On December, 31st 2022, over 20,000 city revelers thronged Freedom City Mall on Entebbe Road as they feasted on different festivities a few hours before they could usher in 2023. As a tradition across the world, fireworks are usually displayed as a sign of happiness to have reached the end of 365 days (a year) and started a new year.
At Freedom City, the event that was meant to entertain and usher people into the new year turned tragic a few minutes into the new year when a stampede arising from the scuffle by revelers struggling to go out and watch fireworks erupted.
According to security, the stampede escalated a few seconds after the masters of ceremonies manning the event had called on the revelers to check out and watch fireworks displays. It is said more than 20,000 people had to use one exit as they rushed to watch the fireworks display.
The police have since confirmed that some 10 people, both children and adults, lost their lives during the unfortunate event. The event organizer has since been remanded to prison.
In this piece, our reporter Brian Opolot outlined who could have done what, where and when to avoid the unexpected incident.
Under the said Section 8 of the Public Order and Management Act, the police can stop a public meeting or gathering if they think that the venue where the meeting is to be held is unsuitable for purposes of traffic or crowd control or that the meeting will interfere with other lawful businesses.
Similarly to how it used to be, the police are constitutionally required to inspect every facility where the event is to be held before sanctioning it or not.
Event organizers are required to formally inform the area police commander, seeking permission and security, before the event is okayed. Before sanctioning any event, the area police are required to inspect the venue to ascertain various facilities to guarantee public safety, the number of people expected, and whether it’s enough to fill the venue or not.
A must-have facility includes an exit point, a fire extinguisher, hygiene, and other security-sensitive items. When all these are in place, then the event can be okayed by the police. It appears to be a big miscalculation by the police to have authorized Freedom City to host 20,000 people without standard exit points and other safety facilities.
After authorizing the event, police are required to provide enough security on the D-day of the event, including manning both checkpoints and inside. The police area commander is expected to deploy personnel enough to man the available crowd.
The security should have communicated with the organizers and advised the events manager to refund cash for people who arrived with already paid tickets or turn away revelers who wanted to pay cash at the door, allowing the venue to hold no more than its usual capacity and avoiding the stampede.
The role of the organizers
The event organizer, Abbey Musinguzi, also known as Abitex, has been remanded to Luzira and awaits a hearing in the courts of law.
He was accused of negligence when the venue had over five exits and he chose to use only one as both entry and exit, resulting in a stampede as people tried to access the only open exit to watch fireworks to usher in the new year. Usually, most exit points are closed to allow organizers to avoid porous entrance, but like I said, police could have advised and helped manage these exit points without necessarily locking them.
The role of parents
It’s very sad that eight out of ten people who perished were teenagers who had come with their parents.
A nighttime event with a majority of revelers under the influence of alcohol should not have children under the age of eighteen.
Parents and adults should not have gone with minors to such a crowded end-of-year event because of the promiscuity that is always displayed by happy and intoxicated revelers.
As much as we blame the organizers for not having secured enough exit routes for revelers, the parents shouldn’t be exonerated for having allowed minors in such a crowded place. Anybody under the age of 18 is not allowed to be in a bar or entertainment facility at night.
As the year starts, there are going to be a lot of events attracting lots of people, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to always take all the necessary safety precautions.
Parents, please ensure minors don’t go to such public places late at night; if they have to, then they have to be supervised and controlled.
Promoters or event managers always ensure that there are multiple entrances and exits and that all revelers at the venue are aware of the various exits once inside, so that in the event of an emergency, they do not struggle and fight to get out on the limited open ones.
The police and security agencies manning the entrances should always ensure that the venue holds the stated capacity.
Yes, the promoter or event manager might be looking at sales and profit maximization, but security managing the entrances should advise and block promoters against selling tickets beyond what the venue can hold. If it happens, the security can stop them at the entrance, and those who have already purchased tickets should be refunded rather than having more revelers than the venue can hold.
This stampede wasn’t an accident and could have been avoided if everyone had played their role. May the souls of the deceased rest in peace.
Happy New Year, fellow countrymen!