In 1971, a young university student wrote a thesis on Frantz Fanon’s ideas on violence as the highest form of political organising.
This student, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, would later become the President of Uganda, seizing power through the gun and then holding onto it through a combination of electoral and military dominance.
Five decades later, Museveni faces the daunting task to manage violence that has metamorphosed from pockets of rebellions in the north, east and west of Uganda to urban terrorism mainly in central Uganda that has hang a cloud of fear over his government and the civilian population.
Today, violence in urban Uganda is at the peak as a result of political tension and criminal activities.
On Tuesday June 1, 2021 at about 9am in the Kampala suburb of Kisaasi four armed men on “motorbikes with concealed number plates” shot at a four-wheel drive vehicle carrying Gen Katumba Wamala, a former army commander, former Inspector General of Police and the current Minister for works and transport.
According to a police statement, the quartet had followed the car for 4km (2.5 miles) down the road from Gen Wamala’s home before opening fire.
The driver and the General’s daughter, Brenda Nantongo, died instantly while Gen. Katumba was whisked to hospital by a motor cycle as blood oozed out of his wounded arms. He spent one day and night in hospital. Investigators say 56 bullets were fired.
The style of the attack echoed that of several others over the years in which many high-profile Ugandans have been killed, with the perpetrators never brought to justice.
In March 2017, three masked gunmen riding motorbikes stalked the official vehicle Assistant Police Chief Andrew Felix Kaweesi he was travelling in for a while before showering it with bullets, killing him, his bodyguard and the driver on the spot – a short distance from his home. Kaweesi was the fourteenth prominent Ugandan to be killed in that fashion and style over the past few years.
Kaweesi’s body is said to have taken 27 bullets, his bodyguard took 33 bullets, while his driver was shot 11 times. They are believed to have used the specialized M4 guns. The shooting took place about 600 metres outside Kaweesi’s home, another 100 metres or so from a small trading centre with some shops and a boda boda stage. The area has a local police post about 300 metres away.
Kaweesi’s murder followed that of Sheikh Major Mohammed Kiggundu, who was killed in an identical manner in November 2016.
Maj. Kiggundu had been a senior officer with the rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) before switching sides in early 2000 and becoming a spy for the Uganda security forces.
On the day Kiggundu was killed, he had been on his way to an FM radio station to speak on a programme in which he condemned the rebellion he founded. He was gunned down to prevent him from “spreading more lies about ADF”, according to a message posted by the rebels.
Kiggundu and his bodyguard were killed driving to the city in an army pick-up truck on a Saturday at about 7:30 am. Similarly, the assailants, who were moving on a motorcycle, followed their victims for some distance before shooting one of the car tyres forcing the truck to veer into a drainage trench. In the ensuring chaos, his bodyguard was also shot dead before he could put up a fight. The attackers did not take his AK47 gun which dropped a few feet near the vehicle.
The same Hollywood style of killing was meted against Joan Kagezi, who was prosecuting five al-Shabaab suspects charged with orchestrating the 2010 bombings in which 74 people were killed while watching the football World Cup finals on televisions screens in a Kampala city pub.
Kagezi had made a stopover to buy fruits in Kiwatule, a Kampala suburb when she was shot twice at close range by assailants riding on a boda boda motorcycle at around 7 pm while seated in her official car.
At the end of 2010, Sheikh Jamil Mukulu, the supreme rebel leader of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) terror group, had issued a fatwa for all the defectors to be killed.
The first victim was Sheikh Abdul Karim Sentamu, Uganda’s renowned expert on Islamic hadith, and interpretations of the Quran. He was gunned down in 2011, several months after he quit ADF. The leader of Shia Muslims in Uganda, Sheikh Abdul Muwaya, was also gunned down in the Lake Victoria Mayuge district a few months later.
Since 2012, about 10 Muslim clerics were fatally shot by unknown assailants. Police has in most of the cases linked the incidents to the ADF and promised investigations.
ADF has since transformed from a conventional rebel force into a terrorist group, according to security officials. Apparently, ADF now has hundreds of operatives around Uganda, especially in Kampala city, from where plans to eliminate their victims have been executed with precision.
Some sections of the security apparatus believe the killing of Kaweesi was meant to send a message to the government that despite the arrest in Tanzania of their leader, Jamil Mukulu and his extradition to Uganda, the rebel group is active.
Mukulu is being held in Kampala’s Luzira prison on charges of terrorism, murder and torture. Former police chief General Kale Kayihura said the killers of Kaweesi had earlier sent a message warning that they (the killers) would inflict “pain deep in the police heart”.
This followed the police raid on a Kampala mosque and the arrest of scores of Muslim leaders on suspicion of complicity in the murders of prominent Muslim leaders who had denounced and opposed the ADF.
Worse, ADF has made a pact with al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab in neighbouring Tanzania. In fact it is reported that Mukulu was arrested in Tanzania where he had gone to meet al-Shabaab, whose operatives in 2015 gunned down Joan Magezi.
Police arrested several suspects for killing Kaweesi. They were arrested across the country, but notably in Kampala city, the Kenya border town of Busia, and the DRC border area of Kasese. All those arrested are Muslims. The High Court in Uganda’s capital found five of the 13 suspects guilty of murder and terrorism. Three of them were handed life sentences, one was jailed for 50 years, while the other got a lighter sentence of community service.
Then (Rtd) Col. Ibrahim Abiriga, the Arua Municipality Member of Parliament and his younger brother and body guard Saidi Butele Kongo were killed by shooting in the evening of June 8, 2018. Abiriga always dressed in yellow colour and had painted all his household yellow, a colour of the ruling National Resistance Movement was assassinated in a mysterious manner.
After Abiriga’s assassination calm seemed to return except for the killings that later on resulted from political contestations.
Several theories have been advanced though to support these assassinations.
President Yoweri Museveni has called the killers terrorists and pigs—a theory that works along with claims by security analysts that most of the assassinations are orchestrated by ADF. And may be the president calls them pigs to annoy them more because they are Muslims. Museveni also says his government has clues on the killers.
But some government officials have gone further to suggest that a “hostile neighbour” is working with ADF to cause instability and fear in Uganda. Only Rwanda has been officially inscribed in Ugandan records as a hostile nation.
ADF has come under persistent military attacks by the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces on its positions in Eastern DRC the same area that Rwanda claims is a safe haven to elements fighting her government.
Rwanda accuses Uganda of bankrolling the Rwanda National Congress and FDLR rebel groups to undermine the Rwanda Patriotic Forces government.
The hostility between the two neighbouring countries that are also members of the East African Community has resulted in an in definite closure of the border between them. To bypass Rwanda, authorities in Kampala plan to construct Uganda-Burundi and Uganda-DRC roads.
Uganda has in the past arrested hundreds of Rwandan nationals for espionage and deported them back to their country.
During the last general elections counter intelligence agencies in Uganda claimed to have followed leads indicating that external forces had infiltrated Uganda in cohorts with anti-government elements to cause mayhem.
President Museveni has severally hinted that external forces want to cause instability in Uganda. Throughout his presidential campaigns Museveni accused his opponent Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu for being an agent of foreign interests.
President Kagame pointedly did not send President Museveni a congratulatory message when the latter was declared president-elect in January. Representing Kagame at Kololo for Museveni’s swearing-in was a mere minister of state.
Succession in play
The other prominent theory on the ongoing killings was mooted by the former coordinator of intelligence organizations Gen David Tinyefuza that a succession battle to replace President Museveni is ongoing and was claiming collateral damage.
Tinyefuza alleged the existence of a “Muhoozi project” in 2013 saying that senior army officers opposed to Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba succeeding his father, President Museveni, risked being assassinated.
Museveni’s son is currently Commander of the Special Forces Command, a 10,000-strong battalion.
According to local media reports, Gen Tinyefuza made the allegations in a letter addressed to the director of the country’s internal security organization requesting him to investigate allegations that President Museveni was hatching a plan to have his son succeed him.
Tinyefuza dispatched the letter on his way to self-imposed exile in Britain where he spent more than a year.
In another letter sent to Daily Monitor in 2012, Gen. Tinyefuza had warned of “creeping lawlessness, impunity, primitive arrogance and insensitive behaviour” among “some actors who manage the affairs of the state”.
A week later, the Foreign Affairs Minister and in-law to the President, Mr Sam Kutesa, told Daily Monitor in an interview he agreed with Tinyefuza’s views.
For about a decade now traditional media and social media have been awash with sentiments proposing and opposing Muhoozi’s quick rise to power. His supporters have been promoting him as the only credible replacement for President Museveni.
However, both President Museveni and Gen Muhoozi have denied any such ambitions exist although many African leaders have been grooming their children to replace them.
“Evil people coined this phrase (Muhoozi Project) to try and destroy us! But trust my generation to convert every curse into a blessing!” Gen Muhoozi posted on his Twitter account on March 4, 2020.
But this theory as per the Ugandan Constitution fails the test of sustainability. Article one of the Constitution puts all powers to determine who governs Uganda in the people—through elections. Article three states that whoever overthrows the constitution that person or group of persons shall be denied legitimacy.
Therefore, if indeed President Museveni wanted his son to succeed him then he would have to position him in elective politics early enough and probably help him secure a top position in the ruling party. But this has not happened yet.
So killing senior army officers cannot propel Gen Muhoozi to the hierarchy of elective positions. Instead he needs them as allies who would support his bid for presidency upon retirement from the army if he really wanted the first office.
The third theory that gives credence to the ongoing killings is corruption. This was examined by former Director General of Internal Security Organization, Brig Gen Ronnie Balya.
In July 2016 at a cabinet retreat Brig Balya warned that pervasive graft involving bureaucrats coupled with deteriorating public services were a security risk, and could take down President Museveni’s government.
He said: “[The] failure to provide, monitor and evaluate service delivery, could result in undesirable situations; including political dissent, rebellion, demonstrations, attempting violent regime change/coups or any form of instability.”
He warned that if corruption was not tackled urgently, it could shut down the government and state organs, making the government in power “irrelevant to general population”. If this happens, he said, “It would be a recipe for insecurity in all forms.”
In January 2017 Balya was relieved of his duties, appointed ambassador and posted to South Sudan.
corruption in Uganda has become endemic that public officials brag on size of their loot. Killing to loot can’t therefore be ruled out.
Balya’s theory was tested recently when President Museveni gave his account of the brutal killing of former renowned international boxer Isaac Ssenyange a.k.a. Zebra.
Ssenyange was shot nine times and some bullets were found stuck in metallic poles near the murder scene. A senior police source said the gun captured in the CCTV footage and bullet casings recovered from the scene indicate that it was not an ordinary police unit that has such guns.
Video footage reviewed by security, showed 12 armed men in black attires resembling those of Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force – JATT or Counter-Terrorism –CT disembarking from two numberless vans at the scene of crime.
President Museveni revealed that first; he had not been briefed of the operation to bump off Zebra and second; after public outrage in the media on the killing, he wasn’t immediately given accurate information on what transpired. But after bypassing his official security structures the president was informed that Zebra was his supporter and after all innocent.
He said; “I did not know Zebra. I was however, told he was supposed to meet me because he was doing some good work for us (mobilizing for NRM in Kawempe division). I was also told he was training boxers who then would be used by some people (opposition) to attack civilians.”
“The security people had gone to take in Zebra and do some inquiry. The soldiers involved say when they tried to stop him he refused to stop.They told me he tried to fight them and that is how they ended up shooting him twice,” Museveni added.
However, witness accounts reveal that Zebra actually pleaded with the operatives not to kill him as he introduced himself. He didn’t attempt to resist arrest nor fight back. Instead he was shot at point blank before the operatives withdraw. The murder was meant to go quiet but because of the media buzz it attracted the attention of the president.
Zebra’s murder occurred at the height of tension between the opposition and the ruling National Resistance Movement during campaigns for the last general elections.
Zebra’s case is clear testimony of how corrupt elements in security and government can fabricate information leading to the killing of innocent people.
By looking at the three theories only two—external forces causing anxiety, fear and hate against government and corruption—stand out as the most probable causes of killings in Uganda.
To contain the growing violence President Museveni listed a number of measures that included deployment of Local Defence Unit personnel, installation of CCTV cameras, use of drones, gun finger printing, ban on hoods for cyclists, use of electronic number plates for cars and motorcycles, cleaning of Uganda Police of former criminals, public intelligence and use of police radio calls, among others.
So far about 3,200 cameras have been installed across Kampala Metropolitan area, covering Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono. CCTV control centres have been established in the 18 policing divisions under Kampala Metropolitan area. Across the country, the cameras are being installed in cities and other major towns and highways.
Police records indicate that more than 60,000 guns have been registered across the country by the gun finger printing committee. These include guns from Uganda Police, Uganda Prisons, Private Security Organisations and individuals.
The Uganda People’s Defence Forces moved to recruit 13,000 Local Defence Unit (LDUs) personnel. By the end of last year, more than 10,000 had been recruited. However, security forces came under intense scrutiny when the LDUs turned their guns on innocent people, killing them at will without facing the law. UPDF has since announced that it will phase out the LDUs.
According to the Daily Monitor investigations, some cyclists and other people have been enlisted as spies to track and follow suspected criminals and detect crime in and outside the country.
Meanwhile, cyclists still put on hoods, drones have not been deployed to monitor security and electronic number plates for both cars and motorcycles are nowhere to be seen.
While President Museveni promised to introduce use of drones to monitor security across the country, government has not started deploying them in any part of the country.
However, all in all violence is expected to continue unless intelligence agencies are empowered to collect credible intelligence to support the state and not partisan politics.