It is easy to drown in the deep sadness in Rajab Katongole’s eyes. The 38-year-old does not make it easier by looking directly into one’s eyes as he is talking.
But it is understandable. Katongole was released last week after spending 17 years in prison, having been convicted for the murder of Sylvia Mbabazi, a crime he did not commit.
He says his supervisor, Sgt George Onencan, of the defunct Violent Crime Crack Unit (VCCU), committed the crime.
One of the valuable lessons Katongole learned while in Luzira Upper Prison is never to trust anyone.
“I am careful in my dealings with people. People can be good when you are having a conversation but, they can change. Once you learn the behaviour pattern of the human being, you will not have any problem in life,” he says.
A black prayer mark (swigida) is prominent on his forehead – an indication that while in Luzira, Katongole found Allah.
We found Katongole at his brother’s home in Lukuli, Makindye Division, Kampala. He is in a hurry, getting ready to travel to Bukakata, in Masaka District to pay respects to his late father – who died in 2015 while he was in prison, and visit his aging mother.
Before his incarceration, Katongole, who was brought up in the home of Prince Kassim Nakibinge, had two wives and children. He had also built a home.
“There were other women I had before I met my two wives. I had children with some of them. I was young then, and I had a lot of money. I used to enjoy having a good time.”
But 17 years is a long time. Now, Katongole does not have a home, and of all the women he had, only his first wife stuck it out – visiting him in prison, although now she lives in her father’s home.
Katongole is a civilian. In 2002, as a young man, his uncle – who he only knows as Yusuf – introduced him to a police welfare officer named Bangirana.
“Bangirana sent me to work with Brigadier (now Major General) Elly Kayanja in Operation Wembley as a security operative. I was later transferred to VCCU in Kireka under Afande David Magara,” he narrates.
On the fateful day, in August 2003, Katongole and others left for Kibuli in an operation to net suspected armed robbers. They were under the command of Sgt Geoffrey Onencan.
“After recovering the stolen goods, we drove to the main road. I got out of the car, a white Corona – and went to a shop to buy something to eat.”
When he returned, Onencan gave him Shs10,000 and sent him back to the shop to buy him a packet of cigarettes.
“He was standing next to the car, holding a long stick and talking on phone. As the shop attendant was looking for the balance, I heard someone cocking a gun. I turned and saw the sergeant taking aim. I called to him not to shoot.”
Onencan released bullets into a passenger taxi, injuring three people. On his sergeant’s orders, Katongole commandeered a passing taxi and drove the wounded to Mulago Hospital.
Katongole reported the case at Mulago Police Post. The officer-in-charge advised him to report to Kabalagala Police Station. That night, one of the victims of the shooting, Sylvia Mbabazi, died. At Kabalagala, Katongole was arrested.
“They brought a CID officer to write my statement but I rejected him. A few months earlier, while I was guarding some armed robbers in Kireka, this officer visited them and allowed them to make calls using his mobile phone. In anger, I shot at the ground between his feet. The next day, I reported him to Afande Magara.”
That altercation would change Katongole’s life, because, according to him, after he refused to write a statement, the CID officer (who he says is now one of the top police bosses) wrote a statement admitting to killing Sylvia Mbabazi and forged his (Katongole’s) signature.
Katongole spent six years on remand, and then, appeared before Justice Joseph Mulangira on July 17, 2009.
“That same year, the court assessors found me innocent of the crime, but the judge convicted me anyway, saying I did not show any remorse. He sentenced me to 25 years in jail, without considering the six years I had spent on remand.”
Life in prison
In Luzira, Katongole found some of the armed robbers he had helped to arrest. It was payback time.
“I was locked up in the same ward with them for eight years and they taunted me everyday. I learnt to keep my mouth shut and remain calm because I knew they were looking for an excuse to kill me.”
To Katongole’s surprise, while his appeal took so long to be heard, the criminals he was locked up with were released.
“There is something wrong with our justice system. All those people had to do was to pay a few bribes here and there and their case files ‘disappeared.’ Many of them were repeat offenders so kept returning to Luzira.”
Unlike some prisoners who find solace in education, Katongole never bothered. His waking hours were occupied with finding ways to get out of prison.
When Katongole had served 11 years in prison, Onencan was arrested.
“He had been hiding in South Sudan but when he returned, he went to Kawempe. My friends saw him and reported to Afande (Goeffrey) Musana. I asked Onencan why he ran away and left me in hot soup. He just apologised.”
Katongole says Onencan admitted to the crime but surprisingly, he was released on December 23, 2016.