It appears now that every year in Uganda there will be a death or two to attract intense national attention. The common thing about such deaths is their tragic quality. It matters also when the victim is a widely known personality, or is connected to wealth and health.
In 2017, a series of killings of younger women, more than 20, in Wakiso District attracted a good amount of public discussion. And that was largely because of the drip-drip nature of the killings. Otherwise the killing of one or two of those women, almost all of humbler status, would not have attracted much attention.
But the same year was taken by storm with the killing one rainy morning of a prominent and senior member of the police force — Assistant Inspector General of Police Andrew Felix Kaweesi. Not only did the assailants kill the big man, they threw in his driver and bodyguard, possibly as collateral. There seemed to be passionate anger in the deed. The killers seemed to want to send a chilling message — to whom is an open question especially because the main man died.
This year appears on course to be a dreadful one as well. Talented singer-songwriter Mowzey Radio of GoodLyfe Crew died of injuries suffered in a bar brawl. A popular musician dying in his 30s in a seemingly flippant manner left many gasping.
And now the story of the moment. A singularly hear-rending one. A pleasant looking 28-year-old woman, born into reasonable wealth, is kidnapped. The kidnappers demand a ransom. As quiet negotiations continue, they deliver two of her fingers. They get the ransom or part of it. At the end of it all she — Susan Magara — turns up dead. Murdered. Public grief is palpable.
This latest killing has elicited strong public questions about the competence of state security services to secure people and property in Uganda. Although the security services have had many successes, the public expects continued improved performance.
Yet in the Kaweesi killing and the Wakiso women killings, no one has been prosecuted and locked away. Even if we say it is too early to pass judgement because investigators may yet crack these cases, the question is: how early is too early? How about the case of key prosecutor Joan Kagezi? Where is the person who gunned her down some three years ago now?
A key claim to power that President Yoweri Museveni makes all the time to contrast his government from the previous ones is that he returned security to Ugandans and their property. It is a claim that is generally accurate. It comes up hollow, however, when the big killings occur.
And social media is happy to rub it in. A video clip from 1989 shows a youthful president, swag and all, telling district administrators, police, and internal security agents that he has no interest in presiding over a country where a Ugandan is killed and the authorities don’t know who has killed him or her.
Today there is plenty of talk about forensic labs, national IDs, SIM card registration, security cameras, and all that. Getting all these things to work seamlessly is proving a task beyond the feuding security services.
The incoherence, made worse by corruption and greed, will get more Ugandans (and non-Ugandans as is turning out with the recent deaths of Finnish and Swedish nationals in their hotel rooms in top Kampala hotels) paying the highest price.
The kavuyo in security circles (where even the President says criminals have infiltrated the police force) is providing fertile ground for kidnaps, contract killings and high-end robberies. And what appear isolated incidents may over time morph into a national nightmare, back to the future style.
If Mr Museveni must run a security state, the least he could do is be consistently competent about it. Any other way is bad even for him. The security blanket around him can deliver only so much comfort.
Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.