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Uganda: Notorious Museveni era assassinations, Part I

President Yoweri Museveni.

By Dorothy Gakwaya

For the over 33 years he has been in power, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni has fooled the world with his affable, jocular persona.

In his public speeches and in private situations, the man is always smiles making faces and most times engaging in clownish behavior with people around him such as rapping “Mpenkoni”. He also affects a caring personality, reaching out, for example, to those who lose loved ones who were erstwhile political actors, among others.

This is all a façade for public consumption. Those who have known Museveni more intimately for years tell of a ruthless killer capable of eliminating a man in the morning, and turning up at the family funeral in the evening to express condolences and offer “mabugo”, money to assist the bereaved.

This double-faced Museveni behaviour goes right back to the very first days of his guerrilla war to dislodge Apollo Milton Obote from power. In one of their bush hideouts in 1981, members of the budding leadership of the NRA were relaxing playing cards, when one of the men suddenly jumped up and shot Hannington Mugabi, point blank. The man then threw his pistol down and began screaming and behaving as if he was mad. Those around had no doubt Museveni had ordered Mugabi’s assassination.

The young, courageous fighter had started showing his natural leadership qualities amongst the NRA fighters, and, as such, posed a threat to Museveni. No one has ever been made accountable for the killing. Unresolved targetted killings or political assassinations have been a central characteristic of the Museveni regime.

Since he got into power very many people have met a violent end, with no one ever being brought to account. The number of people, including those that helped bring him to power, who have been assassinated grows decade after decade. This has left behind many widows and orphans. The killers are never apprehended or the wrong ones are framed to carry the can.

This website makes an initial breakdown of the list of those that have gone to an early grave after crossing Museveni, beginning with the most notorious unsolved murder of all in the Museveni era.

In the night of 6 March 1987, Andrew Lutakome Kayiira, the former leader of Uganda Freedom Movement (UFM) guerilla group, was sitting in the house of his close friend, journalist Henry Gombya, when armed men broke in. Four gunshots rang out and only Kayiira was hit.

Five suspects would be arrested for the murder, but a judge acquitted them for lack of incriminating evidence. But no sooner had they stepped out of the court than members of Museveni’s army abducted, and whisked them away never to be seen again.

A pattern had been established of killings of high profile people that the state, for all its resources, never seems to solve. It happened to several Muslim clerics over the past decade.

It happened when in March 2017, gunmen on a motorcycle riddled the late Andrew Felix Kaweesi, Assistant Inspector General and Uganda Police Chief Spokesman, with bullets in his car and sped away. It happened when Arua Municipality MP, Colonel (rtd) Ibrahim Abiriga, met the same end, when he was getting out of his car at his home. It happened to Chief Inspector of Police Muhammad Kirumira, an outspoken policeman who had vowed to lift the lid on criminality in the highest circles of power.

Assassins have killed all these people and gotten clean away.

When Kayiira died, that was the end of the story. Even after the British Police investigated the murder and submitted a report, Museveni decided to sit on it. One can be certain he knows more about the death of Kayiira than any other person.

Kayiira joined Mugabi on the list of the departed who, one way or the other, Museveni found vexatious. Just like dozens of others would.

In 1997, Lt Michael Shalita, an Intelligence officer with the Internal Security Organization (ISO) was shot dead in Kamwokya. At the time of his demise, Shalita was investigating cases of massive corruption involving top government parastatals, Uganda Revenue Authority, Uganda Posts & Telecommunications Corporation, and others. A commonality of the companies was that the Museveni family had extensive interests in each.

In 1998, Lt Col Reuben Ikondere was murdered in eastern Congo. According to investigations, Ikondere was in the habit of questioning why Museveni and his brother Salim Saleh were behind the plunder of Congo’s wealth, yet they claimed to be there to secure Uganda’s borders.

Ikondere’s murder was covered up as a stabbing by Mai Mai rebels – “something completely unlikely to happen to a well-guarded senior UPDF officer,” analysts said.

In 2000, Charles Owuor, a former Uganda national electoral commissioner was shot dead in Kenya. It is suspected agents of Uganda’s External Security Organization (ESO) shot him before faking an accident. Owuor had protested vigorously at the massive rigging that had robbed the 1996 Democratic Party (DP) presidential candidate Paul Kawaanga Ssemogerere of victory. A rich irony, since it was the claim that the same Ssemogerere had been robbed of a similar victory by Apollo Milton Obote’s Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) in December 1980 that had provided the pretext for Museveni’s guerilla campaign!

In 2001, Spencer Turyomwe, a vocal opposition mobiliser was killed by men dressed up as doctors who injected him with a slow-acting poison. The following year, they came for Deus Mugizi, former Managing Director of Uganda Airlines. Gunmen came to his home in Bbunga, Ggaba, on the outskirts of Kampala, and, despite his mother’s desperate pleas they killed him, telling her they had not come for property but for his life.

Mugizi had protested many times at the sale of Uganda Airlines’ routes to the new East African Airlines, which was owned in part by the Museveni family. He also knew about the four Airbus planes Uganda Airlines was supposed to have bought, but “some high-up diverted it”.

The late Col Dr John Garang de Mabior, leader of the SPLM/SPLA, perished in a helicopter crash in July 2005. The helicopter had been provided by Museveni to take the highly independent-minded Garang back home. Witnesses in the area where it crashed said they heard something that sounded like a bomb blast in the chopper.

In 2007, the permanent secretary (PS) of the Defense Ministry, Brig Noble Mayombo, was rushed to Nairobi for treatment after he ingested a slow-acting poison. The brilliant young Mayombo was someone that shone with leadership qualities. The kind of person that, according to his friends, men would follow to hell and back. In short, the kind of person Museveni doesn’t like having around.

In 2009, the former Army Commander, Maj Gen James Kazini, was murdered in cold blood in Kampala. The regime went to all kiinds of lengths to frame his murder on a poor, defenseless woman whom they claimed was his concubine. The question many asked was, how could an unarmed willow Draru manage to murder a general?

Lately, in 2018 men of Museveni’s Special Forces Command (SFC) almost assassinated People Power leader Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, MP for Kyadondo East. They instead shot his driver Yassin Kawuuma, mistaking him for the outspoken young leader. Other supporters of People Power movement are being made “to disappear”.

Stay tuned for our second instalment of these notorious Museveni-era assassinations.