On New Year’s Day, unknown assailants descended on four villages in the districts of Bukomansimbi and Lwengo and killed five residents, leaving 11 others injured.
Four people, including a retired senior police officer, Denis Ssebugwawo, were killed in the villages of Kisojjo, Kyabagoma and Kyamabale - all in Bukomansimbi and Kisaaka in Lwengo.
This is the latest incident in a series of night attacks in greater Masaka ever since they started two years ago. The actual intention of attackers has remained unclear both within the community and security cycles.
In some instances, these murders have been associated with common theft, beliefs of sorcery, family disputes over wealth and property, while in other instances, they have been connected to subversive activities and contractual killings for revenge.
In some cases, the thugs have made away with property after the murders or asked for money from their targets and in some cases, they have taken away lives.
From the districts of Bukomansimbi, Kalungu, Masaka, Ssembabule to Lwengo and Kyotera where similar attacks have happened, the biggest question asked is, “who are the people behind these acts ?”
Mr Muhammad Matovu Kigongo, a district councillor for Kibinge Sub-county, Bukomansimbi District, says the attackers appear to have an organised and sophisticated network through which they coordinate to execute their acts and eventually flee after their raids that often take several hours with less interruption.
Accounts from survivors suggest that the interval between the first and last victims of attack on January 1 was almost four hours (between midnight and 4am).
According to Mr Kigongo, movements of these thugs give an impression that they are well versed with the routes in the villages, which raises suspicion that they either have local coordinators or take time to inspect the scenes during day.
Just adjacent to the late Ssebugwawo’s back door through which the killers accessed his house, there lay an open underground water tank, dug to more than eight feet deep, but none of the thugs fell into it.
But to a slight contrast, according to Paul Kimuli’s narration, one of the victims who survived the attackers by fighting them off with bricks in Kisaaka Trading Centre claims to have heard a car driving away after the scuffle.
To him, these thugs could be strangers who come from distant places.
There are also accounts of people attesting to have seen a suspicious car driving in the area on the eve of attacks. But none of these brought this to the attention of security authorities.
Mr George Mutabaazi, the Lwengo District chairperson, says the underlying insecurity problem needs a community approach, with people rising up to defend themselves.
“We do not need the President or the IGP but the community to embrace the approach of neighborhood watch and put in place local security committees to supplement the limited police manpower,” he notes.
He attributes the persistence of the incidents to the short term community participation in security system and open-planning processes which could be giving chance to thugs to also plan ahead of police and eventually beat the systems.
He reveals they have embarked on a rigorous campaign to arouse public participation in maintaining their own security both at home and entire community.
Three days after the incident, President Museveni visited the bereaved families and gave each of those injured Shs100,000.
Late Ssebugwawo’s family was given Shs10 million. Ms Hadijja Nakanwagi, the widow, said President Museveni also promised to pay tuition fees for all the 12 orphans as well as building house for the family. The president was quick to blame the attacks on poor neighbourhood watch and lazy police on ground.
Weighing in on why the attacks have persisted, Mr Muhammad Kateregga, the Bukomansimbi District chairperson, says with the involvement of the community, police in the area had managed to contain the situation.
But there was anxiety which created room for thugs to strike again according to him. He appealed to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Gen Kale Kayihura, to establish a police post at every parish, although the police chief insisted that this will be too expensive to sustain and instead promised to provide motorcycle patrols in the villages.
Experts speak out
Mr David Pulkol, a security expert and former Internal Security Organisation boss, says persistent night attacks leave a number of unanswered questions.
“The best way of fighting crime is by detecting and providing preventive measures, that is why the government has a number of security organs. In the case of incessant attacks in Masaka, it is quite obvious that Resident District Commissioners (RDC), District Internal Security Officer (DISO), and Gombolola Internal Security Officers (GISO) among other security systems are dysfunctional,” he says, adding: “This means that either they are lazy or no longer doing their work. So, the individuals manning those organisations deserve to be disciplined or someone is pocketing the funds they could have used to do intelligence hence failing to do their designated job.”
He claims that if the problem is not on the failing systems, then there could be ‘something fishy’ that might be going on in the area and government is deliberately refusing to disclose it to the public.
He also wonders why whenever the security systems fail, ‘the magical’ President Museveni swings in, gives money to the victims and then assures them that the criminals will be sorted out.
“When he [Museveni] visited Entebbe, the killing of innocent women stopped, a number of questions of what tactics and measures he employed were left unanswered,” he says.
Mr Charles Rwomushana, a former political intelligence operative with ISO, says attacks on people’s homes is not a new phenomenon as similar acts happened the 1979 and 1980. He argues that Masaka attacks should not be looked at in isolation as a number of similar things have been happening in Luweero, Mukono, Teso, and Rwenzori areas.
“An unidentified group of people attack, terrify, injure and kill people is not specifically in Masaka alone. This is something broader and might be having the same actors. History has it that during 1979 and pre-1980 liberation war, there was a specific unit in charge of urban terrorism, and we know how it could operate,” Mr Rwomushana noted.
Mr Rwomushana asserts that it has been a way of the ruling government to make the public think that they are ultimate peace and security givers.
Holding onto what could be cited as security lapses, Gen Kayihura has camped in the area to reinforce investigations and reorganise the security structures.
According to Gen Kayihura, there are high hopes of arresting the culprits, given the fact that police recovered the body of one of the suspected murderers who was killed by a mob.
“We are not seated, we are making some headway. We cannot reveal for fear of jeopardising the ongoing investigations,” he says.
While meeting the bereaved families, Museveni advised residents to improve their own security in their respective homes, including invoking the ancient security mode of reinforcing doors with wooden logs. He, on the other hand, implored the public to always be responsive to any emergencies or alarms from their neighbours as a remedy of rounding up attackers before they run away.
“But I want to assure you that out of my interactions for the hours I have spent here, we have obtained important clues that will help to arrest these murderers,” Mr Museveni noted.
Installation of cameras
He also reiterated his government plan to install security cameras around the country to fight criminality.
A section of the residents remained unconvinced with President Museveni’s pronouncements, insisting that they remained susceptible to these suspicious attacks.
Ms Veronica Nanyondo, the Bukomansimbi District Woman MP, wonders why the President deliberately avoided listening to suggestions and concerns from local leaders and instead hinged his speech on what they called farfetched pledge of installing surveillance cameras across the country, which according to the legislator are unlikely to benefit the rural community of Bukomansimbi.
“At such a time when all of us are clamoring for immediate solutions to this insecurity, talking about installing cameras sounds as a mockery to this rural community that currently lacks electricity,” she observes.
Ms Nanyondo explains that for quite a long time, the community in Kisojjo Parish has asked for a nearby police post in their area in vain, even when they mobilised money to construct their own.
“Our communities have lived in fear for quite a long time because the problem has been persistent for years. But according to the President’s observation, this seemed to be a one-off incident,” she notes, arguing that Mr Museveni could have been fed with inadequate or wrong intelligence information.
Mr Edward Kitavujje, the Kisojjo Parish councillor observes that the President lectured them on the usual rhetoric of intensifying neighbourhood watch and vigilance, yet they expected from him a moving speech that would involve passing express security orders preferably for covert deployment.
Although President Museveni instructed for creation of emergency call centres at the sub-counties across Bukomansimbi, some villages within the district are not covered with telecommunication networks, something that necessitates having physical security presence as a response mechanism.
Although the Regional Police Commander, Mr Latif Zzaake, confessed before President Museveni that police have had earlier succeeded at arresting some suspects in connection to previous attacks, he could not expound on the progress of their investigations.
Police records show that at least 200 people have been attacked in the greater Masaka Sub-region in the past couple of years. Of these, 12 have been killed.