Monday, the last day of campaigns in the competitive Arua municipality parliamentary by-election, started out peaceful but quickly descended into deadly violence.
By press time yesterday, supporters of the FDC-leaning independent candidate Kassiano Wadri and his key mobiliser Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, the Kyadondo East MP, were still searching frantically in all detention centres in the West Nile district of Arua for their candidate.
But some on-the-ground sources suggested that the two politicians could have been moved to undisclosed detention facilities in Gulu, about 200km away from Arua.
Wadri and several key political supporters were arrested on Monday evening in the aftermath of the violence in Arua town. Some journalists were also rounded up and spent a night in detention in Gulu. At least two people were confirmed dead in the violence and these included Yasin Kawuma, a driver of Bobi Wine.
Interviewed about the whereabouts of Bobi Wine and Wadri yesterday, Police national spokesman Emilian Kayima said by telephone, “We have them in our custody and we assure all voters that we will provide a conducive environment for them to exercise their constitutional obligation of voting for candidates of their choice without fear.”
Kawuma’s death has drawn the most notice and equally polarizing and controversial explanations. Some opposition supporters claim he was intentionally targeted by security forces in an apparent reprisal for the smashing of the hind screen of the non-bulletproof presidential car, but security forces have roundly denied that claim.
There are also contradictory narratives from the ruling NRM and opposition supporters of what actually triggered the deadly violence. Questions, however, are still being asked whether indeed opposition supporters smashed the hind screen of President Yoweri Museveni’s car.
Violence broke out on the last day of campaigns to replace Col Ibrahim Abiriga, the former area MP, who was killed in June in a volley of bullets by unknown assailants at Kawanda, Wakiso district.
On Monday, Kawuma and another individual were shot dead in what some say was a targeted killing by a joint security force of the Special Forces Command, police and the regular army.
Speaking to The Observer yesterday, a journalist who witnessed the specter from start to end said violence broke out when soldiers of the Special Forces Command, the elite presidential protection force, with support from the police and regular army, attacked the FDC-leaning independent candidate Kassiano Wadri’s procession in an attempt to clear the way for NRM party candidate Nusura Tiperu’s procession.
Both processions were marching in the same direction after the candidates’ last campaign rallies. The journalist, who was on the team that covered President Museveni’s rally, said by the time violence broke out, the president had already left for the Arua Presidential Lodge.
“There was nothing like people attacking the president’s convoy because by the time the chaos broke out, the president had already passed. The story of the president car being smashed came much later after the killings,” the journalist said.
He said when they were told about the pelting of the presidential car with stones on Ediofe road, they rushed to the scene but found no trace of a single stone.
“We wonder where the stones they used could have come from. I think that car was smashed elsewhere and they are trying to justify the killing,” the journalist said.
Speaking to CBS, Kim XP, a Bobi Wine handler, also dismissed as false, the narrative that the MP’s driver was felled by a stray bullet. He said the deceased was shot at close range, meaning the killing was intended. Kim’s take is corroborated by another journalist who was at Hotel Pacific, the place where Wadri’s team was putting up.
“The police said the guy wasn’t killed at Hotel Pacific that the dead body was just taken there. The question is who drove the car there and why is there no blood trail? This is also another lie because bullets kept coming from the same place where the guy’s body was found,” the journalist said.
Charles Wasswa, the Uganda Young Democrats secretary general, who was also in Arua, dismissed the state’s claim that Wadri’s supporters attacked the presidential convoy. He said security operatives randomly arrested everybody in Wadri’s camp without provocation.
“They fired bullets and then started moving into the hotel arresting whoever they found there,” he said.
Those arrested included MPs; Paul Mwiru, Gerald Karuhanga, Robert Kyagulanyi and Francis Zaake. Others are Michael Mabikke, Lubega Mukaku, Moses Katabu and Sulaiman Kidandala.
NRM deputy secretary general Richard Todwong who is leading the Tiperu campaign urged police to explain who was behind the assassination attempt on their national chairman. Like the opposition, he said NRM members were also assaulted and arrested.
“We are all concerned and we are asking questions, why did they attack our members including our national chairman? The crime they have committed is very serious. Threatening to assassinate the president should be a concern for everybody. We want police to provide answers to what happened,” Todwong said while addressing the media.
The Arua municipality parliamentary race can be typically described as too close to call. The main horses are largely NRM’s Nusura Tiperu, FDC’s Bruce Musema and independents Kassiano Wadri and Robert Ejiku. There are five other candidates in the race.
In the recent by-elections dogged by violence, the opposition emerged victorious. During the Kyadondo East by-election, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, who was running against NRM’s Sitenda Sebalu and FDC’s Apollo Kantinti bore the harshest brunt of state violence.
His supporters were violently arrested and tear-gassed on the last of the campaign. He won, sweeping all polling stations. In the recent Bugiri by-election, a few days before the election, Asuman Basalirwa’s bodyguard Asuman Walyendo was shot dead by police. Basalirwa won ultimately.
Speaking to this newspaper yesterday, Basalirwa said violence scares voters away from polling stations.
“There is no scientific proof that when there is violence people are emboldened to come out and vote because others will be scared. Secondly, if violence involves death, it means you are going to lose that vote. For me, Walyendo was my voter who couldn’t vote because he was killed,” Basalirwa said.
He added however, that sometimes violence has the exact opposite of its intended purpose.
“You know violence is always perpetrated by state actors because they have monopoly over the tools of violence. Secondly, you might employ it thinking that it will help you but in the end it turns out to be counterproductive,” Basalirwa said.
Who is Yasin Kawuma?
Yasin Kawuma was a political activist cum Kyagulanyi driver and a resident of Kiteezi in Kasangati town council in Wakiso district.
He ran for chairman of Lusanja village but dropped out of the race before election day. According to Muwada Nkunyingi, a former contestant in the Kyadondo East MP by-election, Kawuma was once a boda boda rider, truck and taxi driver.
“He was my campaign chairperson for Lusanja in the 2016 general elections but in the by-election of 2017, he supported Bobi Wine who he has been with since then,” Nkunyingi, also a resident of Kiteezi, said.
“People here are very saddened by what happened. His family wanted to bury him today [yesterday] in accordance with Islamic traditions but when the delegation that was sent to pick his body arrived in Arua, the police told them that they were still investigating. ”