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It's not readiness to kill, but ease with which they take their lives

Murder scene of Isma Olaxess

Murder scene of Isma Olaxess

If there are any lessons to take from the last three weeks—and the murders that shocked the country—it is that our poverty, our penniless lives, have reached suicidal levels.

This is clearly a more dangerous threat. This meaninglessness of life exemplified by security servicemen — with riffles — exposes a condition that has been hidden for long. Finally, the boil on the buttocks is breaking open, and that yellowish, sometimes greenish opaque liquid, will be everywhere.

The truth is, the men and women walking Kampala’s streets are nothing but ‘the walking dead.’ They are lifeless zombies in the movies that somehow manage to walk the streets. But they are blood-sucking zombies, nevertheless. Life has lost all meaning.

After knocking life from pillar to post, finally, a tired and frustrated soul convinces itself that it is better to be dead than brave the ignominy and embarrassment of poverty. (Especially in Kampala where subsistence comes from offering labour and not tilling the land).

This state of depravity, which makes death by suicide liberating, is not new in human history: slave trade historians tell stories of hundreds of men and women aboard the slave ships to the Americas, who found it more dignifying to drown at sea than be dragged into ignominious enslavement.

Writing in Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, Mahmood Mamdani captures this similar sentiment among potential suicide bombers in occupied Palestine: a graduate engineer ready to take own life in a suicide mission tells a reporter that it was not true that they were ready to die because they were stupid and uneducated, but that their education meant nothing if deprived of a chance to live to their full potential; with dignity and humanity.

Pushed to the extremity of deprivation, nature always fights back, and often, crudely, violently. It seems we are witnessing this condition — of perceptible enslavement, loss, blankness, anxiety, future-lessness!

Were more people to have instant killing weaponry, perhaps mere anarchy would be loosed onto Kampala. It is not just the non-payment of emoluments, but our poverty ‘as a collective condition’ where especially for those trying their hands at business — big and small — things are terribly failing apart.


The shooting incidents of the past three weeks succinctly capture the anxiety and sense of loss across the country. Indeed,
the killers are the original victims, and their violence is simply derived from their depravity and pain. And this pain is not their own making (say out of laziness or bad luck), but of the poverty-inducing shackles around all of us.

It is not that UPDF officer Pte Wilson Sabiiti, who shot the minister for labour, Col Charles Engola, was a deranged lunatic ready to kill. But that he was ready to take his own life to escape his pain. Sadly, like a suicide bomber, he diagnosed the source of his pain as being his employer, and decided to go out with him.

So was police constable Ivan Wabwire, who shot the moneylender along Parliament avenue. In an absolute act of suicide, he confidently returned to ensure there was no life left in him. Wabwire was the first victim himself—not a victim of the moneylender, but a victim of the ecosystem of pain and depravity in which himself and the moneylender interacted.

His actions signal to having reached the peak of endurance. So was another security guard Rogers Atuhaire, who committed suicide along Lumumba avenue. There were no victims for him, but a tiredness with life. Had he identified a perpetrator of his pain—even if wrongly—they would have gone out together.

Then John Okudi, a Saracen security guard in Tororo who shot and killed a colleague over a misunderstanding. This anger and recklessness ought to be understood as tied together by a single thread - the shackles of this economy. These lives of precarity have turned all of us into victims.


Col Engola’s murder is specifically instructive. After news broke, and the story went that the officer had gone for long without payment, public opinion was split.

Many Ugandans (a) identified with Pte Wilson Sabiiti’s story of working without payment for extended periods. Many Ugandan employers—both private and government—struggle to pay their labourers.

(b) Since Col Engola’s was a minister in Museveni’s government, the wananchi saw him through the eyes of our ever-oppressive government, and his murderer as the wretched toiling under this government. And in all fairness, many Ugandans want Museveni’s government gone (and anyone or anything associated with it).

To this end—and this worries me more than anything else—Pte Wilson Sabiiti came to be seen as an inspiration; a hero of some sorts—a ‘victim becoming a killer’— as Mahmood Mamdani would phrase it, justifying the violence of yesterday’s victims.

It is not surprising, therefore, that there were campaigns (not sure to what degree of success) to mobilise funds to pay for his wife’s medical bills who was due for labour, and also general financial support to the family.

It is not surprising that pictures of officers in uniform seated inside KFC enjoying chicken became instant sensations. I guess this is why the government of Uganda is still held onto his body so as not to create a hero out of him at his funeral.

The more sobering point here is that like nature, exploited, abused, denied and deprived, the banks are bursting. Like Katonga bridge on Masaka road, nature is fighting back. And for nature, its fights are often bloody and indiscriminative.


The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University


+7 #1 Kidepwe 2023-05-24 11:08
Dr Yusuf, your article today is a very sobering outlook, of how hopeless, life in Uganda has become, for the bulk of her citizens.

And you haven't exaggerated one little bit. My question is, are you still wanting Muhoozi to carry on as the President of this country, after the disastrous and catastrophic leadership of his father then?

A few articles ago, you seemed to suggest that, for the sake of stability of this country, Muhoozi should take on the baton, after his father. God forbid that. What this country needs, if any semblance of hope is to be restored, is for this family that shot its way into power in 1986, to leave, if possible by the same means. To fulfill the Scripture that says,"he who lives by the sword, will die by it".
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+3 #2 Lakwena 2023-05-24 14:05
In other words Dr., Dr. Yusuf, according to the Law of Cause and Effect, who is the remote, medium and immediate cause of the current infectious and contiguous desperation and hysteria in your narrative?

Otherwise, without the required number of Stoics, Mystics, Psychologists and Psychiatrists and/or Voodoo Soothsayers) interventions; as long as Blood and Wealth thirsty Gen Tibuhaburwa stranglehold onto power and onto Ugandans like the predatory worm/parasite, leech; the number of Ugandans on suicide trip is bordering a Pandemic degree.
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+4 #3 Lakwena 2023-05-24 14:06
Sometimes I wonder who bewitched Ugandans? Considering the slave-like salaries, miserable living condition in the armed forces Barracks; If it were in other countries Mutinies wouldn't have been ruled out.

Gen Tibuhaburwa and his IGP, Martin Ochola would have been taken on mark-time match tour through e.g. Nsambya Police Barracks and told to enter one of the Toilets or Iron Sh**t contraption of shacks code-named sigiri (charcoal Stove).

Otherwise, what does IGP Ochola Inspect?
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+3 #4 Remase 2023-05-24 15:02
Doc, one thing is for sure, Uganda is sitting on a time bomb.

I, for one, have said over and over again, M7, his family, relatives, tribesmen and militant must go. Now. This is exactly what you have written, "And in all fairness, many Ugandans want Museveni’s government gone (and anyone or anything associated with it)."

Of course we urgently and immediately want M7 and anyone and anything associated with him gone. We are in great pain for over 40 year since M7 came on the political scene.

M7 has never hidden who he is. The most violent [Sabalwanyi], corrupt to the core, tribalistic [nepotism] individual/militant on the planet. That's why Uganda is clearly in a dangerous situation, intentionally created by M7, so that he, his family relatives, tribesmen and militant could rule forever!

Our poverty and our penniless lives is by design. That's why govt positions and the country resources are preserved for M7, his family, relative, tribesmen and militants.
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+3 #5 Remase 2023-05-24 20:04
Kidepwe, "My question is, are you still wanting Muhoozi to carry on as the President of this country, after the disastrous and catastrophic leadership of his father then?"

Great question indeed. I personally believe that, this is why Yusuf wrote this, "And in all fairness, many Ugandans want Museveni’s government gone (and anything associated with it)."

I just wish that he comes up with something which clearly quashes any idea of anyone and anything associated with M7 to replace M7. Uganda has to be built from scratch.

We cannot build on a broken foundation of M7's family (Muhoozi M7, Janet M7 or Natasha M70, relatives (Salim Saleh, Rwabogo and others), tribesmen, or any militant in a form of a coup d'état.

We are currently buried in deep shit in which "It's not readiness to kill, but ease with which they take their lives." How could one wish either Muhoozi M7, Janet M7 or Natasha to succeed M7?
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+5 #6 Lysol 2023-05-27 01:00
Museveni's misrule of Uganda, has created the conditions for a victim to become either a villain or a hero..
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+1 #7 Akot 2023-05-28 20:30


Why are tribal leaders still in posts & subjects/Ugandans go along with the tribalistic system, knowing Museveni will rule for life as long as Ugandans are tribally divided powerless?

How can Ugandans still sing their now meaningless National Anthem?

How can tribal leaders be so so heartless in posts to ensure Ugandans are slaves & the zone fromed by their tribal lands belongs to migrant Museveni & family?

Who will throw out Museveni & family for Ugandans?
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