In Museveni’s Uganda the state, the first family, and criminal rackets are closely intertwined
By Charles Kamya Ssentamu
During the shooting of the 2006 drama, The Last King of Scotland – which was about the rule of Idi Amin – one of the scenes to be shot on site was at Uganda’s national referral hospital, Mulago.
But something funny happened. One of the movie extras who had been hired to act as a patient protested the depiction of a derelict Mulago (without mattresses on the beds), which is what the American screenwriters wanted. The Ugandan woman was old enough to have been a patient in Mulago Hospital during Amin’s rule in the 70s and she told them that Mulago wasn’t dilapidated at the time. It had only become ramshackle during the Museveni regime!
In the end the lady, uncomfortable with distorting history, opted out of her role in the movie. It is a strange thing, but like the screenwriters of The Last king of Scotland, President Museveni appears to be suffering from selective amnesia. As he becomes obsessed with the dismal record of his predecessors, especially Idi Amin, the more Museveni’s own failures standout.
Museveni has failed Ugandans so much that of late many can no longer see any difference between him and Idi Amin. Museveni has failed so much that Ugandans have even become more forgiving of the late dictator. It is easy to see why. Unlike Amin who had very little formal education and struggled with international sanctions, Museveni has so many advantages that his actions, that have brought so much misery to Uganda, can only be deliberate.
Once again the state is thuggish and there is no distinction between its actions and those of many thugs who enjoy state patronage. Unbridled crime is an essential part of Museveni’s modus operandi, for it provides the cover under which his associates can operate without their actions being directly linked to him. They can rob, kill and appropriate private property without the average Ugandan separating such actions from the engineered breakdown of law and order.
The practices of Jovia Saleh, wife to First Brother Salem Saleh are very typical of what Uganda has become during the rule of what is widely known as “the Rwakitura Mafia”. It is a tale that begins outside a nondescript building on Cooper Avenue, the area in Kololo more popularly known as Kisementi. Outside this building stands a small signpost announcing the location of a company called Assured Partners.
There is no description of what business these partners exactly do. Accessed via a staircase through a small entrance sandwiched between restaurants, the keen observers will once in a while see foreigners, mostly Congolese enter and exit. Welcome to Jovia Saleh’s operational base, which has been the source of many a mineral dealer’s grief.
Unbeknown to many of her victims, this is the base from which she runs a criminal ring that robs or defrauds mineral dealers of their wealth. While the lucky ones get away with just losing money, others have not been so lucky. According to people familiar with the diabolical goings on in this place, Jovia Saleh has positioned her thugs around the entire Kisementi neighbourhood. Most masquerade as boda boda riders.
A typical hit runs like this. A gold dealer arrives with his merchandise at Assured Partners. The quantity and quality are verified and the dealer is paid. Unknown to him, as he walks down the stairs Jovia calls one of her thugs with a description of the victim and instructions to take the money from him. How the thugs execute that mission, which could involve elimination of the victim, is their business. All Jovia wants is the money back.
She profits two ways – she retains the poor Congolese’s gold, and she gets back the cash. This is the latest racket involving Jovia Saleh who operates under the cover of her Chillies fast food chain, with outlets on Kimathi Avenue, Acacia Mall and Ntinda. This is a story that we’ve pieced together over the months, with information from sources that know how the racket works.
Anyone familiar with the history of Jovia knows a few other criminal rackets she’s masterminded. Back in the mid-Nineties to the early 2000s, Uganda suffered a spate of car robberies. As it would turn out later, the robberies – which targeted a specific make of expensive vehicles – were Jovia’s way of financing her timber imports from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Vehicles that were robbed at gunpoint on the streets of Kampala would be delivered to the Entebbe Airbase from where they would be flown in Russian cargo planes to eastern DRC. There they would be bartered for timber. Museveni only ordered a stop to the racket when Jovia’s gangs, now running short of victims, began to target individuals valuable to him. They were people the Ugandan ruler considered important for the smooth functioning of the crony capital economy.
This engineered state of anarchy has become so pervasive that last year, in a rare feat of courage the Luganda folk singer Ronald Mayinja tried to wake Museveni to the reality that the actions of his close associates were making him look increasingly like past leaders. Namely Idi Amin.
Through “Bizeemu” (the bad days are back), Mayinja enumerates the excesses of the Museveni regime and reminds him that these are the reasons that made him wage a costly and bloody war in the name of liberation. The criminality is visible everywhere now. Under Museveni security operatives and thugs, for instance, use vehicles bearing civilian number plates so that it has become difficult to tell when an operation is state sanctioned or not.
On June 15th, as legislator Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine addressed a press conference to protest the losses he suffered as a result of the ban on his performances, his events promoter Andrew Mukasa of Bajjo Events was picked and driven away by men wearing police uniform. The men were driving a van bearing the registration UAT 511 C.
As it turned out, this was the same registration that was carried by the Toyota Prado in which Deputy Inspector General of Police Sabiiti Muzei rode to parliament for his official inauguration in April 2018. Indeed the police later acknowledged registration UAT 511 C belonged to security services.
That’s Uganda in a nutshell: state agents and thugs are one and the same. Members of the first family run criminal rackets like it is the most normal thing. Life becomes more dire for everyone else.