Jinja-The government yesterday looked backwards to a killing of a policeman eight months ago to find a crime to indict Omusinga Charles Wesley Mumbere, who was arrested after a bombing raid on his palace by the military and police last Sunday.
The initial plan, according to official accounts, was different: to arraign the Rwenzururu king in court in his Kasese hometown.
It was, however, aborted over fears that his physical presence in the kingdom could inflame passions and foment more trouble. There was information earlier yesterday that the king would be charged at the Military Court Martial in Kampala, but that too did not happen.
King Mumbere was arrested at his Buhikira Royal Palace in Kasese Town last Sunday following renewed clashes in the Rwenzori sub-region, but airlifted to Kampala and eventually detained at the high-security Nalufenya Police Station, outside Jinja Town. Police said 62 people, among them 14 policemen, died. Unofficial accounts put the death toll to more than 100.
King Mumbere became the first reigning king in post-independence Uganda to be arrested, remanded and charged. According to the charge sheet, “Charles Wesley Mumbere and others still at large on March 24, 2016 at Field Force Unit Detach in Kidondo Cell in Central Division, Kasese Municipality [in] Kaseses District murdered police constable Kasimba Godfrey”.
The king was remanded to Kirinya prison until December 13.
It is customary for suspects to be charged in a court located in the area where a crime was committed, and in this case, King Mumbere would have been charged in Kasese District. Jinja Chief Magistrate John Francis Kaggwa, at around 4: 45pm sent the king on remand.
It had been widely expected that Mumbere would be charged in regard to the recent skirmishes in his kingdom or at least bloody events preceding the Sunday onslaught on his Buhikira palace.
He did not take plea since murder is a capital offence that only the High Court can try. The maximum penalty, if convicted, is death.
The deceased policeman over which the king was indicted, according to prosecution, was one of the victims of tribal clashes that erupted in Kasese District shortly after the 2016 presidential elections.
Details of the official concerns over the dangers of taking the king to face charges in his native district are contained in correspondences between Chief Justice Bart Katureebe, who heads the Judiciary and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mike Chibita.
In a November 29 letter, the Chief Justice consented to a request from the DPP to have the king charged elsewhere.
Justice Katureebe said he had cross-checked with the Chief Magistrate in Kasese and that he was informed “for now the court there is deserted.”
“It was in the interest of justice to grant the request that the suspects be produced in court in Jinja in eastern Uganda,” the Chief Justice noted.
He wrote: “When the situation normalises, I should expect that the proceedings will take place in the appropriate court as may be further directed. All the procedures of the court and the law must be accorded to the accused person.”
Mr Chibita said due to the disturbances in Kasese, the Chief Magistrate’s Court is not guaranteed to be operational.
“It is in the interest of justice to do so because the suspects are already within the jurisdiction of Jinja Magistrate’s Court, the 48 hours provided by law beyond which a suspect should not be held will expire today (November 29), reads the DPP letter.
Inside the packed courtroom yesterday, King Mumbere looked composed but frail, and kept waving. He was whisked away as soon as the charges were read to him.
Security was tight with heavily-armed policemen deployed both within and outside the court premises.
Present while being remanded was the Rwenzururu queen, Nyabaghole Agnes Ithungu, and the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Ms Winnie Kiiza, alongside scores of Opposition legislators and supporters.
Before being arraigned in court, Omusinga Mumbere had been held for two days at Nalufenya Police Station, which is in a separate kingdom, hundreds of kilometres from his own. In Kasese, the government yesterday gave wanted royal guards who are in hiding up to 9am today to surrender voluntarily or risk attack.
Government names dead officers
Government has put the death toll of the clashes in the Rwenzori sub-region at 207 in the last two years.
The Internal Affairs minister, Gen Jeje Odongo, released a list of attacks he said the royal guards of Rwenzururu King Charles Wesley Mumbere have made on government security installations in the Rwenzori over the same period.
Gen Odongo also named 13 of the 14 police officers killed in the latest clashes that broke out on Thursday evening, which have so far claimed more than 60 people.
He told the media yesterday that the persistent attacks against security forces was the reason the army attacked King Mumbere’s palace on Sunday to “disband and disarm” the attackers.
“The night after the attacks against security installations, the royal guards retreated to the palace with their arms. This occasioned negotiations with security forces but they refused to hand over their weapons. This left the security forces with no option but to disband the royal guards,” the minister said.
Gen Odongo put the death toll in the last two years at 25 soldiers and police officers, 114 royal guards, 68 civilians and said at least 139 houses have been burnt since the 2014 clashes.
In a separate attack in Bigando, another soldier, Sgt Nabimanya Kyoojo, who was on leave, was hacked to death with his five children. At least 68 attackers were killed during the first clashes in 2014.
“The UPDF and the Uganda police have a constitutional mandate to protect all Ugandans, their life and property. Anybody who takes armed action to destabilise the security of Uganda will be dealt with in accordance with the law of the land,” Gen Odongo said.
In last week’s operation, according to the minister, weapons were recovered from the king’s palace, including seven sub-machine guns, pistols, ammunition, machetes, spears, improvised explosive devices and 16 petrol-made bombs.
Gen Odongo also gave a historical account of the current security crisis in the Rwenzori sub-region, saying there has been agitation by the Rwenzuzuru kingdom to secede since 1962.
“The on-going situation in the Rwenzori region is, therefore, an offshoot of a long history and not the creation of the NRM government,” the minister said.
Rwenzori clashes timeline
June 30, 2012. Clashes erupt between the Bakonjo and the Bamba-Babwisi in Bundibugyo District after King Charles Mumbere visit to the area, where he sets up a shrine and raises the kingdom flag at his later father’s home area in Kirindi, Busaru, Bwamba County.
July 11, 2012. Unknown gunmen attack Muhokya Police Post in Kasese District, leaving more than five people dead after Basongora install their king, late Ivan Bwebale Rwigi IV. The attackers flee with Bwebale’s regalia.
July 5, 2014: Simultaneous attacks break out in Bundibugyo, Ntoroko and Kasese districts as a group of machete-wielding youths, mainly of the Bakojo ethnic group, attack the army and police installations. The attacks leave more than 90 people dead, including police and army personnel, several others are injured and hundreds displaced. More than 400 suspected attackers are arrested and produced before the Military Court Martial, but are released after government loses interest in their cases. The attackers, among others, in broad day light attack army barracks at Kanyamwirima in Bundibugyo and several other police stations in the three districts. Four UPDF soldiers were killed in the attack on Kanyamwirima army barracks. The attackers also took one Rocket Propelled Grenade.
March and April 2016: Post-election clashes in Kasese District leave at least 15 people dead, including UPDF soldiers and police officers, while more than 30 civilians are killed in Bundibugyo District.
September 2016. Clashes at Butara B village in Kabonero Sub-county, Kabarole District, leave two police officers and four suspected attackers dead and several others injured after a Mutooro boy is accused of attempted rape of a Mukonjo girl in the area.
November 2016: A UPDF soldier, Pte Muhammad Mulanda, is stabbed to death at Nyabuswa Trading Centre in Mugusu Sub-county, Kabarole District. The soldier is reportedly killed by his Bakonjo kinsmen after he allegedly tries to counsel them against involvement in ethnic attacks and fighting government. After his death, the police and army carry out an operation in Nyabuswa hills, where they shoot dead four suspects believed to have taken part in the killing.
November 24, 2016: Security forces shoot dead eight people during a sting operation in Kamabale A village in hilly Karangura Sub-county, Kabarole District. The fighting pits a combined force of the UPDF and police against machete-wielding men. The government forces overrun militia training camp at Kamabale. The following day, police and army arrest more than 10 suspects.
November 26, 2016: Clashes between government forces and King Mumbere’s royal guards in Kasese District leave 14 police officers dead, four others injured, five UPDF soldiers injured, and 41 royal guards dead. The government forces continue to pursue suspects believed to have been involved in the attacks.
November 27, 2016: UPDF commandos attack King Mumbere’s palace in Kasese Town, leaving 46 royal guards dead as government forces pursue suspects believed to have been involved in the attacks. King Mumbere is also arrested and airlifted to Kampala as the army brands him a terrorist and rebel leader.
By Ismail Musa Ladu, Tausi Nakato , Ephraim Kasozi, Risdel Kasasira and Felix Basiime