Kampala- Christopher Aine, the head of security in Go-Forward, the outfit through which former prime minister Amama Mbabazi is running for president, went missing in the third week of December last year after a violent encounter between Mr Mbabazi’s bodyguards and NRM supporters in Ntungamo.
His family believe he is dead— allegedly after being tortured by security operatives who reportedly picked him from his house in Kyanja, a Kampala suburb.
Police have, more than once, said they don’t, and have never had him. They believe he is in hiding and a Shs20 million bounty has been put on his head by the police.
President Museveni told a press briefing recently that Aine was in hiding, a claim Mr Mbabazi chided during the live presidential debate saying: “If you know where someone is, why not pick him?”
Thirty days since Aine is believed to have been picked by security operatives, Sunday Monitor visited his home in Kyanja, interacted with the neighbours and other village members, the local police and village leadership. The more the interactions went on, the more questions popped up.
Kyanja is a quiet hilly suburb, about 10km north of Kampala. It is covered in lush green.
A dusty potholed unpaved road picks on from the tarmac road at Kyanja Trading Centre and leading through the village. It is off that dusty road in Walufumbe Zone that Aine rented a gated apartment.
The apartment has two doors—one leading to Aine’s house and the other to where a couple, the only people in Aine’s gate, live. Aine’s love for Mr Mbabazi is not lost; at his door lies a torn campaign poster of the former premier.
In front of Aine’s apartment is a bigger house. The two share the outer wall fence and are only separated by a thick wall inside. The house is near the main village road. Around 10 strides and you will, through a bushy footpath, be at his gate.
A community police post is just 200 metres away and at a quarter that distance is Mama Sara’s kiosk.
Every morning, at 5am, she says, she sits in there frying cassava to sell to early risers. She also doubled as Aine’s laundress. Across the road and overlooking Aine’s house are shops and a makeshift lot for night parking.
The neighbours, although confirming they saw police at Aine’s house on the morning of December 16, they say the police did not pick him from his house, as earlier claimed by his brother.
Aine’s immediate neighbour says police knocked on Aine’s door and windows for about 15 minutes but he never opened.
“They were three men in plain clothes and they first knocked at my door mistaking it to be Aine’s,” she said. “They started knocking at his (Aine) and even at the back window as they called out his name but he just kept quiet and after 15 minutes they left,” the neighbour said.
She is convinced Aine was in the house because she had heard someone in his house flashing the toilet and shutting doors.
She describes Aine as a friendly neighbour who always inquired about how she was doing. He once helped replace her faulty light bulb. “I never heard a sound in his house even after those who were knocking left and it has been like that since. I hope he is well, wherever he is,” she said.
Before the visit, Aine’s cousin, Ezra Kabugo, who swore an affidavit in support of a writ of habeas corpus application in court (a court order to produce a suspect from police custody) — to be heard on January 27, had narrated how police went to his house looking for Aine and on calling to notify him, he had confirmed hearing people knocking at his door and movement in his compound.
This corroborates the neighbour’s version that Aine was in his house when the police raided.
Mama Sara says that on the day police came, Aine gave her clothes to wash and make sure they dried and got pressed before sunset.
“He gave me the clothes at 9am and told me he wanted them to be worked on very fast because he was going somewhere,’ she said. “But he has never come back and I still have the clothes in my house.”
She comes off as a shy woman, speaking with a shy smile, looking more at the ground and avoiding another meeting thereafter.
Two days before his disappearance, Aine had withdrawn Shs190,000 from a local mobile money agent.
“He spoke on phone throughout the process and sounded like something was bothering him. I never paid too much attention to him, but he kept telling the person on the line: ‘I am coming’ and spoke a mix of English and Runyankore,” the agent said adding that it was the first time Aine was using her services.
A neighbour, who says he is one of the few people in Kyanja that Aine freely talked to also doubts that Aine was picked from his residence. He says Aine was not the type who could simply be picked without making a scene.
Looking through Aine’s glass door, a couple of shoes and a plastic carpet cleaner can be seen strewn on the floor.
No one, the neighbours say, has ever opened Aine’s house since and none of them has ever been interrogated by police, not even the village local council chairman. There is also no poster of the wanted Aine anywhere in the village.
“It is very unusual that a person can get lost and police look for him and yet we as the local leaders are not even asked,” said Mr David Nsubuga, the village chairman.
“Now I am going to take full interest in this issue now that people like you have started asking.”
Another neighbour, who spoke fondly of Aine, described him as a village hero who had become a topic of discussion since his encounter with police in Jinja District last year.
On some evenings, the neighbour recounted, as he passed through the village, young men would idly gather at a reasonable distance to marvel and behold the enigma of “Amama’s man” — as they fondly referred to him.
Others, the neighbour said, would discuss in hushed voices, from the comfort of their verandas, about the hero in the village.
A local councillor, who professes allegiance to the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), also preferring to speak anonymously given the sensitivity of the matter, said he had on more than one occasion seen a man clad in military fatigue standing right outside Aine’s residence in the wee hours of the morning.
On other occasions, he recounts, civilian cars, at one point a BMW, parked strangely at a garden near Aine’s residence, again around 2am.
“All these things happened two to three weeks before he went missing,” he told our team.
If there is a common thread that runs through the stories, it is the account of Aine perched on a boda boda with another unidentified passenger and a rider headed to Kampala around 10am of the day he disappeared.
The boda boda rider’s identity too remains unknown, much the same way as is Aine’s girlfriend; unknown to family and friends, both in name and actual facial outlook, and only described as a woman with a dark skin complexion who never interacted and always kept indoors, giving the neighbour an occasional hi and a wave whenever they bumped into each other in the compound.
Where is this dark skinned girlfriend whom neighbours say visited occasionally? Aine’s family say he had ended the relationship with her, but the neighbours say she regularly came around.
Who was the man riding that boda boda and that passenger and where were they headed?
Several residents say they are sure it was Aine on the bike, many saying they can’t mistake someone else for Aine because he was “their man”.
The country waits to know the full truth about Aine. His uncle Duncan Muramuzi, whom this newspaper spoke to on January 14 at his flat on William Street, Kampala talked about a telephone chat he [Muramuzi] had had with the police chief, Gen Kale Kayihura, two days earlier on January 11.
The phone conversation was made on Mr Herbert Muhangi’s [commander of the Flying Squad] phone who, while talking with Kayihura, had informed him of Mr Muramuzi’s presence and he (Kayihura) consequently asked to speak to him.
Mr Muhangi confirmed that the phone conversation took place but was not privy to what was discussed between the two.
“Aine was our comrade. We cannot kill his son,” the uncle quotes the police chief as saying.“The only mistake he made was joining these Mbabazi things. If he was desperate, you would have approached us, we would have helped him,” Gen Kayihura is further quoted as saying.
Aine’s father, the late Lt Col Julius Aine, was one of the 27 armed men who took to the bush with Yoweri Museveni in 1981 to fight president Milton Obote’s government.
Ms Margaret Lukowe, deputy communications director for Go Forward campaign team says: “We are working closely with his family. We are not investigators that we go on the ground to find facts. We go with what the family tells us and we report to the relevant authorities. They told us he was picked from his home and we believed them.”
The deputy police spokesperson, Ms Polly Namaye, could neither confirm nor deny police presence at Aine’s residence on the day of the disappearance.
She challenged Aine’s neighbours to reveal the registration number of the police truck they claim was parked outside his home the day he went missing to validate their claim.
She also declined to comment on plain- clothed security operatives who reportedly knocked at Aine’s door.
Ms Namaye, however, admitted the information gathered by our reporters provided vital clues to the Aine mystery but expressed dismay that the neighbours had not shared it with police.
“You have your own ways of executing your assignments and police too has its own ways of investigating. We talked to the relatives and other people we cannot name. We don’t want to be predictable in our work so not talking to the neighbours is a non-issue. We know whom to talk to and when. In any case why are they coming out now with this vital information on Aine and why didn’t they come to police?”
The question remains; is government holding Aine somewhere as Mbabazi’s team insists or is he hiding away as the government claims?