Thursday July 3 2014

Relative of executed Ugandan speaks out

Ugandan executed in China

Ms Mariam Nabanja (R), the widow of the Ugandan (Ham Andrew Ngobi) executed in China and her sister Emily Nyakato display pictures of the deceased at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs offices in Kampala yesterday. photo by Stephen Wandera 

By Andrew Bagala

Kampala-The mood was dark at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday as relatives of one of the two Ugandan men recently executed in China were brought to speak to journalists.

The widow of one of two Ugandans executed in China for carrying illegal drugs yesterday narrated a simple, short but heart-breaking account of how her husband spent his final moments.

Slightly more than a week ago, Ham Andrew Ngobi knew he was in his final hours on earth; it emerged from her story told to journalists in Kampala yesterday.

He asked a Ugandan diplomat who was with him in a Chinese courtroom to allow him use his phone to talk to his wife, Mariam Nabanja, in Kampala. The diplomat accepted.

“I am in the last court. If you don’t hear from me again, know that I am dead,” Ngobi told Ms Nabanja “Be firm. I love you so much.” “Those were the last words I heard from him at 3am on June 23,” Ms Nabanja said yesterday at a press conference.

Ngobi was executed on June 24, 2014 and thereafter his body was cremated. He was the second Ugandan to be executed in China this year after Omar Ddamulira’s hanging on May 21.

Both young men were part of 23 other Ugandans convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to death in China. Between them, it is reported that they were arrested while in possession of up to 43kg of cocaine.

Going through a range of emotions, Ms Nabanja revealed how Ngobi, 39, left for China on October 8, 2010 for what would be his third and final trip with his uncle, ostensibly to buy garments to be resold in Uganda.

Almost four months later, on January 30, 2011, he telephoned Nabanja to tell her about the developments.

“He told me that business was going on well and he had even got a new job but said he would come back soon,” Ms Nabanja recalled.

Ngobi never called again nor did he come back. She got worried and made rounds to different family friends, asking if they had heard from her husband. Nobody had heard anything.

“In October 2011, I went to Interpol offices in Kampala to find out. They failed to get him, so I proceeded to Foreign Affairs who crosschecked with their counterparts in China,” she said.

It was after she got in touch with Foreign Affairs that the sad news was broken. Ngobi had been jailed for trafficking in illegal drugs.

Mr Paul Mukubya, a Ugandan diplomat, followed up Ngobi’s case and once in a while when he appeared in court, he would call Kampala for Ms Nabanja to talk to her husband.

“He would give me hope that he was to be given a lighter sentence. At one time he told me that his Nigerian friends were released after their government intervened,” she said.

They talked to each other on phone at least twice in 2013.

Talks between Ugandan and Chinese diplomats to lessen the sentence continued until mid-June.

On June 18, 2014, Ms Nabanja was called to the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Kampala and given a letter from the Chinese government. There was to be no reprieve.

“When I read the letter, my heart broke. They said in the letter Andrew was going to be executed,” she said. She went home and delivered the chilling message to Ngobi’s relatives. They all turned to God for salvation.

At 3am on June 23, a call came in from China. The Ugandan diplomat, Mr Mukubya was on the line. He said Ngobi was in the highest court and wanted to talk to her.

Instinctively, Ms Nabanja knew this would be the last time they spoke so she recorded the brief conversation. “Be firm. I will come back,” Ngobi said and Nabanja responded “We have been praying for you the whole night.

Nothing is going to be done to you.”
After comforting each other, reality set in. Nabanja said: “I want you to say something you feel you want to say last.” Ngobi replied, “I love you all my life”.

Ms Nabanja wondered whether Ngobi had a Bible with him before she read a prayer, which she told him to repeat after her. After the prayer, Ngobi told her “I am in the last court. If you don’t hear from me again, know that I am dead. Be firm. I love you so much”. The next day he was executed.

Those were the final moments of the young man, possibly lured to become a mule (drug carrier) in the lucrative but dangerous business by shadowy overlords suspected to hail from one of the large country’s in West Africa.

He has left behind a daughter and a widow to fend for themselves now that he is gone.

Buganda Caucus, Karooto react

Gender minister Mary Karooro Okurut yesterday agreed with the advice given by Uganda Peoples Congress, that there was need to speed up job creation in order to reduce the rate of youth seeking for work abroad.

Ms Okurut told this paper yesterday that government is working around the clock to create more jobs here to dissuade both unskilled and skilled youth who are increasingly seeking employment abroad but end up being abused.

The minister’s comments came amidst an outpouring of public reaction, mainly on online forums, at what several commentators said was extreme action taken by the Chinese government in carrying out the execution of two Ugandans convicted over trafficking drugs.

Earlier, UPC had said that Uganda’s young people are being forced abroad because of harsh conditions at home. Relatedly, the Buganda Parliamentary Caucus condemned the manner in which the two were executed.

Addressing journalist in Kampala yesterday, caucus members said the practice of executing people for crimes that would call for rehabilitation was not only cruel but an abuse of human life.

Caucus members also called for an investigation into how drugs are smuggled through Uganda to other countries. “We strongly feel that the Anti-Narcotics Police should be investigated with a view of knowing their role in this illicit trade,” said the statement.

Richard Wanambwa

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