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Rwakihembo, the villain turned village hero

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Herbert Rwakihembo appeared before the Court Martial in military fatigue.

Herbert Rwakihembo appeared before the Court Martial in military fatigue. He was sentenced to 35 years in jail for murder.   UPDF

By Ivan Okuda

Posted  Monday, February 4   2013 at  00:00

In Summary

It does not happen everyday that the public supports a murderer. But the trial of Cpl. Rwakihembo shocked the nation when the residents there supported the villain, a UPDF officer who was serving in a peace keeping force in Somalia. The military court, however, convicted him, despite pleas from the public to let him off the hook.

The 10th day of December 2012 was as dark as it was fatal for Kisenyi Zone 3 in Luzira, a Kampala suburb. Herbert Rwakihembo, a UPDF lance corporal, fresh from the war with the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), lost his cool, pulled the trigger and in a twinkling of an eye, three lives departed from this world and a boda boda man survived death by a hair’s breadth.

Going by the public outcry for justice to take course moments after the macabre incident, one would think the soldier had become not only an enemy of the state but also the public. However, as the army and Uganda Police Force investigated the murder, the public sided with the murderer.

The trial was later to see a clash of the titans as the soldier was now to be tried by two courts. The court of the public opinion alongside the Division Court Martial of the General Headquarters chaired by Col. Godfrey Kakama. This, however, was a trial not only taking a bizarre twist but also historical and extraordinary in every sense of the word.

The public was in full support of the accused and agitated for his release. Throughout the two-week-long trial, their passionate and unrelenting call remained, “Release our boy and promote him! He has committed no crime. Put the case to vote by the residents.”

What exactly happened?
In his submission to court as Defence witness one, the 31-year-old convicted soldier claimed he met Irene Namuyaba while working at a Military Detach in Kisekka Market where she used to sell air time. On falling in love with her, he rented a house in Nansana.

“When I was transferred to Luzira Detach, I bought a popcorn machine and a fridge for her to do business,” the soldier testified, tears welling in his eyes.

“Time came for me to go to Singo for preparatory training for Amisom,” he added. For four months in Somalia, the two lovers’ communication channel was blocked. When he spoke to his lover in December 2011, “she told me she was four months pregnant. I asked for permission to visit her and brought along some gifts that any responsible man would bring for his beloved girlfriend.”

“Time came for me to return to Somalia. I asked her to identify a business project and a plot of land for a house,” he narrated, his voice breaking.

“I trusted her with my Mission ATM card, gave her Shs600,000 as startup capital for a piggery project and left for Somalia,” he said. It is at this point that things began to fall apart.

Rwakihembo claims he sent (in installments) over Shs14m to his partner. He was confident she was undertaking the building project and propelling the family business that now expanded to a boutique and saloon. He claims she morale boosted him with photographs that painted a rosy picture of what never was.

“When I returned to Uganda, I asked to see the house she was building at her parents’ home and the piggery but she kept tossing me up and down,” he said. He smelt a rat.

On the December 7, 2012, the two had an argument over the same in which the deceased spilled beans. The primary school teacher-turned soldier claims his lover suddenly became aggressive and abusive, with support of her two friends, Loyce Kawendeke and Zaina Nassolo, who died in the same incident.

“She told him in public that bullets had drained his manhood and that she had replaced him with a fresher number (lover). She even assured him the child was not his,” Jacob Nyanzi, who claims to be a brother to the deceased, told Daily Monitor.

This is when hell broke loose. In his testimony, the soldier claims he left the barracks and went home to pick a warm suit. It was upon this unexpected background that he reportedly found his lover coming out of the bedroom with another man.

“I knew they had been having sex because her eyes were teary,” he said, stirring laughter in court. Meanwhile, Bavawala Ali Sazzi, the said go-between and the two women friends sat outside the house. A scuffle is said to have ensued with the four attempting to disarm the soldier and the trigger went off. Indeed, all the 13 witnesses presented by prosecution and the five from defence do not point to Rwakihembo shooting at three women. He admitted though that it was his first time to go home with a gun.

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