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2022: The year of tears, kidnaps

Novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was tortured

Novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was tortured

If we grouped key phrases and names most frequently mentioned in 2022 into topics to easily pinpoint the most talked about issues of the year, top on the list would be Covid-19, Ebola, high commodity prices, protests, crime, and abductions.

At the start, the year 2022 offered a reason for cautious optimism that life was looking up for Ugandans scarred by the coronavirus pandemic. Covid-19 had breathed on past its life-threatening peak of 2020 and 2021. New cases, hospitalizations, and deaths had dropped in most parts of the country.

There was excitement that the government was ready to fully reopen the economy after two years of lockdown restrictions to limit the spread of the virus. Eventually, the doors were flung open for people to restart their lives. But their biggest challenge, however, was that many people didn’t know where to start in an economy battered by the pandemic.

Many permanent businesses had closed due to direct and indirect Covid-19-related factors, according to an abridged report written by the Makerere University-based think tank, the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC). The Covid-19 episodes also resulted in intermittent business closures of a complete and partial nature.

At the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020, the complete business closure rate was higher at 67 per cent compared to the partial business closure rate of 11 per cent, the report said. By mid-2022, the rising cost of living had stirred public anger. On July 11, security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition to disperse protesters gathered in several neighbourhoods of the eastern district of Jinja and arrested many participants.

Clashes were also reported in Buwenge along the Kamuli-Jinja road as police attempted to disperse protesters obstructing road traffic. On June
14, police also arrested opposition figure Kifefe Kizza-Besigye ahead of a planned protest in Kampala city center over the government’s alleged inaction regarding the socio- economic situation in the country.

Similar protest activity was reported in other parts of the country. But as commodity prices soared and the Covid-19-19 pandemic receded, a new epidemic was lurking in the Kampala metropolitan area and the central region. The Kampala Metropolitan Area (Mukono, Kampala and Wakiso) has not been the safest place to walk, drive, or bike in 2022.

You could end up killed in a violent attack or kidnapped by armed men in uniform or plainclothes. To have lived in Kampala this year is to be well acquainted with loss and unspeakable tragedy. But through all these nightmares, there has been one constant, collective hope: that somehow, through it all, the pain will stop.

Reports of violent deaths, robberies, and kidnappings—many involving “criminal gangs and uniformed armed men”—increased dramatically. No one is safe to date—pavers are hurled at motorists. Those who peddle on the street are hit with iron bars or pavers, and others are muscled out of cars by armed men in tinted Omnibuses known as drones.

Many of the youths that are still missing were virtually unknown almost a year ago. But now calls for their release are energizing the opposition.
Upon their release, victims tell gory accounts of torture at the hands of their captors in different detention centers spread around the country. Most of the victims say they were kicked, beaten, and wounded, and their scarred bodies are terrifying to see.

DEATHS AND ROBBERIES

In 2022, Kampala careened into a new security crisis as violence escalated in its suburbs. Police point a finger of blame at the dire economic situation in the country, which is forcing many young men and women into crime to survive.

Namungongo and Kira Municipality are the worst hit. Interviewed for this story, Julius Mutebi Nsubuga, the mayor of Kira Municipality, said the level of criminality and rate at which crimes are being committed in the area are so worrying.

“We are every other day alerting the community about the criminality that is taking a toll on the Municipal Council. We hold security meetings at village level; we sensitize them about this wave of criminality and urge them to stay on guard because everyone is a victim,” he said.

“Indeed, I can’t tell you that police have deployed in the area. Whenever they are called, they take too long to respond, and this has, in most cases, led to the loss of lives,” he said.

“The municipal council has few police officers. The police are understaffed and underresourced. The municipal council has three divisions, and there are four police pickups. There is one police pickup in Bweyogerere, Kireka, and Kira, and one the District Police Commander (DPC) travels in. The cars have mechanical problems, tires are worn out, so we don’t expect them to patrol the area. When you call them in an emergency, they take four to five hours to respond,” he said.

He said the police can’t come to their rescue when you haven’t given them fuel. The cases of criminality are increasing; they are happening day and night, and in most cases, some go unreported.

DEATHS

Susan Alweny, a resident of Mbalwa, Kira Municipality, was attacked and killed by a gang on the night of September 30. The father fought back tears as he described in excruciating detail how his daughter’s life was violently ended by thugs to a hushed congregation of mourners at Uganda Martyrs Basilica, Namugongo.

Alweny, the former head of claims at Liberty Insurance Company, was hit by a paver and killed. She had stopped at Kiwatule, a Kampala suburb, to buy some snacks. The incident happened before 9 p.m. She was robbed of her mobile phone and money. On September 9, 2022, thugs hit, killed, and robbed Kobusinge Winnie of her cash and a mobile phone.

She was reportedly attacked at 6:30 a.m. near Shell, Kiwatule. On September 13, 2022, unknown assailants killed George Ekochu, a relative of Capt. Mike Mukula, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) vice chairman for Eastern Uganda. He was hit on the head with an iron bar. The deceased had walked out of his home in the evening to buy bread and milk in Namugongo.

On March 20, 2022, at around 10 p.m., criminals attacked Kasule Ben, the Gombolola internal security officer of Kyebando. He was rushing to Akwamwesi Mall, along Gayaza Road. He was responding to a phone snatching incident when he was attacked. His motorcycle was also damaged.

On September 28, a group of armed thugs clad in military attire and plainclothes robbed a Pakistani car dealer, Rafik Khan, of his two phones and Shs 70,000 in broad daylight. The incident happened at Kireka Zone C, near Kireka Grammar Primary School in Namugongo Division, Kira Municipality in Wakiso District.

A video showed the victim being forced into a Toyota Probox with registration number UBM 877B. Rafik was later abandoned at Kasangalabi along the Kayunga-Mukono Road. On October 5, 2022, a group of six armed thugs travelling in a Toyota Hiace with registration number UBD 071E stole a Toyota Probox with registration number UBK 019L from Edward Hambisa.

According to a statement released by Patrick Onyango, the Kampala Metropolitan Area spokesperson, Hambisa was blocked and forced out of his vehicle. He moved out of the car with his keys. When the thugs entered the car and drove away, Hambisa locked them inside with his automatic key. Onyango said the thugs drove away, and Hambisa pursued them on a boda-boda. He raised an alarm. A good Samaritan joined him, and they alerted people around the Namboole flyover stage.

“The people near the Namboole flyover blocked the road, and the suspects could not proceed. The one with a gun disappeared in the bush,” Onyango said.

The other four suspects; Evelyn Busingye, Mercy Namyaalo, Benjamin Senyange, and James Kanyike, were nabbed. The crime rate climbed in the latter part of 2022. Men in army uniform erected roadblocks around Lubowa on Ndejje-Lubugumu Road, Kira- Kasangati Road, Nakawuka-Kasanje Road, Kayunga-Ssenge-Kawa Road, and Wakiso-Matugga Road. They robbed people completely.

Police and the army have since stepped up operations to contain the situation. However, crime rates have risen in Kira Municipality, Namugongo, Makindye, the Northern Bypass, and the Entebbe Expressway. According to the 2021 annual crime report, police recorded 5,275 robbery cases against 5,302 reported cases in 2020, which amounts to a 0.5 per cent decrease.

But cases of armed robberies increased. According to the report, about 1,956 cases of aggravated robbery (armed robbery) were reported in 2021, compared to 1,844 cases reported in 2020, which amounts to a six per cent increase. About 436 cash robberies were registered in 2021, compared to 364 cases reported in 2020, which is a 19.7 per cent increase.

OTAFIIRE SPEAKS

The minister of Internal Affairs, Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, drew wild criticism recently for suggesting that Ugandans should pay more taxes to help the government shore up police troop numbers to fight the rising spate of crime in the country.

Otafiire, who is the chairperson of the Police Authority, made the revelations recently during the 26th Police Council meeting at the police headquarters in Naguru. He said, “Either you give us enough policemen or don’t complain about crime. You know we have a parliament whose size is larger than that of Britain. Did you know that our parliament is bigger than that of Britain? Britain’s economy is 200 times the size of Uganda’s economy. They have about 600 MPs, and we have about 554 (557). We can’t afford it! What is wrong with Ugandans? How can Uganda have a parliament the size of the British parliament and yet you don’t have enough policemen?”

ABDUCTIONS

Probably the most terrifying aspect of 2022 is that the entire central region, including Kampala, has become a mecca of sorts for abductions. And the government is still facing gaping questions over its failure to thwart a brazen assault on Ugandans.

Since 2021, the county has witnessed wave after wave of abductions and arbitrary arrests. But the tide turned for the worse late in 2022. Hundreds of supporters of former presidential candidate Robert Kyaggulanyi have been arrested by gun-wielding men in plain clothes and bundled into omnibuses commonly known as “drones.”

Many are still missing; others have been arraigned in court, and a few have been released. But the abductions continue. The most cruel and noticeable abductions of Ugandans by ominous gun-toting plainclothes men have occurred in the last couple of months and have triggered a flood of new public emotions and accusations. Asked about the abductions during his interface with journalists last Friday, President Museveni had more questions than answers.

“These abductions. Who are these people conducting abductions? When there were the other riots (November 2020), I called for a security meeting and gave them guidelines to follow. I would want to know who is abducting people,” he said.

“Arresting suspects is in order, but when you arrest them, the question is: how do you handle them? You don’t have to beat What are you beating them for? Just interrogate; whether he admits or not, you can get the facts that pin him down. He can be sentenced or even hanged legally”—Museveni.

MPS SPEAK OUT

On November 28, 2022, Mityana municipality MP Francis Zaake raised a procedural matter on the floor of parliament about the abduction of citizens, especially from the central region. Zaake said the victims are mostly supporters of the opposition parties.

“Speaker, this month alone, hundreds of youths have been abducted; they have not been seen or heard of. This matter has been going on for so long and no one seems to be doing anything.” he said.

The deputy speaker of parliament, Thomas Tayebwa, quickly asked him to sit down. Zaake refused. That prompted an enraged deputy speaker to suspend the plenary sitting and recommend disciplinary action for Zaake. The speaker referred Zaake to the Parliamentary Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Discipline. In an interview with The Observer, Zaake said he would not be intimidated by anyone.

Last month, Mathias Mpuuga, the leader of the opposition parliament, said NUP submitted to the government, as requested, a list of individuals who were abducted by armed state operatives. He said 24 of their supporters have been missing since 2019. Burahya County MP and Minister of State for Health, Mugisha Muhanga Margaret, insisted during an interview at parliament that no single Ugandan has been abducted.

“The situation is not as bad as people say. How come you (journalist) have not been abducted? There is no smoke without fire. No security agency will come and pick you out of nowhere; there will be clues. When security goes to arrest them, instead of supporting the government to bring these culprits to justice, you support people who have been arrested. Really, what are we going to do? The country cannot be run like a pigsty,” she said.

“Nobody has been kidnapped, that is a lie, people are being arrested in broad daylight, and they are documented. The MPs tabled a list of missing people who don’t even exist. They want to create an impression in the international community that abduction is taking place in Uganda, but they are not there,” she said.

MORE CASES OF TORTURE AND ABDUCTIONS

Security operatives arrested Ugandan novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija and charged him with offensive communication. While in detention, Kakwenza was allegedly tortured by his captors. Photographs of his scarred body shocked many.

“They started pulling flesh from my thighs and everywhere with pliers. That day I thought I was dying and thought of denouncing my Ugandan citizenship,” Rukirabashaija told the Daily Monitor newspaper.

On January 7, 2022, Kasese District National Unity Platform (NUP) Registrar Samuel Masereka, was arrested and detained at Kasese police station. He was arrested alongside Bisogho Alazarius and Tembo Hamza. Their kidnappers returned the next day in a drone to search their home.

They were blindfolded and driven to the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, CMI, in Mbuya. They allegedly slept in handcuffs. Maseraka said that on January 9, 2022, he was interrogated and beaten till he fell unconscious.

“I was beaten for five days. On the 26th, their doctors asked me how I would feel if they left me to go home. I said that I felt good. I was given all my belongings and driven home,” he said.

On November 5 Kavuma Jamushid was abducted and held for 32 days without trial. Kavuma said he was shot as they violently took him away. He was later dumped at Old Kampala Police and charged with damaging the drone he was travelling in. On November 28, 2022, state operatives traveling in a drone arrested the former presidential candidate Joseph Kiiza Kabuleta and Sheikh Yahya Mwanje.

The two were picked from the National Economic Empowerment Dialogue (NEED) offices in Bugoloobi and Nakasero mosque. On September 13, 2022, Kasagga Bashir was picked up from his home. Arrested at gunpoint, Kassaga was driven at breakneck speed and dropped at CMI, where he was detained for three days.

On October 7, 2022, Yusuf Kiggundu was abducted by four armed men and forced into a Toyota Probox. Picked up from Luweero, Yusuf told The Observer that he was tortured, beaten, and burned using welding electrodes.

“I was picked up by armed men. They bundled me into a Toyota Probox, blindfolded me, and drove me for a long time to a place I can’t locate. I spent three days in that detention facility. They beat me and questioned me. They could beat me in the morning and in the evening. They detained me in a very small room where I could not stand, sleep, or turn in the opposite direction,” he told The Observer.

He said he was beaten for supporting the NUP.

RELATIVES REACT

Speaking to The Observer, Kasagga’s paternal aunt, Nalwadda Justine, who roasts maize at Wandegeya Market, said life was so tough in the absence of her son.

“At the time of his arrest, he was our family’s sole provider. We couldn’t afford anything when he was in jail,” she said.

“When I learned that my son had been picked up by the drone, I cried, but no one could help. We moved around police stations, but we could not find him. We later learned that he was at CMI, but we could not go there until a team from NUP helped us by giving us lawyers who worked tirelessly till he was released on bail,” she told The Observer.

“On the second day at CMI, he told us his captors beat him till he collapsed. They didn’t give him food or water to drink for two days. With his swollen body, they took him to Maj. Gen. James Bilungi’s office, who asked him a few questions about how much they are paid to tweet, and others,” she said.

He was later given food, a room, and a mattress to rest on before he was transferred to SIU Kireka, where he spent one night. At Kireka, he was neither beaten nor mistreated. On September 16, 2002, he was arraigned before the Buganda Road Chief Magistrates Court on charges of unauthorized modification of computer material contrary to Sections 14 (1) and 7 (6) of the Computer Misuse Act 2011 and remanded to Luzira Prison.

On October 11, 2022, Kasagga was granted a cash bail of Shs 1 million, and his sureties were bonded for Shs 3 million in non-cash bails. Eva Kakwenza, the wife of Kakwenza, told The Observer that the arrest and torture of her husband traumatized her.

“I was traumatized; I was not certain whether he was alive or dead, but later, I saw him at home for a house search. I went through pain, sleepless nights, and was insecure at home and everywhere I went because, after several publications through social media about his physical state, I received a lot of threats from different people I didn’t know,” she said.

During the house search, she said she was threatened by security operatives for accusing them of torturing her husband.

“My husband was in a very bad state, all his legs were swollen, his clothes were stained with blood, and he could hardly walk,” she said.
“I lived in fear, no privacy, our home was invaded; everything was turned upside-down, valuables were taken and broken during the house search. My children were traumatized seeing their father in handcuffs, barefoot, and in very dirty clothes. It was so dehumanizing,” she said.

“We were outcasts in the community we lived in. Even my neighbours feared to associate with us, not only neighbours but even my own relatives, blood sisters and brothers, no phone calls because they feared that my phone was being tracked by the state,” she said.

She said there was a lot of social media propaganda and abuse that affected her emotionally.

“The physical torture that my husband went through is enough pain for me. The publications I made through his lawyer, Eron Kiiza, on different social media, TV, and Facebook helped us so very much. If it were not for the publications, I think my husband would be dead,”

“I urge everyone out there not to be ashamed of publishing anti-impunity incidents involving their loved ones. Come out regardless of how you will be judged,” she said.

According to a video clip circulating on social media, Nambazira Sauda, who purports to be the mother of Godfrey Kirumira, a 17-year-old missing boy, said the survivors of the planned abduction, revealed that the teenager was kidnapped by a group that was led by Kamuntu Sam Majambere, an ardent supporter of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) in Luwero.

She said her son was kidnapped on November 5, 2022, and taken by a waiting drone.

“The children he was playing with told me that Majambere came with other men armed with guns, slapped him (Godfrey), he fell down, and they carried him to the waiting drone,” she said.

“Majembere killed my son; you should have fought with your age mates and left my son. I don’t know how you killed my son. Give me his body, and I at least give him a decent burial,” she wailed.

A victim only identified as Baazi said there was no dignity in the drone.

“The kidnappers usually put you under their chairs, step on your back, and the questioning begins. The questioning is done by men in hoods who kick and slap you everywhere. The trauma and psychological torture I received as a result of that experience, I would not wish on anyone!” he wrote on Twitter.

POLICE REACT

Patrick Onyango, the Kampala Metropolitan police spokesperson, said intelligence agencies worldwide use private cars as a mode of transport for their activities.

“Intelligence operations must be covert, not known to the public. It is not abduction, as people say, and they are not special cases; they are arrests of criminals who are more especially against the state. Criminals of such nature can’t be summoned like in other cases but arrested on the spot,” he said.

INTERNAL AFFAIRS WEIGHS IN

The minister of internal affairs, Gen Kahinda Otafiire, stated that when a government begins abducting its citizens, it is no longer a government.

“People get arrested, not abducted. Why should a government abduct its citizens? Where do you take them after abducting them? People are supposed to be arrested and confined in gazetted places of confinement,” he said.

He said whoever arrests people and puts them in ungazetted places of confinement is a criminal who should be arrested because they have no right to abduct citizens.

“If you think that someone has committed a crime, arrest him, put him in a gazetted place of detention, and produce him before the court. If you think it is a mistaken identity or there is no sufficient evidence, release them,” he said.

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Comments

+8 #1 Apollo 2022-12-28 13:05
For 56 years (since 1966, when Milton Obote invaded the Palace at Mmengo), Uganda continues to be traumatized by marauding gunmen who have maintained a deadly grip on the state.

What makes the likes of Gen. Otafiire even more dangerous, is their cunningness and hoodwink, every time they are exposed as part of the same pattern of death that has woven itself in the fabric of this Country's history for over half a century.

They tell us that we should find less horrifying descriptions and meanings for "abductions", "extra-judicial killings", "torture" and "lawlessness" by men in uniform. As long as it was Amin or Obote carrying out these evils, it was justified to call them out.

This not being a mere change or guards but a fundamental change, new words must be coined; Afterall, aren't they freedom fighters, and therefore our liberators!
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