Several members in households of two political leaders have suddenly simultaneously suffered strange infections with similar symptoms, with one victim reported dead so far. Affected families are that of Dr Kizza Besigye, the former president for Forum for Democratic Change party, and its Women’s League leader, Ingrid Turinawe.
Jackqueline Kehoda Ahimbisibwe, who was a maid at Ms Turinawe’s home in Manyangwa village in Gayaza, passed on at Mulago Hospital on October 20. She was 22. No postmortem was done and the cause of her death remains unknown. Tests done by health workers, who attended to the deceased at private city clinics prior to her admission and eventual death at Mulago, were inconclusive, her employer said.
Both Dr Besigye and Ms Turinawe spoke to this newspaper at different times in October, and said the mysterious condition presents with discomfort in the chest and irritation on the skin. Doctors that have treated them in Kampala said they suffered from “bacterial infection”. However, the medications administered remain ineffective to-date.
Dr Besigye’s aide, Sam Mugumya, has reportedly been rattled by similar problems. The condition, they said, was first noticed after security operatives doused the duo with a substance that seemed like liquid pepper on the day the retired Colonel beat round-the-clock surveillance around his Kasangati home in Wakiso District sneaked into the city centre.
Police deny it is party to any plots to eliminate opposition leaders through poisoning.
Force Spokesperson Judith Nabakooba said: “I don’t know what they are talking about. If they have any serious concerns, they can put it to the attention of the IGP (Kale Kayihura).”
In the interview with this newspaper, Dr Besigye had said he suspected mischief because an unnamed contact had alerted to him to the alleged existence of secret plans to eliminate him and other opposition leaders using a hard-to-detect nerve agent that kills slowly.
The nerve agent was to be sprayed either directly on the targeted victims or in their bedrooms, the informer said of the strategy allegedly being directed by a Middle East country friendly to Uganda.
Days after the tip-off, Dr Besigye said he woke up one morning to find strange footprints on the porch of his house, and the suspicion was partly the reason he fought back security operatives who recently tried to gain forced access into his house at night.
Lt. Gen. Kale Kayihura explained away that mid-October fracas as a sting operation by detectives to recover a tyre spike barrier, which he alleged Dr Besigye stole and kept at his premises. Police in Kasangati later denied such a theft case against Besigye.
Information Minister Karooro Okurut yesterday said the NRM restored security of person after years of lawlessness and State-inspired killings, and should not be blackmailed by self-seekers for political expediency. She added: “It is not the work method of NRM government to eliminate its political opponents because we are civil, value life and have demonstrated ability to protect lives of all Ugandans, not just the political elite.”
There is no confirmation that chemicals sprayed on opposition activists during walk-to-walk and follow-up demonstrations were poisonous, although a heavy dose administered on Dr Besigye in April, last year, left him temporarily blind. This is not the first time vocal opposition political leaders speak out about threats to their lives in a manner suggesting foul play.
Makindye West MP Hussein Kyanjo, who was hospitalised for weeks in Saudi Arabia, last month said he suspected that he was likely poisoned.
In separate accounts offered in late October, Ms Turinawe said she, together with her children, a brother and maid Ahimbisibwe who eventually passed on, have had a difficult time – shuttling in and out of hospital – with a disease doctors cannot identify precisely.
After being sprayed in June 2011, she said she was booked at Nsambya Hospital for five days, although the groping of her breast by a police officer remained the physically most aggressive, humiliating and traumatising attack.
Ms Turinawe said when she came down with the condition, she asked around was told “there is a well-organised group to organise this type of killing. They are looking for new ways of killing us [because] they failed in all other previous areas.” Her five children all fell sick and were hospitalised at various times.
Police’s Nabakooba, while denying any foul play, said she did not know anything about the content of the liquid substance riot police often employ to douse Dr Besigye at close range.
Ms Turinawe said her condition degenerated most in July and August and again in October and early November, this year. She said doctors treating her have been unable to diagnose the particular ailment in spite of numerous medical examinations. “We are and remain in this struggle; we have accepted all the challenges associated with it,” she said when asked if she planned to abandon political activism. Following the death of the maid, a terrified Turinawe, however, abandoned her house.