usual routine, somebody makes an announcement that requires people to move out which had never happened before in all the years. Do you blame security for that?” Nsaba asked.
Matsiko says every person involved in crowd management must be equipped with safety skills ranging from personal safety and that of the crowd. “Even the property owner should not be ignored because the venue remains his even when somebody has hired it. The venue owner should be involved in stages of planning the safety of the crowd,” Matsiko said.
But Enanga said under clause number five of the venue hiring agreement, organizers were tasked to provide as a MUST adequate security and crowd control for the event and venue, and under clause 6, of the agreement, the organizer was tasked to provide First Aid, Fire and Emergency arrangements for the event, depending on the type, nature, and scale of the event.
Security adds that it has been established that counter-terrorism police officers were put in charge of the access control, search, K9 venue explosive sweeps, snap checks, intelligence, and an armed team, while the territorial police under Katwe, were put in charge of the outer ring, which included the parking, traffic control, external environment, and patrols.
“The findings also indicate that the management of Freedom City handed over the hall and children’s play area, which was hired to Abtex Promotions. All the padlocks to the gates and doors were removed, and the venue was handed over to Abtex Promotions. Critically, the proprietors of the venue gave full authority to the organizers,” Enanga said.