Arua Municipality Member of Parliament Ibrahim Abiriga on Friday evening became yet another statistic in a series of scientific assassinations that have rocked the country.
When President Museveni was sworn into office for the current term on May 12, 2016, earning himself another five years on his 30 year reign, he was ushered into the country’s number one office with a nerve-racking security situation that has until Friday continued to puzzle the citizenry and those charged with maintaining the public good that security is.
For a man who led a five-year rebellion that upstaged a government that had earlier dismissed him as a bandit, and since 1986 won wars waged against his government, Gen Museveni word on security has always carried weight and had a comforting effect on the citizens.
Many Ugandans rank security of person and property as a key ingredient of the governance of the country, having witnessed successive bouts of insecurity in the Idi Amin and Milton Obote years.
President Museveni’s scorecard on security is, however, under check now as systematic killings continue to take away lives of Ugandans with no comprehensive solution in sight.
At the start of this year greater Masaka sub-region was the killing field of the assailants. Daily Monitor reported in March that seven people had been killed by unknown assailants in a space of one month in greater Masaka despite security agencies stepping up joint operations in the region.
The Inspector General of Police at the time, Gen Kale Kayihura, was shocked when suspects he paraded for the media – ostensibly to confess to the killings – claimed they had been working closely with police officers and enjoying their protection.
Several arrests of police officers have since been made and prosecution of some accused persons is on course.
Shortly after the killers changed their geographical scope and shifted to Wakiso District right under the President’s nose and sometimes taking life in cold blood at distances inches away from the Special Forces Command (SFC) which guards the President and other very important persons.
This time round women became the victims, often time raped, their private body parts mutilated and sordid acts performed on them.
Internal Affairs minister and former army commander, Gen Jeje Odong, told Parliament the killings could as well be linked to mystical forces.
To date there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the victims and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions seems to have made negligible progress in bringing to book the killers.
Like all other cycles of bloodshed, the killers took a pause and shifted their murderous theatre to kidnaps and consequent killings after demanding ransom from relatives of victims, using Susan Magara, a daughter of a famous businessman from Hoima District as a curtain raiser to the latest wave of murders.
Before all these were killings of Muslim clerics, top state prosecutor Joan Kagezi, assistant inspector general of Police Felix Kaweesi, and a host of others.
In effect no socio-economic segment of society has been spared with Abiriga, a jolly, likable and live-life-to-the-fullest free spirited legislator becoming the first national politician to be taken down by the assailants.
A golden thread interwoven in the cobweb of these killings is the “clinical” approach of the assailants, the State’s dash to heap responsibility on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), near total failure to successfully prosecute or even end the acts of the killers and above all a pattern of targeted killings that are unique to the socio-economic and political scope of the victims, at whatever time they choose to strike.
In effect, one need not be a security expert to observe and sketch patterns in the wave of killings. The presidential advisor on security in Buganda sub-region, Maj Gen Kasirye Ggwanga, told this writer on Friday night when contacted minutes after the shooting of Abiriga that each Ugandan had to be careful and vigilant, in effect admitting the State as a guarantor of collective safety has dropped its guards.
Criminal or political?
Whereas the murders are acts of senseless criminality, to analyse them through a political lens is to put into context the likely political under currents, if any, feeding into the troughs of blood thirsty assailants and their assignors and take a dive into the historical and political context of Uganda where administrations since 1962 have witnessed a similar cycle of murders.
In 1981 the United States newspaper New York Times reported in a story titled, “Obote vows to end Ugandan cult of killings” that, “Faced with violence and a state approaching anarchy, President Milton Obote vowed today to end the cult of rampant killings in Uganda.”
This was in his first major public speech three months after taking power after a contested 1980 election. Obote attributed the wave of murders to gangsters, common criminals, terrorists, anarchists, opportunists, power hungry individuals and former soldiers of Idi Amin.
It should be noted that Gen Kayihura while parading suspects linked to the Masaka killings asserted that it was possible, “people who lost the 2016 election had embarked on discrediting government,” through a killing spree.
Kayihura’s words in 2018 fitted into Obote’s 1981 script as he too blamed the killings, in part, on power hungry individuals and opportunists.
And so it is not entirely outrageous to think through killings in Uganda with the political lens.
If anything, according to General and Administrative Order No. 2 (GAO 2/1971) on taking over of the government by members of the Uganda Armed Forces, point number four Amin’s group premised its ouster of Obote on was, “The frequent loss of life and property arising from almost daily cases of robbery with violence and kondoism [robbery with violence] without strong measures being taken to stop them. The people feel totally insecure and yet kondoism increases every day.”
The National Resistance Movement has equally been accused of deploying violence with some of its fighters wearing Uganda People’s Congress and uniforms of the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), the then national army, terrorising villages in the Luweero Triangle and elsewhere then blaming the same on Obote’s forces to discredit it.
As UNLA and NRA battled in Luweero, murders that went unexplained and made the state look bad went on, stopping after the NRA took power in 1986 in places where they did happen like Jinja iron-bar hit men.
As Amin’s fourth point and Obote’s address reported in the New York Times show, the insecurity of Ugandans is a function of politics, at times, opponents have played on it against the administration in power in a bid to win support while discrediting it. Other times it is a potent tool used to access State House in a country where ascendancy to the same has been a life and death matter.
History repeating itself?
Sunday Monitor spoke to a security expert who preferred not be to be named given the sensitive nature of his views and the subject.
Our source said, “The government seems not to want to admit it but there is a creeping insurgency in the country. In the last few years the government has constructed a criminal state which meant the dirty work of dealing with political opponents which formal security agencies couldn’t do was outsourced to rogues working within those agencies. So it is hard for government to even detect because anyone interested in an insurgency would build on the same structures so elements of the state seem to be the target now.”
Other sources, who also asked not to go on record arising from the sensitivity of the subject matter, opined that, “those dissatisfied with government and want to bring it down by force of arms would be happy to poke holes into Museveni’s scorecard on security, demystify him as the guarantor of peace and expose how vulnerable anyone is. So a person like Abiriga can be a soft target.”
Sources say whereas there are murders where the state’s invisible hand can be suspected, in others the only plausible explanation is the work of a creeping insurgency hell bent on discrediting government while exposing how vulnerable everyone is.
“The effect these killings have is that government will focus more police and army resources to protecting those it considers important while leaving the rest of the country more vulnerable. They put the police on panic, and now you have politicians in panic, watching their backs like the women and rest of the country and yet the state cannot guarantee anyone’s safety. These are the same tactics NRA used and they are now being replayed,” our source said.
Government, which some critics say is living in denial, has since put its default setting on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) as an explainer for most of the murders but critics say the ADF, whose leader (Jamil Mukulu) faces trial in Kampala, was long neutralised and is incapable of urban crime.
When UPDF troops zoomed into DRC jungles this year in what the army spokesman, Brig Richard Karemire, said was a hunt for ADF fighters, a source opines, “The story was told by one side, it was Uganda speaking for ADF, DRC, UN and the other side was quiet. Some things don’t really add up.”
Even stranger for the current administration is the fact that for the first time in Uganda’s history, even after factoring in population growth, the country has the biggest army and police forces ever.
With “districtisation” came an ever harder grip of the state and deeper penetration into every inch of human presence in the country. At every parish is an internal security officer, sub-county a Gombolola internal security officer and district internal security officer, all feeding into police and army structures that go to the lowest level.
One would expect, with this State presence in every corner of the country, enhanced ability to apprehend assailants but the successes so far fall below average.
In fact, some skeptical authorities in security opine, “We cannot rule out the possibility that some people interested in insurgency may have got the backing of a foreign hand to perfect their motive, again, just as NRA and those opposed to Amin executed similar killings with support from their foreign hands.”
A former minister in the Museveni administration told this newspaper in an off-the-record interview on Friday, “I have been around, seen and I can observe the pattern. The peace and security, (we can now sleep) point is now being demystified, the system is now exposed.”
Whatever the motivations of the assailants, whoever they are, whosever interests they serve and whatever criteria they use to zero on the next target, the pattern, in as far as it draws parallels from our blood coated history, is a scary one.
No one is safe. The rich and poor, guarded and unguarded, high and low of society, are as exposed and vulnerable as a monkey trapped in a burning forest.