If we are to take the state’s institutions for their word, Cerinah Nebanda, former Woman MP for Butaleja District died of a drug overdose, and that that death was made certain by her boyfriend, Adam Suleiman Kalungi’s negligence.
The Member of Parliament was not killed by Cyanide, or Polonium-210 or any other world-renowned poisons that states have used to eliminate opponents with such brutal efficiency.
On Friday, the courts found Kalungi guilty of manslaughter in the MP’s death; and for that, he will serve four years in prison.
It is a verdict that officially puts a concluding cap to the MP’s death story. In her death, we were made acutely aware of the towering wall of mistrust that separates government from ordinary folk.
Since becoming an MP in 2011, Ms Nebanda had grown into an animated critic of the NRM government, particularly of President Yoweri Museveni. She once told journalists, “The problem of Uganda is President Museveni. Remove him and we shall have progress.” Yes, other NRM MPs voiced such concerns; but she was the youngest and least exposed of them all.
And that is why the sudden news, on the evening of Friday December 13, 2012, stating that she was dead, was the kind of script that conspiracy theorists only dream of. The fault lines developed very quickly, the police rushing out of its blocks to suspect a drug overdose, while MPs stood on the other side, asserting that the MP never used banned substances.
From then, tempers only flared further, culminating in the near-collapse of a seasoned pathologist’s career. Parliament, dissatisfied with police investigations, opted to transport samples of the MP’s body to South Africa for tests. But the pathologist who carried the samples was blocked at Entebbe International Airport, then arrested. Dr Sylvester Onzivua, a renowned doctor, found himself trapped in the middle of a political storm, which even threatened to rob him of his livelihood. The police charged him with abuse of office and conspiracy to unlawfully obtain the deceased’s body parts.
Parliament then blocked the MP’s burial for a further five days, turning a sacred family matter into a subject of political disagreement.
Government opted to go beyond its facilities in the country and took her body samples to London for checking. A day before the family buried the MP, the government released details from its London investigations, stating that cocaine, among other banned narcotics, had been found in her body.
Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, denounced the government’s findings. And for this, the President advised the police to question the Speaker about what she may know regarding the MP. Vocal MPs, Muhammad Nsereko and Chris Baryomunsi who opposed the government’s official explanation, were arrested and spent Christmas day in prison.
The burial itself was a dramatic scene; a speech delivering condolence messages from the President was torn into pieces; the officials were driven away by rowdy youths. All this while, MPs attempted to recall the House from recess to discuss the circumstances around Nebanda’s death, a move that the Executive arm of government strongly opposed. More MPs were arrested and questioned, including Betty Nambooze and Theodore Ssekikubo.
These events were the climax of distrust in a political row. The distrust was mutual; while MPs denounced what government said was the correct version of the causes of death, government itself suspected the MPs intentions.
Governments worldwide are often accused of eliminating political opponents, especially in young democracies like Uganda. The government’s actions only caused room for even more suspicion, in an environment where suspicion was already in over drive.
Slowly, uproar over the death quietened, overtaken by events on a fast changing scene, and the eventual reclamation of her seat by elder sister, Florence Andiru Nebanda. It turned out that Dr Onzivua had no case to answer, after all; and as court acquitted him, he broke down to tears.
It left us with Adam Kalungi, a man who confessed, then later retracted his confession of manslaughter, and was finally sentenced to four years in prison for the offence.
A family not content
But that is only the official story. For the deceased MP’s family, the story is unfinished.
“The judge’s sentence did not bring closure to us,” Cerinah Nebanda’s mother, Alice Namulwa says. “He was used by other people. Whoever did this knew how they would do it and how it would end. Even the jail sentence was planned,” she adds.
There was never concrete proof to show that Nebanda was poisoned, let alone by government. But the ease with which that suspicion did, and to an extent, still does hold sway for some, shows just how hard it is for a government to be trusted.
December 14, 2012: Adam Suleiman Kalungi finds MP Cerinah Nebanda in bad shape at his rented apartment in Buziga, Kampala. He looks around for a medic to administer first aid.
The situation, however, deteriorates. He rushes her to Mukwaya General Hospital where she is pronounced dead on arrival.
On the same day, Kalungi reportedly flees to Kenya and leaves the body of the deceased MP at Mukwaya General Hospital.
December 30, 2012: Kalungi’s co-accused are arraigned in court and charged with being in unlawful possession of narcotic drugs contrary to section 47 (1) and 60 (2) of the National Drug Policy and Authority Act 1993. They are remanded to Luzira prison upon denying the same charges.
January 4, 2013: The Kenyan government deports fugitive Kalungi back to Uganda Police after he is found hiding in Mombasa.