Revisiting the murder of Dr Kayiira 27 years later

When he realised that assistance from neighbours was not forthcoming, Kayiira opened the door of the bedroom to confront the thugs. It was then that he was shot dead. illustration by kwizera

What you need to know:

Flash back. Born on January 30, 1945, Kayiira was the Leader of the Uganda Freedom Movement, a guerrilla group that fought the governments of Milton Obote and Tito Okello between 1980 and 1986. The Sunday Monitor looks back at his death after he was made minister of energy in the NRM regime.

On March 6, 1987, towards mid-night, Dr Andrew Lutakome Kayiira was slain. He was murdered at the home of a journalist friend Henry Gombya at Lukuli, a Kampala suburb. Gombya was also a BBC stringer in Uganda. Kayiira was the former chairman of Uganda Freedom Movement/Army (UFM/A) until April 1986 when the UFA was dissolved into the national army. In February 1986, when the NRM formed a cabinet, Kayiira was made minister of energy.
On March 7, when Dr C.M Kakande performed the post-mortem, it was discovered that Dr Kayiira had died of shock and hemorrhage caused by gunshots. The autopsy indicated that Kayiira had sustained four bullet shots. Two of which, shattered his small and large intestines, arm as well as the liver. The other two went through his chest.

Thus, the cause of Kayiira’s death was as a result of shock and hemorrhage caused by the bullet wounds according to the testimony Dr Kakande gave to court on May 23, 1988, presided over by Justice Cosmos Kato in Kampala. Scientifically, the cause of Kayiira’s death was discovered. Why he was shot dead is the question that still begs an answer. Was it an assassination plot or was it just a robbery case gone wrong?

It is now 27 years since Kayiira was murdered in cold blood. But the reason he was killed has never been made public in spite of the fact that a renowned British metropolitan police, the Scotland Yard, came here, investigated the case and handed the report to the government. According to the records, on March 12 and 13, 1987, the government of Uganda approached the British High Commission in Kampala and the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi respectively for both governments to help provide experts in investigating Kayiira’s death. Immediately, Britain sent two Scotland Yard officers. And on April 23, 1987, the two police officers returned home after work.

On the following day, the Inspector General of Police, Luke Ofumbi, told the press in Kampala that the Scotland Yard officers had done a commendable job in investigating Kayiira’s murder. He was also quoted as having said: “Police is satisfied and happy with the work carried out by the two experts from Scotland Yard”. And added: “These are the type of fellows who can take simple hair as a clue to evidence”. Ofumbi said as he expressed satisfaction that such experts were involved in police investigations.

The last days
On February 24, 1987, Dr Kayiira was released from Luzira Maximum Security Prison after the government had withdrawn treason charges against him. He had been in jail since October 5, 1986, when he and about 20 other politicians and military officers were arrested in and around Kampala accused of attempting to overthrow the government by force of arms. Others arrested in 24 hours were: Evaristo Nyanzi Minister for commerce, Dr David Lwanga minister for environment, Francis Bwengye DP Secretary-General, DP public secretary Anthony Sekweyama, Israel Mayengo, Paulo Muwanga and an Ex-service man Sajjad Sorrie a Ugandan of Pakistan descent.

While Kayiira, Sorrie, Bwengye and Mayengo were released, Sekweyama, Nyanzi, Lwanga and Maj Mpiso remained in jail. Muwanga also remained although he was later released. Bwengye went to exile in Britain and returned in 1990 after President Museveni pardoned them. Meanwhile, since his release, Kayiira had been staying at Gombya’s home. His wife had gone to America since his arrest, citing fear for her life.

On the fateful day, police recorded that Gombya had received Shs40 million late in the afternoon and was unable to bank it. So, he took it home so he could bank it the following day. At around 11pm, Dr Kayiira, Gombya and his wife and three other women, including a student, were attacked by gun men in two groups of about five each armed and with torches. The thugs forced their way into the house. They encountered Ms Gombya; and in Kiswahili asked the whereabouts of Kayiira, the gun and money. She responded that there was no gun in the house. Frightened, she showed the room where Gombya was.
When Kayiira heard the forceful questioning of his whereabouts, from the sitting room, he dashed into the bedroom and locked himself inside; and started wailing for help. Realising that assistance was not forthcoming from neighbours; Kayiira opened the door to confront the thugs. It was then that he was shot dead.

Meanwhile, Gombya had escaped mysteriously over the perimeter wall fence with the Shs20 million which he threw over the wall, leaving behind in one of the rooms Shs20 million which the attackers stole. In the press release Prime Minister Samson Kisekka issued, Gombya was able to recover his money when he returned at dawn. Meanwhile, the Uganda police offered a Shs10 million reward for any information leading to the arrest of the suspects.

There was also intelligence that hours to his death, Kayiira was in company of the former DP Secretary-General and lawyer Francis Bwengye, journalist Jesse James Namakajo and Henry Gombya at West-End bar on William Street in Kampala. The last two co-owned a discotheque and a video club on William Street.
When this reporter contacted Bwengye on phone for a comment, he insisted this reporter to first read his book titled: “The price of freedom” before he grants the Sunday Monitor an interview. The book was unavailable in bookshops in Uganda. Although the book sold out and was never reprinted, this reporter was able to get four pages plucked out of the book. Under the chapter titled: ‘Elimination of Dr Lutakome Andrew Kayiira from the political scene’. Bwengye wrote: “Today, the culprits that murdered Dr Kayiira may be in position of influence and, therefore able to insulate themselves from the wrath of the people and the due process of the law; but tomorrow the story will be different”.

Suspects arrested
On April 9, 1987, five suspects appeared before Chief Magistrate Constance Byamugisha on Buganda Road Court in Kampala. The accused were John Katabazi ,28, a businessman of Bakuli Kampala, Robert Magezi, alias Babu, Katende Mulinga,20, Ex-UFM soldier of Bakuli Kampala, Musisi Kizito and Brian, alias Kasirye, 26, also Ex-UFM soldier of Bugembegembe Mpigi District. The other two were Sylvester Wada, 26, Ex-UFM soldier of Mulago and Peter Kiwanuka, alias Backfire, alias Kayondo 26, Ex-UFM soldier of Kisenyi, Kampala. The five were charged with the murder of Kayiira and aggravated robbery of Shs20 million, tape recorder, camera, radio cassette, and video deck, all of them property of Gombya. They were also accused of threatening to use a gun against Gombya, the court heard.

On June 29, 1988, during cross-examination, the High Court in Kampala presided over by Justice Cosma Kato heard from a State witness Emmanuel Buyindi Sebunza, that on March 7, 1987, at a one Mzee’s shop in Kampala, he heard Peter Kiwanuka and Musisi Kizito grumbling about Kayiira who had refused to pay their money in spite of several remainders.

Sebunza also told court that he heard Musisi saying: “Twabadde tugenza kuvumiya naye bano babyonoonye. Bano ba Wadda ne Magezi”. Translated as: “We had gone or wanted to abduct but, these Waddas and Magezis spoilt it”. Sebunza further told court that Musisi was looking for David Segawa, a magician, for ‘protective medicine’ against bad omen. It should be noted that whenever the NRA signed a pact and absorbed a rebel group, money changed hands.
However, it is not clear whether Kayiira was given money for the rehabilitation and resettlement of the former UFA soldiers who were not absorbed into the national army. If he received such money, how much was it, and did he distribute it to his former soldiers?

Suspects acquitted
On August 29, 1989, from High Court in Kampala, Justice Cosma Kato acquitted John Katabazi, Sylvester Wadda, Peter Kiwanuka, a.k.a. Backfire, and others still at large formerly accused of murdering Dr Andrew Kayiira and robbing Gombya’s Shs20 million and other property due to lack of incriminating evidence. Although the court acquitted the trio, they were re-arrested by the army and whisked away.
Until the NRM government makes the Scotland Yard report public, suspicion and mystery will always hover over Kayiira’s death.

The many contradictions
None of the five witnesses at Gombya’s home except Nabwire was available in court to testify. If Gombya (pictured) had been to police as well as to court, numerous inconsistencies and contradictions encountered during police investigations and in court would have been negligible or zero.

For instance on March 23, 1988, when Justice Alfred Karokora was acquitting former minister of commerce Evaristo Nyanzi, former Minister Dr David Lwanga, Major Fred Kiberu Mpiso, and Antony Sekweyama, he said senior army officers Lt Col Kasirye Gwanga and Lt Col Fredrick Bogere as some of state witnesses had made so many contradictions for the court to ignore. As such, it was too hard for the court to believe what they said. Nevertheless, the court sentenced Major Ndibowa, Captain Davis Ssozi and a civilian Joseph Mukasa to death for attempting treason.

Gombya escapes
While the thugs killed Kayiira, Gombya, who had also reportedly been in the house, escaped mysteriously over the perimeter wall fence with the Shs20 million which he threw over the wall, leaving behind in one of the rooms Shs20 million which the attackers stole. Later reports indicated that Gombya was able to recover his money when he returned at dawn.
Below is Gombya as he looks today.

Unanswered questions
1. How was Gombya able in such circumstances to separate the Shs40 million into two equal halves and why?
2. Where did Gombya get the Shs40 million and what was it for?
3. Why didn’t the thugs kill Gombya? Was it luck or coincidence?
4. Why didn’t he personally report the matter to the nearest police?
5. Why did Kayiira fear for his life and where was the threat from?

Exile stories
Kayiira refused to go to exile
Kayiira knew he was not safe and so anticipated death. When he was released from jail, he was advised to run into exile which he vehemently refused. While testifying before court, the 15-year-old Julian Nabwiire, a student of Trinity College Nabbingo in Kampala, as one of the six house occupants shortly before the attackers broke into their premises, she said the deceased danced twice and said: “We fought for peace, so there is nothing to fear”.

Veteran investigative journalist Drake Sekeba had talked to one of Kayiira’s friends. In the Star newspaper of March 9, 1987, while quoting Kayiira’s friend, Sekeba wrote: “Kayiira used to say, I am fed up with running away. I would rather die here than make myself suffer in a foreign land. I suspect death but I cannot lose hope”.

When the Sunday Monitor reached Sekeba on phone for a comment he said: “I could have talked to one of Kayiira’s friends, but that was many years ago. I cannot remember who it was”. Minutes before he was killed, Kayiira had been dancing to one of his favourite song Caribbean Queen by Billy Ocean. Police recorded. Kayiira was laid to rest on March 10, 1987, at Kanzize, Masulita Luweero District.

Gombya runs to exile
Under police investigation, Henry Gombya was a key witness and would even be a suspect pending completion of investigations. Unfortunately, he never reported the matter to police himself. Instead of Gombya running to police, he hid himself around Kampala before he found his way into the home of Peter Penfold, the British deputy high commissioner to Uganda on Plot 35, Prince Charles Drive Kololo Hill. Gombya, according to intelligence, stayed at Plot 35 for two days on March 12 and 13, 1987 before he was whisked away in one of the British High Commission official cars to Entebbe airport and flew to the United Kingdom where he has lived since.

When the Uganda government approached the British High Commission, they denied Gombya having stayed at Peter Penfold’s official home although later, the British High Commission issued a statement acknowledging Gombya travelling in company of a British envoy to Entebbe airport in one of their official cars. Hence, the reason Gombya could not be apprehended at any security checks mounted between Kampala and the check-in point at Entebbe airport.