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Uganda – where security forces may be more deadly than coronavirus



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Eric Mutasiga’s mother, Joyce Namugalu Mutasiga, has to support his family after he was killed by police

In Uganda, at least 12 people have allegedly been killed by security officers enforcing measures to restrict the spread of coronavirus, while the country has only just confirmed its first death from Covid-19. Patience Atuhaire has been meeting some of those affected by the violence.

Joyce Namugalu Mutasiga speaks to me as she fries small pancakes, known as kabalagala, over a woodfire, her words coming out in short, crisp sentences punctuated with long silences.

“Somebody is moving away from you and then you shoot him? At least they would have said sorry, because his life will never be back, and now I am going to struggle with the children,” she says, straining to bottle up her emotions.

The 65-year-old is now the main bread-winner for a family of eight.

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Mrs Mutasiga wants the police to apologise over the death of her son

Two of her grandchildren, aged three and five, too young to grasp the full scale of what has befallen them, run across the yard pointing to a car in the yard: “Take a photo of daddy’s car!”

In June, nearly three weeks after he was reportedly shot in the leg by a Ugandan policeman, Eric Mutasiga died from his wounds. His last moments were in an operating theatre in the country’s Mulago Hospital, according to his mother.

The 30-year-old headteacher was one of those allegedly killed by security forces enforcing a coronavirus lockdown.

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Getty Images

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Members of the security forces have been enforcing the lockdown measures

The killings are believed to have been at the hands of policemen, soldiers and members of an armed civilian force called the Local Defence Unit (LDU).

Since March, they have been jointly manning roadblocks to ensure that people stick to the control measures, including a ban on motorcycle taxis (known locally as boda bodas) and a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

Many Ugandans are wary as they approach these roadblocks not knowing what might happen, but on 13 May trouble came to Mr Mutasiga’s home.

As well as running the Merrytime Primary school, the father of three had a small shop next to his home on the edge of Mukono, about an hour’s drive east of the capital, Kampala.

On that Wednesday, policemen and members of the LDU were arresting people found breaking the lockdown rules by working after 19:00.

‘You didn’t train me’

Mr Mutasiga’s employee, a young man working at the chapati stall outside the shop, had just been detained.

“I begged [the policemen] to forgive him. The two officers debated amongst themselves whether to let him go,” the headteacher later explained to local journalists.

Then, as people gathered round, things got heated.

“One of the policemen started to say I wasn’t the one who trained him. He said he could even shoot me.

“As I turned to leave, [one policeman] shot in the air. I turned to see what happened, and saw him aim directly at me.

“The bullet went right into my left leg and I fell. They got on their motorcycle really quickly and rode away.”

He made those comments as he was being wheeled into hospital – the police have not verified his account.


Some family members have suggested we go to court. But the police have not revealed the shooter’s identify, so who would I sue?”

His family had hoped that he would make a full recovery.

“We stayed in hospital awaiting surgery, but every time we asked, the health workers told us that the wound was bad, they couldn’t operate,” his mother says.

Mr Mutasiga was eventually taken to the operating theatre on 8 June where he died, she adds.

The death certificate shows that he died directly from gunshot wounds.

Mrs Mutasiga stares at the ground, taking a moment to compose herself.

She feels let down by the entire government system, saying: “Some family members have suggested we go to court. But the police have not revealed the shooter’s identify, so who would I sue?”

Farida Nanyonjo is angry.

Her brother, Robert Senyonga, died after being beaten.

Around midday on 7 July, she received a call from his employer. She was told that she had to get to the eastern city of Jinja fast, as Mr Senyonga had been repeatedly struck by the butt of a gun wielded by someone believed to be from the LDU for riding a motorcycle.

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The beating left the 20-year-old, who worked as a farm manager with multiple fractures to the skull.

Ms Nanyonjo got to him late at night and then returned with him to the capital, where he was referred to hospital.

“We made it to Mulago at about 2am, and spent the rest of the night on the ward floor. I approached a medical worker for help, but was asked for money. He was finally given a bed in the morning,” she says.

It took a lot of haggling, and a couple of days, before Mr Senyonga could be scheduled for surgery. And by then, it was too late.

‘Died in my arms’

“I am extremely angry. They beat him, but even the top hospital in the country could not give him proper medical care,” Ms Nanyonjo says.

“My brother died in my arms.”

For this family, the void left by their departed will be impossible to fill.

The LDU earned notoriety in the early 2000s when it was first created. Its personnel were accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings or of turning into gunmen for hire.

In the end it was demobilised. Ugandans were therefore apprehensive when it was revived in 2018.

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Allan Atulinda

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Recruitment for the Local Defence Unit attracted huge interest in 2018

Critics say the force puts guns in the hands of young, poorly trained people who are unable to reduce the tension in a confrontation.

The army has now withdrawn all LDU personnel from deployment, for retraining.

President Yoweri Museveni and other senior officials have condemned the reported attacks but when the BBC contacted the various security agencies implicated, none of them wished to give us a statement in response to the allegations.

Rights groups argue that the problem is systemic.

“We’ve found that security forces have been using Covid-19 and the measures put in place to prevent its spread as an excuse to violate human rights,” says Oryem Nyeko, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

But these problems have been known for many years, he says, and “we need to explore reforming a system that emboldens people to commit abuses”.

Families say the judicial process is often too convoluted to navigate, but there have been successful prosecutions in two cases in the last five months. One involving a soldier and the other a member of the LDU.

The soldier who killed Allen Musiimenta’s husband was jailed by a military court for 35 years after being found guilty of murder four days after the incident.

But she is not satisfied.

“The soldier got his punishment, but I won’t get my husband back,” Ms Musiimenta says.

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Benon Nsimenta, who was due to be ordained as a reverend in November, was gunned down on a highway in the western town of Kasese on 24 June.

He and his wife had set off for their village home on a motorbike. They had a document from a local councillor indicating that the vehicle was theirs and not a motorcycle taxi.

“The soldiers who stopped us didn’t even take a minute to ask questions. One of them crossed the road, raised his gun and shot my husband in the neck,” Ms Musiimenta says.

“We did our family projects together, talked through everything. We made plans for our children’s future. How I am supposed to pay for their education by working our small farm?” she trails off, overcome with emotion.

Football coach Nelly Julius Kalema survived his alleged brush with the security forces – but only just.

On 8 July he was rushing a friend’s sick girlfriend, Esther, to a clinic on a motorcycle. It was already curfew time.

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Media caption‘The police are killing us, not coronavirus’

They were allowed through a roadblock, but then some people on a motorcycle, who he says were policemen, waved them down.

Mr Kalema says he asked if he could find a safer place to stop just ahead. He says one man took out a baton and hit Esther hard on the neck. She screamed, and fell.

“I lost balance and rammed into a concrete slab, on which I hit my head,” he says, lying in a hospital bed.

The accident left him with a deep cut on the head, the scalp hanging by a few inches, that had to be stitched back. Esther survived with a broken leg and had to undergo surgery.

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Nelly Julius Kalema’s wound on his skull can be clearly seen

The police declined to comment on his allegations.

When we met, Mr Kalema had been in hospital for nearly a week, his head constantly throbbing.

“I have been lying here thinking I shouldn’t have to feel lucky, because I had no fault in the accident. How many of us must die or be maimed before the security forces change their methods?” he wonders.

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Minister Rukutana charged with attempted murder, remanded




The state minister for Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana has been remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district.

Rukutana appeared before Ntungamo Grade One magistrate Nazifah Namayanja this afternoon from where he was charged with seven offences related to attempted murder, assault, malicious damage, and threatening violence.

Rukutana was captured in a video that went viral on social media showing him grabbing a gun from one of his bodyguards and started shooting at a vehicle belonging to supporters of his political rival Naome Kabasharira. At the time of the incident, Rukutana had just lost the Rushenyi country NRM flag to Kabasharira.

The prosecution alleges that on September 5, 2020, at Kagugu village in Ntungamo district, Rukutana and others still at large assaulted Julius Niwamanya and threatened to kill or injure him together with three others. The others are Stuart Kamukama, Dan Rwibirungi, and Moses Kamukama. 

It is also alleged that Rukutana also willfully and unlawfully damaged a motor vehicle registration number UAR 840X Toyota Rav 4 type which belongs to Moses Muhumuza.

According to the Judiciary public relations officer, Jameson Karemani, Rukutana has not taken a plea of these charges against him since they can only be tried by the chief magistrate who was not in court today.

As a result, the magistrate decided to send him to Kyamugorani, awaiting his return to court on Tuesday.      

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Lira district headquarters closed over COVID-19




Lira district headquarters have been closed after one staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week. 

On Monday morning, district staff were blocked at the gate with only the deputy chief administrative officer, his secretary and the receptionist allowed access to their offices. 

Paul Samuel Mbiiwa, the deputy chief administrative officer says that only heads of department will be allowed at the headquarters while the rest will work from home. He adds that the restriction will help to curb the spread of the virus.

“You see corona is not a joke. We have taken a step at fighting it and that is why you are seeing the staff outside. Even in my office here I do not want people to come if there is anything we can discuss on the phone.”

Francis Okello Olwa, a senior community development officer who doubles as the district spokesperson says that the entire district offices will be fumigated and closed for two days.

Health authorities in the district are planning to take samples from all the staff because they could have interacted with the one who tested positive. Currently, there are 19 COVID-19 patients under treatment at Lira regional referral hospital.     

On Sunday four health workers at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Dr Patrick Odongo, a senior medical officer at the hospital also succumbed to the virus.  

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Museveni issues ultimatum to police boss




Museveni flagged off distribution of motorcycles for NRM chairpersons

President Yoweri Museveni has given Inspector General of Police (IGP) Martins Okoth Ochola a chilling ultimatum: You either do your work or I will do it myself!

Museveni disclosed the ultimatum he gave to the IGP today Monday at the NRM secretariat at Plot 10 Kyadondo Road in Kampala where he was flagging off the distribution of motorcycles to parish chairpersons of the ruling National Resistance Movement party across the country. 

“I told the IGP that if the police doesn’t do their work, I will do it myself by arresting the police officers themselves,” Museveni stunned his audience as he commented on the electoral violence that marred the NRM primaries held on Friday last week. At least 4 people were killed across the country during the primaries. 

“There was violence in Bukono county [Namutumba district] where people were beaten. I got information that police has not done much work. Some (policemen) have been arrested and given police bond; there is no police bond for somebody who has attacked Ugandans!,” Museveni added. 

Museveni vowed to deal with all persons who messed up the party primaries.  In some parts of the country, there were massive regularities where candidates who had been defeated ended up being announced winners. In some places like Namutumba, Isingiro, Ntungamo, Jinja, Katakwi, among others, there was violence that led to the killing and wounding of civilians. Museveni said that they are going to make sure that all those who participated in these irregularities and violence are held to account. 

Museveni said although the violence was orchestrated by the politicians, the police personnel are to be held accountable for failing to contain it.

Last week, police spokesman Fred Enanga warned police personnel especially those guarding VIPs against being drawn into the politicians’ political wrangles, reminding them that they would face the music if they did. With the president now threatening to go and conduct the arrests of errant policemen himself, IGP Ochola is likely to move fast to avert the spectacle. 

Museveni wondered why police would shoot at unarmed people who were fighting amongst themselves: “That policeman must be arrested; even the ones who are threatening people you will go to jail for that if we get evidence,” a seemingly incensed Museveni said.

He also said that the state minister of Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana who was captured on camera attempting to shoot people over the weekend in Ntugamo after he lost the  Rushenyi primaries, will be charged with threatening violence and attempted murder. 

 “This game is finished,” Museveni said.

Rukatana has since been charged and remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district in western Uganda. Museveni called upon all those dissatisfied with the election results to write petitions to the regional panels of elders which he said are going to be constituted to hear all election complaints.

“We are going to get three respected people who are not part of the struggles, then we shall go and audit village per village and we shall discover. If you have committed forgery, the registrar or the politician who ordered,  you all shall go to jail. The game is finished; the voting is by lining and if you miss-add, you are ‘miss-add’ yourself,” Museveni said.

Museveni’s speech came shortly before that of Justine Kasule Lumumba, the secretary general of the NRM who called upon the president to reign over some senior people who with impunity were freely changing the results of the elections.

“Some of our staff were lured into changing declaration forms on the way forgetting that people who had participated at the village don’t need to write; they registered the record in their faces…Some have done things with impunity… in Butemba county Kyakwanzi district, one of the candidates who got 3,000 votes brought in soldiers, cordoned off that place and was declared a winner and off they went away,” Lumumba said. 

The ball is now in Ochola’s court to get the police to execute their duties professionally and with impartiality. In March 2017, President Museveni warned Ochola’s predecessor Kale Kayihura to clean the police force of wrong elements. As months passed with no visible sign of police officers shaping up, Museveni resorted to other security agencies who started arresting rogue senior police officers and charging them in the military court for various crimes.

Kayihura was then removed from office, arrested and jointly charged with the errant officers in the army court. To avoid similar fate, Ochola is likely to use a firmer hand on the police officers so that by the time of the February 2021 elections, there is no laxity in the force’s execution of its mandate to maintain law and order.

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