The encounter between President Museveni’s motorcade and Opposition supporters that ignited the mayhem baptised as Arua fracas, exactly one year today, last for about five minutes.
Twelve months on, its damage endures in ruined lives, upset careers and changed fortunes for victims.
Thirty-seven suspects, among them five MPs, have been in and out of court in Gulu District until a week ago when they were committed for trial in the High Court.
The lawmakers include Mr Kassiano Wadri, whom Arua Municipality voters elected when he was a jailbird; celebrity-turned politician and Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine; his Ntungamo Municipality counterpart Gerald Karuhanga as well as Paul Mwiru of Jinja Municipality East and Mityana Municipality’s Francis Zaake.
Their committal, alongside 32 other suspects, for trial a week ago was a turning point. For a start, it shows state has satisfied itself that it has evidence in its possession to incriminate them.
The 37 initially faced two charges; treason and incitement to violence. In a dramatic twist to the case during their committal to High Court, prosecution amended the charge sheet to add five new offences.
These included disobeying lawful orders, acts intended to alarm, annoy or ridicule the president, going armed in certain places, failure to prevent obstruction of traffic flow, confusion or disorder during a public meeting and failure to give right of way [to the President].
Considering the usually lengthy period courts take to dispose of even a single case, particularly a capital offence, the committal of the suspects for trial by the High Court keeps them, particularly politicians, on government leash.
They also have to worry of the electoral consequences hanging over them in the event that they are convicted even just of one out of the seven offences. Yet many of the suspects, by some accounts all, say they were victims of state brutality.
On the fateful day on August 13, 2018, the presidential motorcade was exiting Arua Town on the south-western side toward St Peter & Paul Pokea Seminary where Mr Museveni was to catch a helicopter ride back to Kampala.
It was the last day of campaign for Arua Municipality parliamentary by-election to replace Ibrahim Abiriga, whose flamboyant drama-filled life of a self-confessed mascot of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, was ended abruptly in a hail of bullets downloaded by killers. He was ambushed near home in Kawanda, Wakiso District.
And President Museveni had flown to Arua to drum support for NRM flag bearer Nusura Tiperu. The former’s convoy then ran into a convoy of supporters of Mr Wadri, who were fanning out from Arua Prisons Primary School where their candidate held his rally. Some clung atop a grader belonging to BLD Company.
The encounter briefly interrupted the presidential motorcade and police as well as State House later said an unknown person hurled a stone at a vehicle transporting President Museveni bag, in effect the car behind one carrying him, and shattered its rear door windscreen.
Still, the vehicles sped past, delivering the President safely for his onward return trip to the city. All seemed well. Wadri’s supporters, inspired by a feeling of certain victory, massed on Arua town streets, dancing and ululating.
They even met a crowd of Tiperu supporters and each side teased the other, although the Opposition noise was domineering. By this time, MPs Bobi Wine, Zaake, Mwiru and Karuhanga as well as then candidate Wadri had fired off and were already closing in on Royal Hotel in River Oli Division, the headquarter for the latter’s campaigns.
It was a calm before the storm. Witnesses said soldiers attached to the Special Forces Command, the elite group that guards the president, without warning, descended on Arua town residents and passersby by with rage.
Volley of gunfire rang out, a stampede ensued, and within moments, Bobi Wine’s driver Yasin Kawuma was shot dead in a Tundra vehicle parked in front of Pacific Hotel and half a dozen others were taken with gunshot wounds.
The soldiers then blasted through into Pacific Hotel, where Bobi Wine and others had booked accommodation, and rummaged through the facility brokin doors in search of the lawmaker.
Dozens, among them journalists, were arrested. Most were tortured before being dragged into custody at Arua Central Police Station cells, where others such as MP Zaake, who was too weak to stand, was rushed to Arua Regional Hospital.
The suspects were transported overnight to Gulu, where they were charged, while Bobi Wine, who claimed to have suffered extensive bodily damage, and taken into military hospital in Makindye in Kampala, was separately charged in the nearby General Court Martial with illegal possession of firearms.
The case collapsed and UPDF dropped the charges after the owner of Pacific Hotel Luiji Candia, who died on July 7, this year, in an exclusive interview t his guests never had guns when they checked in, contrary to police claims.
Detectives had exhibited a sub-machine gun Reg. No: 01-UE0471-1998 and a pistol Reg. No: 02-56-4301247 and 35 rounds of ammunitions which they said had been recovered from Bobi Wine’s hotel room.
Other exhibits included cell phone handsets, caps and T-shirts emblazoned with People Power symbols. Mr Wadri had already surrendered his pistol at the time of arrest which he said had acquired lawfully when he was still a lawmaker representing Terego constituency.
Questions over whether or not President Museveni’s car was damaged in Arua have lingered, especially after police in June, this year, grabbed 70-year-old Omar Rasasi and added him as among the suspects who stoned the president’s vehicle.
“I cannot discuss such a matter with a newspaper. Wait for these matters in court,” Senior Presidential Spokesman Don Wanyama said in response to question on whereabouts of the alleged damaged vehicle.
SFC Spokesman Maj Jimmy Omara said last Sunday that the car is parked in a safe place and can only be shown publicly on court order.
The magical Arua stone, as referenced by Opposition supporters, has never been found. More arrests should be expected, the north-western Regional Police Commander, Mr Christopher Barugahare, said.
Victims such as Ms Asara Night, Mr Shaban Atiku and Mr Habib Asega Jogoo, whom prosecution has indicted, speak of wide-ranging disabilities as a result of injuries inflicted on them during the August 12, 2018 army raids.
With limited personal income, the trio have relied on Good Samaritans for medical care expenses and upkeep. Justice has eluded them, they say.
While the right foot of MP Zaake, who was hospitalised for a fortnight in India, remains encased in a special medical boot. And a court in Arua on June 21 acquitted him of charges of escape from lawful custody.
According to Bobi Wine, who sought additional treatment in the United States, police misrepresented his medical condition.
Yasin Kawuma’s family gambles life
Life in misery. Driver Yasin Kawuma, during the Arua fracas, was shot dead while seated in a Tundra vehicle parked in front of Pacific Hotel in Arua Town, the hot bed of the clashes.
The brutal crackdown was conducted by army and police, including the Special Forces Command.
Ms Alice Mwesigwa, the oldest of the four wives of late Kawuma, resides in Kiteezi Village in Wakiso District with her four children. She says after a year since the passing on of her husband, life has since become unbearable.
The widow says getting money for tuition to keep the children in school and putting food on the table each day is a gamble
She says one of her children now does menial jobs, including stints as a house-help, to raise money to meet some of the family upkeep expenses.
“My oldest son is also in vocational institute, but the rest cannot go to school,” Ms Mwesigwa says.
Mr Andrew Mukasa, an events promoter, turned out the Good Samaritan.
He took up the responsibility to pay tuition for one of Kawuma’s children.
With all profits expended and no new cash stream, Ms Mwesigwa’s charcoal business folded up and paying rent has become a head ache.
After the demise of Kawuma, singer Catherine Kusasira delivered President Museveni’s condolence of Shs20m to the family.
The condolence money split the family down the middle line, pitting widows and orphaned children against grandfather/father-in-law.
People Power spokesperson Joel Ssenyonyi said they have given monetary support to the family but it unfortunately they cannot solve all the problems in the big family.
“I am not sure about the rest who pledged, but what I know is that the little support that Mr Kyagulanyi renders may not be enough,” Mr Ssenyonyi said.
The Arua 37 facing trial
Mr Robert Kyagulanyi (Kyadondo East)
Mr Francis Zaake (Mityana Municipality)
Mr Kassiano Wadri (Arua Municipality)
Mr Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality)
Mr Paul Mwiru (Jinja East)
Mr Michael Mabike (DP)
Mr John Maryu Ssebuwufu (Businessman)
Mr William Musisi (Student Makerere University, Kampala)
Mr Shaban Atiku (Peasant, Arua District)Mr Benard Andama (Medical Radiographer, Arua District)
Mr Muhamad Onen (Driver, Arua District)
Mr Doka Anwar Andama (Businessman, Arua District)
Mr Muhamad Ijaga (Arua District)
Mr Wani Aloro (Businessman, Arua District)
Mr Tom Asiku (Businessman, Arua District)
Mr Stephen Ojotre (Farmer, Arua District)
Mr John Bosco Odong (Businessman, Arua District)
Mr Asega Abibu Jogo (Businessman, Arua)
Mr Wilberforce Tamale (Driver, Wakiso District)
Mr Noor Butelezi Manzur (LC1 chairperson, Oli A Cell, Arua Municipality)
Mr Ikara Maida (Prime Market, Arua Municipality)
Mr Abudrahman Faruku (Self-employed, Arua District)
Mr Gamba Tumusiime (Engineer, Kampala)
Mr Nelson Mandela (Mobile Money supplier, Arua District)
Mr Simon Obeti alias Edega (Metal Fabricator, Arua District)
Mr Sam Draji (Peasant, Arua District)
Ms Caroline Nalubowa (Businesswoman, Arua District)
Mr Amid Galumbe (Businessman, Arua)
Mr Rasul Odong (Butcher, Arua District)
Ms Jane Abwola (Self-employed, Kiryandongo District)
Mr Bashir Ijotre (Shopkeeper, Arua District)
Ms Night Asara (District Councillor, Arua)
Mr Juma Amidu (Shopkeeper, Arua District)
Mr Edward Ssebuwufu alias Eddy Mutwe (Barber, Wakiso District)
Mr Musa Ssenyange (Driver, Buikwe District)
Mr Umar Rasasi (Kenyan, Arua District)
Mr Charles Lugbure Aniku (Shopkeeper, Arua District)
Charges and maximum penalties
1. Treason, contrary to section 23(1) (b) of the Penal Code Act. (Liable to suffer death.)
2. Acts intended to alarm, annoy or ridicule the president contrary to section 24 © of the penal code act (Liable to imprisonment for life)
3. Incitement to violence contrary to section 83(1) of the Penal Code Act (Liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years)
4. Disobedience of lawful orders contrary to section 177 of the Penal Code Act (Liable, unless any other penalty or mode of proceeding is expressly prescribed in respect of such disobedience, to imprisonment for two years.)
5. Going armed in certain places contrary to Section 75 (b) of the Penal Code Act (Liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years or to a fine not exceeding fifty thousand shillings or to both such imprisonment and fine.)
6. Failure to prevent obstruction of traffic flow, confusing or disorder during a public meeting contrary to Section 10, 1(c), (f) (3) and (4) of the Public order Management Act (A person convicted of an offence under the subsection (3) shall pay compensation to a party or person who has suffered loss or damage as a result of the conduct of the convicted person.)
7. Failure to give right of way contrary to section 176 (2) of the Traffic and Road Safety Act 1988 (Liable on conviction to a fine of not less than five currency points and not exceeding thirty currency points or imprisonment not exceeding one year or both.)
What they say
"The memory of what happened last year will never be forgotten because all along, we have never had violence during elections. But this was meted on us by soldiers protecting President Museveni.” KASSIANO WADRI, ARUA MUNICIPALITY MP
"My right leg and arm are still not fine. But I have some improvement on my chest, although it pains sometimes. I have now become a beggar. If you always ask for money from people, they also become tired of you.” SHABAN ATIKU, TORTURE VICTIM
"They injected me with different drugs to make my body recover in a short time. Six professional doctors were assigned and I was always transported to Nakasero Hospital from Makindye Military Barracks.” ROBERT KYAGULANYI, AKA BOBI WINE, KYADONDO EAST MP
All I am going through of now has strengthened me, but what is disturbing is that my mother remained in shock till today. She cannot talk or work from that time when she was told about my torture.”FRANCIS ZAAKE, MITYANA MUNICIPALITY MP