Buganda riots: 10 years later, death toll remains a mystery

Sunday September 15 2019

By Isaac Mufumba

On September 15, President Museveni addressed Members of Parliament on the riots that rocked parts of Buganda for two days following a decision by government to curtail the movements of Kabaka Ronald Mutebi in his kingdom.
In his address, Mr Museveni did not provide any figures on injured persons, but the then police spokesperson, Ms Judith Nabakoba, did.
Ms Nabakoba said 80 people including a dozen police officers had been injured.

President Museveni put the death toll from the most deadly riots to have been experienced in Uganda in recent times at less than 20.
“These (riots) have resulted into the death of 15 Ugandans, destruction of property, disruption of businesses, and disturbing our peace,” he said.
The President did not reveal the source of his statistics, but as it has since turned out, his figures were not corresponding with those of the police and other organisations such as Human Rights Watch.
On the afternoon of September 13, 2009, Ms Nabakoba told AFP in Kampala that 11 people had been killed, a figure backed up by the acting director of National Referral Hospital, Mulago.

The official figure was, however, revised upwards, with the then Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, putting the number at 27.
Human Rights Watch which carried out independent investigations has since put the death toll at more than 40. The only thing that government and the independent organizations seemed to agree on was that most of the deaths had occurred as a result of “stray bullets” fired by security personnel who were deployed to snuff out the riots.

Charged and arrested
Ms Nabakoba told AFP that at least 550 people had been arrested and detained in various police stations for screening.
Of which 24 of the arrested people were charged with terrorism, but the trial did not take off for more than a year.

Despite the fact that the case was in a state of inertia for so long, Justice Benjamin Kabiito denied them bail on grounds that the charges against them were grave and that they were likely to flee the country if released on bail.
When the trial finally kicked off, the State withdrew charges against Paul Luzikala, Joseph Katamba and seven others, but proceeded against Robert Sekabira, Musa Sengendo alias Kakono, Nsubuga Kamada, Lwanga Hakim, Richard Kijjambu, Same Ssemsimbo, Muzafaru Mugisha, Salim Magoba, Elisa Mujuni, Mohamed Sekatawa, and Meddie Nsubuga.

However, in May 2012 Justice Ralph Ochan dismissed the terrorism charges against them, saying that the prosecution had failed to adduce incriminating evidence against them.
The 11 police officers who appeared in court as State witnesses, the judge ruled, had failed to pin the suspects on participation in acts of terrorism.
However, even before Justice Ochan delivered his verdict, some of the suspect’s relatives complained about the manner in which the arrests had been carried out and their culpability.


Meddie Nsubuga, a pick-up truck driver in Nateete, was arrested more than a week after the riots had ended. His mother, Ms Mariam Namuli, always insisted that her son’s arrest was orchestrated by someone with who he had an old score to settle. Slapping a charge of terrorism was a perfect way of keeping him away for some time.
Similarly, Richard Kijjambu, a student of Royal College Busega, who was doing part time work at Sanyu Bakery in Nateete, was asleep in his room when security operatives forced their way in and arrested him.
He had not been on the streets where the fracas broke out.

Forces not investigated
Although two people; a special police constable and a soldier, were in the immediate aftermath of the riots arrested and charged with the murder of one Faisal Bukenya in Mpigi District where no riots occurred, they were never taken to court.

That means the biggest talking point has remained the failure by government or Parliament to investigate allegations of use of “unnecessary lethal force” to quell the riots.
Gen Kayihura said he had ordered the Police not to use live bullets or excessive force, but eyewitness accounts suggest that his order was either unheard or simply ignored.
A combined force of the police, military police and special forces descended on the hotspots and used live ammunition. Little wonder that most of the bodies had gunshot wounds.

“I was the minister for youth at Mengo then and I remember quite well some of the things that happened. I know that it is hard to tell which forces were operating in which theatre, but we know that they were under the command of Lt Col Michael Kabango, who was the commandant of the Military Police,” Masaka Municipality MP, Mr Mathias Mpuuga, told Sunday Monitor.
Kabango has since been promoted to the rank of Brigadier. He was the commander of the 5th Division in northern Uganda until about May this year when he was named as the UPDF’s Contingent Commander in Somalia.

Investigation order
On September 30, 2009 the then Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, ordered the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs to investigate the unrest and issue a report within two weeks.
The committee had been scheduled to visit and interview people in the neighborhoods that had been the theatre of the chaos and compile a report within two weeks, but that never happened.
A former member of the committee who spoke to Sunday Monitor on condition of annomity, claimed that the committee was frustrated. He alleged that some powerful people in the committee had ensured that no work is done.

Mr Milton Muwuma, who was the chairperson of the Committee, does not remember what pegged back the investigation.
“I think there was an overlap of activities, which rendered that particular investigation time barred, but I would have to consult some of the members. I will get back to you,” he said. Mr Muwuma had by press time not called back. It is, however, worth noting that Human Rights Watch claimed to have carried out independent investigations which put the forces on the spot.

“Human Rights Watch interviewed over 100 witnesses in neighborhoods affected by violence and found that during the two days of unrest, government forces frequently used lethal force unnecessarily and indiscriminately, at times in locations where no active rioting was taking place. Security personnel on patrol fired live ammunition into locked homes, killing and wounding those inside. Human Rights Watch photographed numerous doors marked with bullet holes in some neighborhoods, particularly in Tomusange Zone of Ndeeba and zone 4 of Kasubi,” the statement read in parts.

About the trial
When the trial finally kicked off, the State withdrew charges against Paul Luzikala, Joseph Katamba and seven others, but proceeded against Robert Sekabira, Musa Sengendo alias Kakono, Nsubuga Kamada, Lwanga Hakim, Richard Kijjambu, Same Ssemsimbo, Muzafaru Mugisha, Salim Magoba, Elisa Mujuni, Mohamed Sekatawa, and Meddie Nsubuga.

Radios stations shutdown

Following the riots, four radio stations including Central Broadcasting Services (CBS) FM, were closed down, rendering approximately 200 employees jobless amid accusations that they were being used to incite the public to riot.

The Kimeeza, an open air broadcast where people would comment on current issues were also suspended.
Also affected were journalists Robert Kalundi Serumaga and Godfrey Wokulira Ssebaggala, who were fired from their jobs at Radio One and Radio Sapienta respectively on the orders of the Broadcasting Council. They were accused of making statements intended to among other things bring hatred, contempt and to excite disaffection against the person of President Museveni.

Injured.  Some of the people who were arrested
Injured. Some of the people who were arrested during the riots. File photos

CBS was reopened in October 2010 following high level talks between central government and Mengo.
Shortly after it reopened, the chairman of the Broadcasting Council, Mr Godfrey Mutabazi, said the opening was not binding.
“The radio was reopened on political grounds, but its re-opening is not legally binding,” Mr Mutabazi said back then.
Much as the radio reopened without any known conditions, it remains on some kind of leash held by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and the government. Though it is allowed to operate normally, it has never been issued with a physical licence even when it has met all the necessary requirements.

The managing director of CBS, Mr Kawooya Mwebe, preferred not to discuss the matter.
“What happened in the past happened. That is in the past. We are on air and we are broadcasting normally,” he said on phone on Friday morning.
The director of corporate affairs at UCC, Mr Fred Otunnu, acknowledged that CBS has never gotten back its licence, but hastened to add that it is because the regulator is in the process of introducing a new licensing regime.

“Nobody pays a licence fee and doesn’t get a licence. All that they have been paying are applications fees because we are in transition to a new licensing regime. Until that process is complete we are only giving temporary licences,” he says.
This situation works in favour of UCC and the government. They can always invoke operating without a licence and switch off any station that broadcasts any news or information that is deemed unwanted, but the case of CBS is quite interesting. Why would it take 10 years without a licence?
“The transition has been on for quite some time now,” Mr Otunnu insists.
Whichever way one looks at it, the situation is testimony that the riots left a lingering bitter taste.

Killed during the riots

Mustafa Basajjabalaba, 19,
Bruno Mayanja, 25,
Stella Kabasinguzi, 24,
John Bosco Kaggwa, 27,
Faisal Bukenya, 33,
Yahweh Samweli, 43,
Hakim Muganga, 23,
Salim Akaija
Charles Mukiibi, 45,
Abdullah Batibwe, 25,
Robert Mukanire, 32,
Swaib Mubiru, 16,
Mutyaba Ronald, 18,
One Isma
Hussein Mujuuka
Deo Lutaaya
Muganga Huzairu
Ronald Kasagga, 30
Kinaalwa Sseddulaaka Jackson
Daudi Ssentongo,
Kakooza Hussein, 21,
Ssadam Katongole, 19
Patrick Kaijamurubi
Geoffrey Andama
Benjamin Atere, 2
Frank Kafuma
Kasilivu Meddie
Kalim Kaya
Kivumbi Twaha
Kefa Zaidi