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Get used to abductions, torture and disappearances, Tumwine to Ugandans

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By Charles Kamya Ssentamu

If an August 28 appearance before the Human Rights Committee of Parliament by Gen. Elly Tumwine achieved any value, it was to tell Ugandans in no uncertain terms that the abductions and torture that state operatives have inflicted on people in the 33 years of Museveni’s are here to stay.

Gen. Tumwine – the incumbent holder of the security docket in his boss Museveni’s increasingly dysfunctional cabinet – was asked to address a burning issue: the rampant abductions and detention of people in ungazetted places of detention, better known as “safe houses”.

Torture of suspects and disappearance of individuals has become an insidious culture in Uganda under Museveni and the Committee hoped Gen. Tumwine would lift the veil on the numbers, locations and law under which the so-called safe houses are established and operate.

The committee also wanted information on the kind of suspects held in these dungeons, and why the minister seemed so comfortable presiding over institutionalized torture and illegal detentions.

Tumwine did not deny the existence of safe houses in Uganda, arrogantly rubbing the fact in the faces of Ugandans. He even went ahead to reveal he didn’t know their actual numbers in the country – as if telling people, the more of you we want to abduct and torture, we will build countless safe houses!

The current criminalization of the Ugandan state however is such that pretty much everybody with the right connections to security in Uganda can operate their own private places of detention. Someone like Jovia Saleh, the wife of Salem Saleh for instance runs her own places of detention to lock up those she defrauds in fake gold deals and similar scams.

In his usual arrogant style however, General Tumwine was unapologetic and assured the legislators that the infamous safe houses were “part of national security infrastructure” that even a committee of parliament was not welcome to visit.

Calling a place associated with torture “safe” is in itself a misnomer, and it speaks to just how normal deviation from rule of law has become in Uganda that they only go up in number. It also reflects the long present reality that after taking power in the name of liberation and democratization, those were ideals Museveni never was going to deliver.

“Museveni is a tyrant in his very DNA and as long as Uganda is in his grip the state absolutely will never be accountable to the citizens,” said veteran opposition leader Dr. Aggrey Kiyingi.

Gen. Elly Tumwine.

Tumwine’s appearance had been prompted by constant reports of abductions and torture to parliament whose attention was particularly prodded by survivors of two notorious places of detention in Kyengera, a Kampala suburb, and another in Kalangala District in the Ssese Islands.

The two torture dungeons are run by Internal Security Organisation, ISO. They gained instant notoriety in early August when, in a manner reminiscent of the dark days of Idi Amin and Milton Obote, ISO operatives abducted Patrick Mugisha, a prominent Kampala lawyer, from his offices in Kabalagala in broad daylight.

Mugisha’s whereabouts were unknown for several days. The Uganda Law Society secured an order of habeas corpus, prompting ISO to release him. As it turned out, Mugisha’s only “crime” was to represent a client in a business deal that went bad. His abduction by ISO sought to coerce him into agreeing to a settlement outside the provisions of the law.

At a press conference on August 5, Uganda Law Society President Simon Peter Kinobe accused ISO Director General Kaka Bagyenda of turning the agency into “a clearing house for wealthy individuals to the detriment of regular citizens.” Under the law establishing ISO, the agency can investigate but has no powers of arresting suspects.

That also applies to other agencies such as Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), an agency that has become as notorious, and as dreaded as Amin’s State Research Bureau. CMI or ISO aren’t supposed to arrest people – leave alone the criminal abductions they perpetrate – without notifying Police, and seeking their help.

But all that means nothing in a country where laws or contracts are seen as nothing more than mere pieces of paper. For citizens and foreigners alike, Uganda is now a risky destination – especially if one have something to lose since one doesn’t always have to be on the wrong side of the law to fall victim to the abductors.

Today for instance, ACP Siraje Bakaleke is a fugitive after he fled Uganda late last year alongside three other security officers. Bakaleke was facing charges of abuse of office, conspiracy to defraud and kidnapping with intent to confine a person. This followed an incident in April 2018 when two South Korean nationals were abducted and robbed of US$ 400,000.

This was cash that the hapless Koreans had brought into the country to trade in gold. Bakaleke was linked to the incident after he tried to have the victims deported from the country without any order from a legitimate authority, following his robbing them of their money.
Another incident involved two Europeans: Finnish national Tersbouri Toomajuha Petteri and Alex Sebastian, a Swede. They arrived at Entebbe International Airport in early February 2018 and told Immigration officers that they were guests of ISO boss Kaka Bagyenda.

For some unknown reason however, they checked into separate five star hotels in Kampala – the Sheraton and the Pearl of Africa Hotel. During the night of February 5, Petteri died in his hotel suite, and the following night, February 6, Sebastian too died. Although samples from their bodies were taken to the government analytical laboratories, to date no cause of death has been announced.

These deaths helped drag into the open a subject that Ugandans have only been fearfully whispering about for long.

There have been reports of people getting arrested and even being framed for grave offenses such as murder, only for their property to be stolen by the powerful and well connected only a few weeks later. A popular holding charge is “terrorism” under which several people have been arrested and linked to fictitious coup plots.

Interestingly in most of these cases the evidence, typically a satellite phone, a few rusty guns and sometimes the accomplices (low rank soldiers who later sign confessions and are given amnesty), are always recycled. For Ugandan of a certain vintage; those who survived the horrors of Idi Amin and Milton Obote’s regime, life has come full circle.

The question for many is: what next and how worse can things get?

Most dread the answer is, much worse!

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