Covid-19: How Ugandans died at the hands of security agents

Sunday August 9 2020

Injured. Evelyn Namulondo who was shot thrice

Injured. Evelyn Namulondo who was shot thrice in the abdomen by security operatives. Namulondo later passed on after her first surgery.  Daily Monitor

Daily Monitor
By Daily Monitor
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On the night of May 11, Evelyn Namulondo placed what was a routine call to Ismail, her usual boda boda service provider to confirm the departure time for the next morning. They were to leave at around 6am, 30 minutes before the previously 7pm to 6.30 am government imposed curfew.

Were they not aware of the curfew hours? Ms Jennifer Namulondo, says that they were but her elders sister ran a make shift eatery in Harakaharaka Garage.

“The dynamics of the eatery which provided meals, mostly breakfast and lunch to mechanics and taxi drivers in the nearby Jinja Taxi Park required her to be at work as early as possible to ensure that the food and tea are ready by the time the first customers arrives; shortly after 7am” Jennifer explains.

The breakfast menu at the eatery was Katogo of mostly boiled plantain with either beef or beans, or cassava and beans served along with black tea.

Early morning on May 12, Ms Evelyne together with another of Ismail’s customers boarded the motorcycle for what turned out to be a fatal journey.

The party was stopped at a roadblock that had been mounted by the police and Local Defence Unit officers at the intersection between Eng Zikusooka way and the road that leads to Walukuba.

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What transpired remains a mystery, but one of the armed men opened fire.

The mother of four, who was commonly known as Maama Kagoya, was shot thrice in the abdomen.

She was rushed to Jinja hospital where she underwent initial surgery with a second surgery scheduled for Friday May 15, but was pronounced dead a few hours before the procedure could be performed.

She was laid to rest in Bukagabo Village, Mayuge District the following day, but her death remains shrouded in mystery.

Who shot her? Why? These are questions that still linger on her relatives’ minds.

However, what they are sure of is that Evelyne was shot by the police since the spot where the shooting occurred was being manned by anti-riot police personnel.

Following the shooting, the police deployed around Ward 9 of Jinja hospital denying people, except relatives, access to her.

Local journalists had to sneak in a recorder through one of the relatives in order to establish what had transpired.

In the recording, Evelyn revealed that the men who shot her were adorning blue camouflage uniforms, an outfit for the anti-riot police.

Despite the pain she was going through and what her fate would be, Evelyn’s biggest worry was what awaited her children.

“I will need help with my children. Even now they are hungry back home. I was the breadwinner. They need food and care,” she said on what turned out to be her death bed.

The Kiira regional police spokesperson, Mr Abbey Amoti Ngako, denied reports that it was the police, who shot Evelyn Namulondo.

Mr Ngako told the media in Jinja that all the police guns that had been out on that fateful morning had been examined and that there was no evidence that any of them had released any bullets.

The Busoga Sub-region army spokesperson, Capt George Musinguzi and the outgoing spokesperson of the Ministry of Defence, Brig Richard Karemire, told Sunday Monitor before his redeployment, that it was not LDU.

“It is true we (used to) mount joint roadblocks but we never deployed that night. Even the witness testified to this,” Capt Musinguzi said a few days after the fatal shooting.

Unfortunately, Evelyn Namulondo and her family may never get justice.

Gift Ochen

Whereas many of us often reflect on the subject of death, we are never adequately prepared for its arrival. We assume that our family and friends will live long to see old age. We often forget that death occurs any time.

Ms Eva Nalwooga, 19, Ochien’s widow was no exception.

“Up to now I cannot believe it. He had been with me a few minutes earlier bursting with life only to be told that he had died. It is hard to take,” Ms Nalwooga says.

Gift Ochien, a 26 year-old fisherman in Kiyindi Town Council, Buikwe District returned home late on the afternoon of June 25, but was reminded that he had not come along with a loaf of bread.

“Nalwooga is pregnant with their first child and had a craving for bread. She asked him to come back with bread that day. He was forced to leave the home and walk back to the shop to pick the bread,” Mr Fred Namwogoyi, Ochien’s nephew revealed.

Little did they know that that would be the last time they would see him alive.

A group of LDUs who had been deployed to enforce Covid-19 restrictions arrived at the shop to disperse what was deemed as an unexpectedly big gathering. Others who were at the shop fled, but he did not.

“That seemed to anger them (LDUs) who accused him of looking down upon them. They beat and pushed him down. He hit his head on a rock and was badly injured. He died as he was being rushed to Kiyindi Health Centre III,” Mr Namwogoyi said.

Ochien’s 19-year-old widow has since relocated from their formerly rented home to stay under the care of her deceased husband’s aunt, Ms Emerida Nakamya.

Nakamya who is in her late 70s, is in need of care too! Who then will look after the other?

Francis Ogwang Munu

On the afternoon of June 27, Francis Ogwang Munu, 65, walked into the home of his brother, Kenneth Opio, who runs a retail business in Amati Trading Centre. Ogwang Munu, who was a member of the Kamdini Sub-county Covid-19 taskforce had earlier in the day attended a taskforce, meeting at the sub-county headquarters and still had a tag bearing his names and picture when he entered and left his brother’s premises.

“When he was leaving, he told his brother that it would be best if he ate something in the restaurant across the road before going home about five hundred metres away. He did not get what he wanted, decided to go home,” Isaac Otwii, a journalist, said.

A group of about six soldiers arrived on a white lorry just as the father of 13 was leaving the restaurant and immediately started indiscriminately beating up people in the trading centre.

“For fear of being beaten, Ogwang ran back into the restaurant and hid under the table. One of the soldiers found him and started kicking him. He was also stabbed in the stomach with a bayonet and started bleeding profusely. He was later lifted by two of the LDUs to the home of the chairman of the trading centre where he collapsed,” Mr Otwii said.

The nurse on duty at the private clinic where he was rushed declined to handle the case and directed them to another facility where he was pronounced dead.

Unlike the cases of Evelyn and Ochien where no arrests have been made, the army was quick to arrest and prosecute Ogwang Munu’s attackers.

On July 6, the UPDF 5th Division Court Martial sitting at Kamdini Primary School sentenced Pte Jolly Thomas Opoka to life imprisonment upon his own plea of guilty.

The killings occurred a few months after that village security meeting in Muyenga, Kampala, where before the 2019 Christmas season, the Deputy commander of the LDUs, Col Felix Abucha, issued an order to his men to shoot to kill suspected criminals who were terrorizing the city.

“We want a very free Kampala, we want our people to enjoy peace throughout and for us we are not like the police…we fire to kill. If you want to steal you will die,” Col Abucha said.

On March 18, Mr Museveni announced a partial lockdown and introduced a raft of restrictions including the closure of schools, a ban on public transport boda boda operations and a curfew.

“The crucial point is the stopping of the epidemic. I do not want us to lose millions of our vulnerable people to this wholly avoidable epidemic just on account of indiscipline,” Mr Museveni said in one of the speeches that followed.

With that, Abucha’s order seemed to take a different dimension as those who were meant to enforce measures to save lives instead took them away. The resultant public outrage was perhaps best summed up by the Chief Executive Officer of the Legal Aid Service Providers Network (LASPNET), Ms Sylvia Namubiru Namukasa.

“It has almost become habitual for LDUs to torture innocent citizens under the guise of enforcing the Presidential directives on Covid-19 especially at the time of curfew. A significant number of civilians are subjected to wanton beating and inhumane degrading treatment causing loss of lives in some instances,” Ms Namukasa says.

Other deaths

On March 31, police constable Stephen Wafula opened fire killing Vincent Serungi, a resident of Wakiso Town Council.Serunga had been found riding a boda-boda. Wafula, was arrested and charged with murder in a court in Mukono.

Jinja

Jinja businessman Charles Isanga died early in April on account of injuries suffered when a combined force of LDUs and policemen led by Jinja Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Mr Erick Ssakwa, beat him up in his home in Lwanda village.

Mr Sakwa, who has since been interdicted along with Simba Mohammed, a businessman, and Bumali Bazimbyewa, a mechanic, were arraigned in court in Jinja and charged with manslaughter.

Wakiso

On the night of April 10, LDUs raided the home of Margaret Nanyunja in Kyengera Town Council at around 1am in search of one of her grandchildren whom they accused of having defied Mr Museveni’s Covid-19 orders. Nanyunja’s grandson Andrew Mbaziira, said she was battered for asking them whether they had a search warrant.

Jinja

On April 15, the Police in Jinja descended on Masese Fish Landing Site on the shores of Lake Victoria to enforce the curfew. They arrived as a passenger boat was leaving for the small islands, Kisima 1 and Kisima 2, and immediately opened fire killing Robert Kisanja. A local footballer, Mr l.azarus Obelajo, was injured.

Budaka

Wilber Kawono, a boda-boda rider and resident of Budaka, was on April 18 killed when a police officer tried to shoot the tyre of the motorcycle he was riding.

Kawowo’s crime was to carry a passenger on his motorcycle, which the District Police Commander of Budaka, Ms Shadia Nabunya, said was a contravention of President Museveni’s ban on the use of public transport and boda bodas.

Kween

On May 10 LDUs in Kapkwata Village in Kween District who were enforcing the curfew shot and killed one Alfred Mwanga. One other person, Denis Chemusto, was left nursing severe injuries. The deceased was part of a group of about 12 people who were found playing cards at his residence at around 11 p.m.

Masaka

On May 8, an officer of the Masaka Reserve Force, Pt Robert Muyaga, shot his wife Jacqueline Nagasha dead on allegations that she was having an extra marital affair with Francis Musasizi, the chairperson of Lutovu B village. Muyaga later shot Mr Musasizi too.

Kasese

One June 24, Benon Nsimenta, a lay reader attached to Kogore Church of Uganda, who was months away from being ordained a reverend in the South Rwenzori Diocese was shot through the neck at around, 7am as he was riding on a motorcycle with his wife Allen Musimenta to a family garden.

The UPDF’s Mountain Division Court chaired by Col Felix Nyero later sentenced, Pt Abraham Lokwap to 35 years in jail.

The patrol commander, Lt Talent Akampurira, was handed a 12 months’ sentence.

Napak

On July 19 two people, Tom Opio 18, and Luke Edilu aged, 19 were shot dead by LDUs at Kautakou in Napak District, while travelling on a motorcycle. Though information remains scanty, it is believed that that they were shot for allegedly violating guidelines on curbing Covid-19.

Discipline

Brig Karemire acknowledges that the LDUs have been criticised over their brutality, but says that authorities have taken appropriate action.

“All those who were involved in killings of people have either been sentenced or they are on remand. However, what is most important is that the leadership takes discipline as one of its core values. That is why we always correct and punish those who make mistakes,” he said

Despite widespread calls for the disbandment of the LDUs, Brig Karemire said it will not happen.

He said it would be unfair to demonise the entire force on account of the actions of a few ill-disciplined personnel.

“The badly behaved LDUs are less than 1 per cent of the entire force. We have thousands of LDUs who are good. They should not be demonised because of the mistakes of a few,” he said.

Brig Karemire argues that the LDU’s role is in the maintenance of peace and security by participating in the pacification of northern Uganda and Teso, disarmament of Karamoja and reduction of crime in Kampala, but that they are often overlooked. Is being an LDU another of those thankless jobs?

Buikwe

On July 7, Robert Ssenyonga was riding a motorcycle to Jinja Town when he was stopped by LDUs at a roadblock in Bukaya near the government stock farm in Njeru. The LDUs descended on him with gun butts for not having won his face mask. He was admitted to Jinja hospital from where he was referred to Mulago National Referral Hospital. Ssenyonga died two days after the battering.