One month ago, all on the same day, Saturday July 5, 2014, three districts in the far western part of Uganda - Kasese, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo - were attacked by bands of unknown men. Several security officials were killed in the attacks that took the country by surprise. For a week, the news had nothing but stories of these attacks, with the death toll climbing every few days.
To this day, nobody or group has yet claimed responsibility.
The Inspector-General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, flew to Bundibugyo and inspected the scene of the attacks. In some of his initial comments at the scene he described what had just happened as “genocide”. The Commanding Officer of the Special Forces Command, Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba, twice appeared at the scene in Bundibugyo before departing for Kasese.
The government said these attacks bore the hallmark of tribal strife and soon started referring to the attacks as “tribal clashes” between the Bamba of Bundibugyo and the Bakonzo of Kasese. President Museveni did not visit the scene but from afar joined the official voices describing the attacks as “tribal”, different from Kayihura’s first description of them as “genocide.” Kayihura’s reference to “genocide”, barely noticed by the public, quietly dropped from the radar.
Typically when acts of sabotage or terrorism take place in Uganda, the first reaction by the media is usually the default position of following what the government or police have said. A few media houses might try to develop the story but usually any further reporting is done along the lines of what the government first issued as an official explanation. The media appears to lack either the resources, imagination or courage to conduct its own investigation.
Where the police and the army, in their investigations, might get a few facts wrong or leave out some lines of investigation, the media will reflect that in their reporting. However, the media is not entirely to blame. The government has made political reporting and coverage of security matters a high-risk area for Ugandan journalism.
The Woman Member of Parliament for Bundibugyo, Ms Harriet Ntabazi, meeting NRM supporters in Bundibugyo, suggested that the attacks were by somebody prominent in the government. Appearing on the state-owned Voice of Bundibugyo radio station, she repeated her hint that this was an inside job by someone from high up in the government but did not give names.
Suspects since being arrested have confessed, some say under duress, to taking part in the attacks.
Local Council officials who spoke to the media after the attacks were later arrested. Observers across the country were quick to ask what kind of “tribal clashes” these were in which the attackers seemed to target only the army barracks and the police station in Bundibugyo. In Kasese, the army and the police were also the only targets.
A repeat of Mbuya incident?
Commentators like KFM’s Charles Mwanguhya-Mpagi and several others said the attacks in western Uganda had the appearance of the mysterious attack or alleged attack on the Mbuya army barracks last year.
Barely had the incident at Mbuya happened and hardly had investigations began, than the then army spokesman Col. Felix Kulaigiye was declaring that this had been an attempted coup.
The renegade army General David (Sejusa) Tinyefuza would later claim that what happened at Mbuya was a creation and an inside job aimed to somehow implicate him and the Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi in subversion.
Mbabazi has never publicly commented on the Mbuya attack and so far has been largely silent on the Bundibugyo-Ntoroko-Kasese attacks. The attacks on these western districts came in the wake of an increasing number of attacks on police posts in and around Kampala, an attempt on the army’s Kabamba barracks and attacks on some mobile money kiosks, where money was not taken but the intention seemed to be to sow a mood of fear among the public.
To try and make sense of the Bundibugyo and Kasese attacks would require viewing them not at surprise attacks out of the blue, but the most dramatic and bloody incidences in what had been building for most of 2013.
Certainly, there has to be some kind of connection between the attempted attack on Kabamba and the barracks at Bundibugyo. The perception in the country is that in the one area of military strength, the NRM government has at least proved its worth. It is difficult to defeat or challenge in armed combat.
The question, then, was who these attackers might be who seemed to have no fear of attacking what they obviously knew were well-guarded military installations. Sources with knowledge of the situation in Kasese, moreover, said the only people who had come under attack in that town were the “Balaalo”, the nickname for the cattle-keeping Bahima and Banyarwanda of western Uganda.
The post-attack mood in Bundibugyo
Academicians and media analysts in Kampala, taking the cue from the official government explanation, immediately started tracing the historical tensions between the Bamba and Bakonzo going back decades to the 1960s.