Why an inquiry into Uganda’s numerous inquiries is needed

For more than two decades, the government has been setting up commissions of inquiry into crimes but most of them do not yield fruit

Saturday April 5 2014

An illustration of probe reports piled up on

An illustration of probe reports piled up on the government desk. illustration by Alex Kwizera  

By Emmanuel Ainebyoona

Since 1986, the NRM government has set up several commissions of inquiry into alleged crimes. But what has become of these government investigations?

That is the question many Ugandans keep asking and wondering if they were worth the time and money.

In 1986, the government set up an inquiry into alleged human rights violations during the past regimes. Then there was another into the murder of two Makerere University students in 1990, followed by one into alleged corruption in the Uganda Police Force in 1999. In 2000 there was a probe into the Kanungu mass murder orchestrated by Joseph Kibwetere and others.

In 2002, the government also set up a commission of inquiry into the purchase of four junk military helicopters. Since then there have been other inquiries instituted into mismanagement of Global Fund money for TB and Aids, Uganda Wildlife Authority, inquiry into corruption at the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), inquiry into “ghost” soldiers on the UPDF payroll and mismanagement of the Universal Primary Education funds among others.

The first ever commission under the NRM government was established in 1986 by the then Justice minister and attorney general Joseph Nyamihana Mulenga, now deceased. The commission was assigned to inquire into alleged human rights violations which had taken place from independence on October 1962 to January 1986 when President Museveni took over power.

This commission was led by Justice Arthur Oder, his team included Mr Edward Khiddu Makubuya, Mr Jack Lugobya, Mr John Kawanga and Mr John Nagenda.

The current Vice President, Mr Edward Ssekandi, served as the commission’s legal counsel. It began its hearings in December 1986. However, after a few proceedings, it was brought to an abrupt halt due to lack of money.
Even before its eventual closure, logistical constraints had confined the commission’s proceedings to the capital Kampala contrary to the planned coverage of the whole country. However, a grant from the Ford Foundation in February 1988 later helped the commission to resume its hearings though belatedly in 1990.

A 720-page report was published in 1994 with findings, conclusions and recommendations.

The report recommended incorporation of human rights education in school curriculum and training programmes of security forces. Nevertheless, many people assert that the commission only served a political strategy to provide legitimacy to the NRM government which had captured power through the gun.

“I was very bitter because the one [commission] which I was a member of, the people we interviewed have never got justice,” said Mr Nagenda in a telephone interview.

However, the government spokesman, Mr Ofwono Opondo, disagrees with this view. Opondo says the commission achieved a lot, including providing a foundation for the drafting of the 1995 Constitution, establishment of the permanent Uganda Human Rights Commission and several reforms in the Judiciary.

Makerere shooting
The commission was followed by another into the police shooting of two Makerere University students in 1990. The incident occurred on December 10, 1990, when university students protested the government’s abolition of stationery and travel allowances. Police fired into the crowd of the protesting students, killing two - Patrick Okema and Patrick Onyango.

Mr Opondo said the two police officers involved in the shooting together with their commander, Henry Tukahirwa, were arrested and prosecuted.
“Mr Tukahirwa was later acquitted and was taken up by the force again but he has not commanded any operations,” Opondo says. But the report was never made public.

Aruu County MP Odonga Otto told this newspaper that commissions of inquiry are a state tool used to distract public attention from sensitive issues.
About the same time another commission was set up to investigate the abduction of 43 school girls from Sacred Hearts School near Gulu by rebels in July 1991.

According to Amnesty International, the inconsistencies in the inquiries raised doubts about government’s commitment to addressing human right violations before and after the NRM took over government.

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