Last week, Abdulla Kitatta, the former patron of the notorious Boda-Boda 2010, a quasi-military outfit, was sentenced to eight years in prison by the General Court Martial sitting at Makindye, a Kampala suburb.
The Court Martial, chaired by Lt Gen Andrew Gutti, found Kitatta guilty of unlawful possession of firearms and military supplies.
Prosecution says on January 21 at Vine Hotel in Wakaliga, Nateete in Rubaga Division, Kampala District, Kitatta and his co-accused were found in possession of firearms and ammunition without a valid firearms licence, and which items are a monopoly of the defence forces.
Kitatta, hitherto deemed to be untouchable, was also the chairperson of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party for Rubaga Division in Kampala.
History repeats self
The trial of Kitatta in a military court, an act some human rights activists argued is illegal, was the latest case in a precedent that was set 46 years ago.
In January 1973, former president Idi Amin established Uganda’s first military tribunal to try civilians suspected of committing serious crimes such treason and terrorism and a month later, in February 1973, the first civilians were tried.
In introducing the law, Amin said civilians would be tried in the military tribunal in order to curb criminality in the country. Above all, he said the military courts had been established to try cases that civilian courts would not have otherwise executed expeditiously and with maximum precision.
Amin ruled by decree and there would be about 30 decrees he signed from 1971 when he overthrew the government of Milton Obote, to 1979 when he was overthrown by joint forces of the Tanzanian army and Ugandan exiles.
Decree on trial by military tribunal
In January 1973, Amin signed a decree establishing the trial of civilians in military courts. It was called the Trial by Military Tribunals Decree of January, 12, 1973.
In 1975, another decree was enacted to try civilians in military court. The Economic Crimes Tribunal Decree, 2, 1975 was the second and last decree promulgated to try civilians in a military tribunal.
The purpose of the decree was to provide for the trial of certain serious offences such as treason, rape, murder attempting to injure by explosives, robbery and kidnapping. Upon conviction of these charges, the sentence was death by fire squad.
The first Ugandan convicted of robbery and sentenced to death by firing squad was Badru Semakula, a notorious robber in Kampala.
Semakula was a notorious armed robber who had been terrorising residents of Kampala. But early January 1973 while in Katwe and dressed as a captain of the Uganda army, he saluted a lieutenant, a junior officer.
The lieutenant became suspicious and tried to question the ‘captain’, prompting Semakula to flee. But luck was not on his side and he was apprehended and immediately taken to the Military Council.
A few weeks earlier, in December 1972, operatives of the notorious State Research Bureau, an intelligence agency, had arrested 11 members of the Front for National Salvation (Fronasa), a rebel group which was led by now President Yoweri Museveni.
They were arrested at an impromptu roadblock staged in Bombo. The suspected rebels, who were coming from northern and western Uganda, were on their way to Kampala.
Semakula and the Fronasa suspects were tried by the Military Tribunal sitting at Makindye Military Barracks in Kampala, chaired by Col Ozzo. The Military Court found all the 12 men guilty and they were sentenced to death by firing squad.
The Military Council chaired by Amin decided that each convict be killed in his home district in front of their relatives. This was done to deter Ugandans from serious crime.
On Saturday, February 10, 1973, the 12 convicts were executed in their home districts. Tom Masaba and Sebastiano Namirundi were executed in Mbale District, William Nkoko at Bugembe stadium in Jinja District, and James Karuhanga in Mbarara District. Joseph Bitwari, James Karambuzi and David Tusingwire were executed in Kabale District.
However, it is important to note that Namirundi a, secondary student in Mbale, was perhaps innocent and only a victim of circumstance.
He was at the home of Fronasa activist Mukhwana in Mbale Town preparing tea for the guests, who included Museveni, when security operatives stormed the house. While Museveni escaped, Masaba and Namirundi were not as lucky. They were summarily executed at Bugema Military Barracks near Mbale Town that evening.
Also presumed innocent in the court of public opinion was Phares Kasoro, a policeman stationed at Nsambya Police Barracks in Kampala.
Kasoro had a friend, Abwooli, a Fronasa rebel who was arrested with a pistol and bullets at a tea room near where Uganda Bookshop stands today. Upon interrogation, Abwooli revealed that he had spent the night at Kasoro’s home at Nsambya Police Barracks, and Kasoro was arrested.
No amount of denying and pleading could save Kasoro. It is said he cried and cursed Abwooli from the day he was arrested to the day he was executed.
Richard Baguma, a Ugandan who witnessed the shooting of the two in Fort Portal Town years ago, told this reporter that Abwooli was unbothered and could even afford to smile at the executioners.
Meanwhile of the 12 men, the most despised by the public was James Karuhanga, a former mathematics teacher at Kyambogo College in Kampala.
In Mbarara Town, just above the Boma Grounds, Karuhanga was tired against a big tree with a rope around his waist, before being shot dead.
He left behind a pregnant girlfriend, also a teacher. Following Karuhanga’s execution, she had to flee from Kampala for fear of being arrested and killed. Karuhanga’s girlfriend, who is now deceased, gave birth to a girl who still lives.
About the decrees
Laws . Former president Idi Amin ruled by decree and there would be about 30 decrees he signed from 1971 when he overthrew the government of Milton Obote, to 1979 when he was overthrown by joint forces of the Tanzanian army and Ugandan exiles.