On my way to Bukasa village, Kyetume Sub County in Mukono District, I meet Winnie Namutebi as I get out of the taxi, one of the people I interviewed two years ago as I covered the murder of David Kato Kisuule. She cannot remember me though I remember her very well.
I ask her if she recalls the day Kato died and what took place. That, she remembers very well. “Oh yes! I remember. How can I forget someone like him? His death was a shock to all of us. Nobody could believe it. Up to now, I still remember very well what took place because I talked to him in the morning before he died in the afternoon. I even went to his house and saw him after hearing that he had been hit but to my surprise, I was shocked when I was told a few minutes later that he had died. We could not all believe it,” she says.
Kato may have been a hero to a section of some Ugandans like those in his local village where he stayed, and the gay community that knew and worked with him. But he really was not that well known.
Not until his death raised as much dust as it could both locally and internationally. Even with so many global issues arising at that time, like the Arab spring, his death caused such a furore, even the US President, Barrack Obama had a comment about it.
Described as courageous, brave, kind, loving, generous and developmental by different people who knew him, Kato was a retired teacher at the time of his death and he was an openly gay rights defender, by then working with Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an umbrella organisation that unites all the 18 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community organisations in Uganda. At the time, he was working as an advocacy and litigation officer according to Frank Mugisha, the head of Smug.
He became known as a gay person back in 2009 when he and his colleagues came out to oppose the introduction of the Anti Homosexuality Bill by Ndorwa West MP, Hon David Bahati. Few months down the road in October 2010, Rolling Stone , a local tabloid published his picture and those of many others on the front page with the headline: “Hang them, they are after our kids: Pictures of top 100 homos”.
Three months after that story on January 25, 2011, he was hit with a hammer on his head, to death, though the western media reported him as having been “beaten” at his home in broad daylight by Sydney Enoch Nsubuga.
This gave him more attention both locally and internationally as many of his colleagues and sympathisers alleged that his death was as a result of his advocacy work for the gay community, something the Uganda Police strongly came out to refute. On November 10, 2011, his murderer Nsubuga was sentenced to 30 years in prison. To this day, both Kato’s family and colleagues have never been contented with the ruling.
Back at Seya village, Namataba Sub County in Mukono District, a big portrait of Kato is hung right in the living room facing the entrance.
His mother Lydia Mulumba who wipes tears away as she looks at her dead son’s portrait almost every minute during the interview says her son was brutally murdered and that what surprises her up to now is that the murderer was given a very lenient sentence in their absence at court.
“I cannot believe that my son is dead up to now. At least if it was an accident, I would have accepted that he passed away. But even after the murderer accepted that he killed him, the government decided to just give such a lenient sentence as if Kato did not have his own people. As if he was a dog or a rat that they just kill in cold blood like that. I will always cry for my son even after my death. The only thing that will ever relieve me is seeing that the case is resumed and justice is rightly passed,” Mulumba laments.
Kato’s elder sister Margaret Nakayiza who is currently taking care of the deceased’s home at Bukasa village is of the same view as her mother. “Even the lawyer, Mr John Onyango who was in charge of handling the case was not aware of the day Nsubuga was being brought to court. He told us that he also just learnt about it in the news.
When we asked him why the family had not been informed, the explanation he gave was not good enough. Up to now, we think it was a game to make us believe that Nsubuga had been sentenced when in the actual sense he was set free. We cannot be sure if at all we are safe since we are not sure if he is still in prison or at large,” Nakayiza says.
Nakayiza’s husband, James Buyinza also thinks that the sentence was not appropriate given the fact that the convicted accepted the crime. “For a person who openly admitted to having committed the crime, that sentence was too lenient. Even the way the case was rushed was not expected. Many suspects who commit such crimes are usually sentenced after at least one year on remand. That was not the case with Nsubuga.
“We expected the police to come back to do thorough investigations before they could sentence the murderer but surprisingly, they have never came back. They only came here once when our brother had just died. So we wonder which evidence police presented to court before coming to a conclusion in this matter,” Buyinza wonders.
However, the Police in their report said Kato’s death was not connected to his work as an activist like many alleged but was rather a case of robbery and they say they did all the investigations as expected. Kato’s family say he was the bread winner. He is remembered as someone who never wanted to see anyone suffer.
“Our brother was a peaceful man. He was our strong person in the family because when he died, all the projects he had planned to do have never came to pass. They all stopped with him. All the children he was paying fees for stopped studying,” Nakayiza narrates in tears.
At Bukasa where he was staying, Spay Aleper, the Local Council One Chairperson of the village also remembers him as one of the people who was developmental in the area.
“He had many projects which he had said he was going to start before he died. One of them was bringing electricity to the area which he did unlike other projects like starting a community school, pumping water for the village and a community farm which were never realised before he died,” Aleper recalls.
He had also taken up paying fees for some children in the village but since he died, some have continued, others stopped studying because of lack of fees. Aleper adds that some have now resorted to doing casual work to earn a living. On top of that, he also used to pay hospital bills for some people in the village in case they lacked money.
He is also said to have had plans of starting a community farm and school for disadvantaged children which he left when he had bought about 40 acres of land in different areas for them.
He had also bought poles for the farm. Right now, the poles are still in the same place where they were put being looked after by Nakiyinza with hope that may be in future, the projects will resume. About the school and water pump, they both stopped at discussing it according to Aleper. She says the village has seen about moving on. They have even designated a road with a sign post in his honour at Bukasa village called David Kato Road.
It is evident that Kato was a much liked man in this area. Another resident identified as Mama Mega within the village breaks down and cries for close to 30 minutes without saying a word, after I try to ask her about him. She then tells me to let go of everything and leave.
“Other than reminding me of the past, there is nothing you are going to change. Just leave me and go back. He is gone. We cannot bring him back to life. If at all you cared, you would not have sentenced the murderer without informing us. Why are you coming to ask me at this time? I have nothing to say. Just go back. Leave me,” she says.
Before leaving Bukasa, I encounter a boda boda rider, a resident in the village too. Along the way, I randomly try to pose a question to him about Kato. He first inquires as to whether I am a relative. I tell him I am just a scribe. He then identifies himself as Timothy Ssemanda before he says: “I do not know how to say this but we lost a kind person. He was someone so generous in the area. Well, at first I did not know he was gay but all the same he did not deserve to die like that. He might have had his weaknesses but that did not mean he should have been killed. I do not support what he used to do but then he did not deserve such a death. If he was still around, you never know our village would be a city with all the development he had brought within a short time.”
At Namataba where he was buried, he is remembered as one person whose death gave the village international coverage as one boda boda man known as Jimmy Mulidwa says.
“Ever since that man was buried, we have been receiving many visitors including whites whom we either transport or direct to the home where he was buried. Up to now, many still come and go to the home,” Mulindwa says.
Mugisha says though Kato’s death was a blow to them, it also contributed to the progress of the LGBT community, both positively and negatively. “The death of David put a lot of attention on the gay community in Uganda from the international community to the national level and drew sympathy from our families, friends and allies. But also, the death increased fear and tension and paranoia within the LGBT community,” he says.
Two years after Kato’s death, one thing that cannot be denied is that the LGBT community gained momentum in a country, reported by the western media, to be most homophobic. On the other hand, his death will forever haunt his family and those whose lives he touched in the villages of Seya where he was born, and Bukasa where he stayed.