January 12, 2015 will remain the gloomiest day in Andrew Lwanga’s life. On that day, he left the newsroom, to go out and capture pictures that would tell a story to the world. But he never told the story. Why? The former district police commander (DPC) of Old Kampala Police Station, Superintendent of Police (SP) Joram Mwesigye, did not only fail the journalist from executing his work, of shooting the pictures, the officer also broke the camera and caused the journalist to sustain a broken spine. And since February last year, the matter became a court case before the magistrate at Buganda Road Court. From the courts of law, Lwanga hopes to get justice. Besides, Lwanga is also fighting to regain his physical fitness.
How it happened
In the morning of that fateful day, as a cameraman working with WBS TV, Lwanga had been assigned to capture a video shot that would accompany the story of the famous Unemployed Youths of Uganda (UYU) press conference at JEEMA headquarters in Mengo, a Kampala suburb. After the news conference, the UYU started a procession to meet the Inspector General of Police (IGP) at Naguru police headquarters to petition him on their grievances concerning police prohibiting their processions. The UYU crusaders had previously rubbed the government the wrong way and had also had running battles with police in and around Kampala city. Earlier, two UYU male youth had beaten police security and entered Parliament with two piglets painted yellow, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) colour.
On that day as the UYU wanted to walk from Mengo through the city centre to Naguru. Reaching around the Bakuli road-junction, in Old Kampala, they encountered police which had been deployed from Old Kampala Police Station to arrest them.
“Suddenly, a speeding Toyota Mark II white in colour, Registration No: UATI50L came. It was driven by the DPC himself. That is Joram Mwesigye – and four men. The one who was in the co-driver’s seat was wearing a jacket. And Joram was in police uniform and two other policemen were armed with AK-47 rifles. When he [Mwesigye] jumped out of the car, he had a long black cable. He beat up a guy who was carrying a placard. The guy ran across the road towards City oil fuel station. Others [UYU] ran to the opposite side to Old Kampala Secondary School playground,” Lwanga narrates.
“Joram wanted to chase them. When he [Mwesigye] tried to chase them, somehow he missed a step and fell on the road. I was so close to him, I filmed that incident. When he got up, he made some noise; I think he was in pain. And when he got up, he attempted to hit my camera with his cable. I jumped off, so he missed and I ran away. We dispatched. But the UYU converged again. And their leader started talking to the journalists who had gathered around him. Before he had finished talking to us, the same white car returned. It was Joram driving. So when they [UYU] saw Joram, they took off again to different directions. Others ran toward the Jaguar Bus terminal down on Namirembe Road.
Four journalists, including Lwanga, went on filming the incidents. While there, Joram came again with his car. He came out holding a club and started beating the boys who had been arrested. Later they were put on the police pick-up truck. I was filming all the police actions. Immediately, the last boy was pushed onto the car, Joram turned on me. I don’t why, because we were four journalists. He hit me with the club, I grabbed it. Remember I had a camera in one hand. He hit on the head about four times and I fell down. And I could not see anything anymore. But the police men picked me threw me into Joram’s car as another police man sat on me as they drove to Old Kampala police station”.
Joseph Ssetimba of Bukedde TV was also assaulted by Mwesigye and his case is also before court.
Lwanga is taken to hospital
Police at Old Kampala wanted Lwanga detained but when they realised that he needed medical attention, they bundled him onto the police pick-up and took him to Mulago hospital. “When I regained consciousness, I found myself at Mulago hospital surrounded by workmates and journalists. It was them who told me what had happened to me”.
That evening, he was discharged from the hospital and went to stay with his brother. But at night, Lwanga felt discomfort and he asked his brother to take him to hospital. But he needed a police form as required by law in cases of assault for the medical personnel to examine the victim. And so, they went to Central Police Station (CPS) to record a statement. But the officer, who was to record his statement deliberately took long according to Lwanga.
Meanwhile, since the previous morning, Lwanga says he had only been given pain killers. As he waited for the officer to record his statement, he blacked out again. From CPS, he was assisted to the car and taken to Nsambya hospital where he partially regained his consciousness later.
“After two days, I regained my consciousness, and I asked why I was in the hospital. My mum told me what had happened”.
Although he was able to see and hear, his sight was not stable. “I was seeing people taller than their normal size”
Lwanga adds: “And the third day, I tried to go to the bathroom and collapsed. My legs were weak. I could not stand. My whole body was numb.
Even if you pinched me, I could not feel anything. And my bladder could not keep urine either. It was flowing all the time. As a mature person to see urine flowing like that when people are there it…but I went through it,” Lwanga recalls the agony.
Later, a CT-Scan was done which indicated that Lwanga had suffered a fractured spine. After 27 days, he was discharged. But since then, he wears a cosset to support his painful back. The young man who used to hold a camera and run about filming news, today cannot walk five steps without a clutch or being assisted by someone.
Footing the medical bill
From January last year, Lwanga says he has spent about Shs50m on medical bills. In spite of the specialised treatment he has been receiving at the Comprehensive Rehabilitation Service for Uganda (CorSU) in Entebbe and other medical centres, he is yet to get any better.
“I thought it was going to be a simple case; but it is now a year since I have been down,” Lwanga said. Nevertheless, he is grateful to Gordon Wavamunno, chairman of Spear Group and WBS TV, for keeping with him although he has not been working for a year.
Robert Ssempala, National Coordinator, Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-U) told Saturday Monitor that “as the HRNJ-U, we have helped in soliciting funds for Lwanga, especially for his therapy.”
Human rights bodies such as the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders helped us a lot in paying his medical bills,” he acknowledges.
Currently, Lwanga needs Shs150,000 every time he visits CorSU for physio-therapy. He is supposed to have three physio-therapy sessions a week but he cannot afford that money. And so he appeals to any one who can financially assist. Besides, he needs at least $10,000 (about Shs33.9m) to travel to India to have a spine surgery. Any assistance can be channelled through his elder brother Joseph Kawuki on telephone No: 0774-494-378 or 0755-494-378.
Threats to withdraw the case
When he was discharged, Lwanga stayed with his mother briefly at lower Muyenga village. But on the day he decided to return to his house in Buziga, Makindye Division, he was attacked. On that evening he left his mother’s house to return home driving himself since there was no one to assist him. But on reaching the gate of the premises, four men wearing masks and hoods, confronted him. One grabbed him by the neck but he yelled for help. They told him to withdraw the case or face the repercussion.
He was only saved by a bodaboda rider who was approaching and the gang took off. Lwanga returned and reported the matter to police. The case was filed as: SD RSEF 26/23/4/15 at Kabalagala Police Station. Police promised to investigate the matter. For his personal safety, he decided to stay with his mother and he never goes out beyond 6pm but that has not stopped his tormentors from haunting him.
“I have since that time received many phone calls [anonymous] threating to harm me unless I withdraw the case. But I cannot,” the soft spoken journalist affirms.
When contacted regarding attacks on Lwanga by unknown assailants, deputy Police Spokesperson Polly Namaye told Saturday Monitor: “If he reported that case to police, I am sure it is under investigations”. And about Mwesigye, former DPC of Old Kampala, Namaye said: “Since that incident occurred, that officer was suspended. Until the court decides, he will remain suspended.”
She added: “According to police law, if you are suspended for whatever the case, you get half your salary.”
For a young man who made money and bought an E-Class Mercedes-Benz model at the time he was injured, and lived in a two-roomed flat in Buziga, one of the posh suburbs of Kampala, to now to be asking for financial assistance from friends and well-wishers, it is disheartening. But he is nonetheless determined to stand again on his own; both physically and financially sometime in the future.
Lwanga has a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Commission from Makerere University, a Diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication from UMCAT and a certificate in Filming and Editing from WIGEMA institute in Nairobi, Kenya. He is determined to win both the health and legal battles before him and return to his beloved occupation, journalism.
Born January 1, 1987, he is the third last born of four children. Their father passed on and their mother is a retired nurse.