Who is Sam Mugumya?

Members of Forum for Democratic Change in a demonstration for the release of Sam Mugumya Photo by Abubaker Lubowa

What you need to know:

You have probably seen placards with the words ‘Release Sam Mugumya Now’ and if you don’t follow politics, may be wondering who this man is. An aide of Forum for Democratic Change’s Dr Kizza Besigye, Mugumya has been missing for days hence the placards. But who is this man that his whereabouts have caused such a reaction.

The tag “blue-eyed boy” comes to mind when Ugandans remember the devotion late Brig Noble Mayombo paid to his boss, President Museveni.
His was a dare-devil approach when working for and with the President. At one time as bodyguard Mayombo publicly knelt down to tie his master’s shoe laces.
Mayombo’s surreal sharp voice on radio pierced your ear and tickled your heart with intellectually polished arguments on matters of economics and politics and to say he worshipped his President would not be to stretch hyperbole a tad far.
Uganda’s political arena has not seen a young man deeply embedded in the life and works of a political figure that much – until Sam Mugumya and Francis Mwijukye arrived for Dr Kizza Besigye, another powerful political brand in the country.
Mugumya who finds himself thrust in the limelight following his arrest, at least as per the official Uganda People’s Defence Force’s account, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been by Besigye’s side for a decade.

His whereabouts remain a mystery
The government and army continue to face the verbal wrath of activists who are losing sleep over his continued absence.
Army spokesman Paddy Ankunda told this newspaper, “We have left that matter to the ministry of Foreign Affairs to deal with our Congolese friends and have the fellow brought here.”
The army claims the aide to the former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) president was engaged in subversive activity and was arrested with dollars and sensitive documents.
Dr Besigye on the other hand told journalists recently that this is a ploy to frame him, ahead of the 2016 general elections.
“He has been a subject of persistent and intense persecution from the Ugandan regime. He has been arrested, tortured and detained for several times. It is highly possible that Mugumya was kidnapped from his home area in a fresh attempt by the regime to create a rebel group and criminalise us with it,” Dr Besigye said.
His fears come against the grim background of the 2006 elections in which he was charged, with among other offences, rape and terrorism which attract a maximum death sentence. He would later be acquitted by retired High Court judge John Bosco Katutsi who ridiculed the state for bringing up evidence so weak as not to even secure a conviction for a chicken thief.
The judge called it an amateurish job at blackmail.
Now, the government’s insistence that Mugumya was up to some mischief also comes against the backdrop of an opposition that has publicly vowed to make Uganda ungovernable.
Mugumya’s arrest and detention thereof has since offered fodder for speculation from the public and conspiracy theories, with some alleging Mugumya could have been duped by State agents within the FDC to go to Congo and later trapped innocently. In other circles, it is said, Mugumya is being held as a bet by the Congolese authorities who are in negotiation with both the government and opposition and the highest bidder could take the day.
The other account being peddled by renegade General David Sejusa is that Mugumya might be held up in a safe house in Kampala. All these and more accounts of events and versions of the truth of the story cannot be independently verified but at least they confirm the fact that Mugumya, at any rate, is a prized catch for the regime but more importantly, a delicate asset for the opposition, where he has been the “Mayombo” of the country’s biggest opposition politician.

So, who is Mugumya?

Mugumya and other opposition members in a show of support for Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago. FILE PHOTO

In the last two years alone, Mugumya has been detained at least 60 times. Perhaps, no Ugandan has had stints and stunts with police as frequent as his, Dr Besigye and another close aide currently drumming up efforts for his release, Francis Mwijukye.
In a digest, Mugumya was one man ready to put his life on the line if only that serves the interests and aspirations of his icon and colleague in the struggle, Dr Besigye.
“Besigye espouses the values I stand for. He is an activist,” Mugumya said in a newspaper interview in 2010 when asked about his fascination with Museveni’s former personal doctor.

Where Besigye goes, so does Mugumya
This has seen him go far and wide. What Besigye has gone through and seen, Mugumya has gone through and seen. If it is the bile from the regime, he has taken it with him, if it is honey from the same establishment; their tongues have surely licked from the same saucer. This is made more intriguing by the fact that his physical appearance is almost a mirror image of Besigye’s, with the face giving the two an almost fraternal image. He is the replica of Dr Besigye’s popping eye balls that roll when he is stressing a point, his body literally moving along with every word that energetically comes out. You don’t have to disagree with the government to appreciate the power of articulation, the contagious strength in passion, and the zeal that is written on the face in bold letters when Mugumya, Mwijukye or Besigye speak.
When a plain clothed police officer, Bwana Arinaitwe unleashed a teargas canister unto Besigye’s eyes, crashing his car screens with a pistol butt, Mugumya was there.
“I was in the car with Dr Besigye and Mugumya when that police man sprayed our eyes, ears and mouth with tear gas. Sam was taken to the van and he was hit with a gun as police men continued to spray him,” Mwijukye says, adding, “80 per cent of the time Mugumya has been arrested I have been with him. There is nothing new the state is doing, they consider him a criminal and have always arrested him out of the blue for planning crime.”

In detention
In 2010, as the two activists walked out of Nakumatt shopping mall in central Kampala at 8pm, a police patrol pick up filled with mean-looking, security operatives made a menacing stop before them. The officers descended on the two, 10 police men viciously forcing Mugumya into the car and others kicking him from toe to head. The two were detained in different police stations, first charged with planning to commit crime, then inciting violence and later terrorism, alongside firebrand activist, Ingrid Turinawe.
That arrest would see the two men spend two months in Luzira prison and released upon paying cash bail of Shs5m each. Mwijukye received a ban for two years from the city, and was literally deported to Bushenyi and ordered to only leave that district with permission from state authorities till the case was disposed of. The two were acquitted and have never been convicted on any charge.
Andrew Karamagi, a lawyer and civil society activist who has had his own share of hide and seek with the police in the course of activism says, “His sacrifice, intellectual capacities, leadership abilities and service to his political party and youth, are self-evident.”
He adds, “His resilience, Spartan discipline and fortitude in the midst of ceaseless persecution and malicious prosecution he has suffered in the hands of the regime, despite it all he has remained the embodiment of valour, rectitude and service above self.” When Besigye emerged in 2001 as President Museveni’s opposition, Mugumya, then at Makerere University in the early 2000s was an opposition activist, and a member of the Reform Agenda.

Besigye’s right hand man
Since then, he became the fulcrum of Besigye’s activism. When he returned from exile in South Africa in 2005, Mugumya became his personal assistant and aide. During the 2006 and 2011 campaigns, he carried his files, received his calls, managed his programme, appointments and bought newspapers for his boss early morning. When the former FDC leader was still party president, Mugumya sat in his office and managed his correspondences, and itinerary. And there lies the glue of closeness.
“We are full time activists, some Ugandans must become full time activists if we are to liberate this country, we cannot be half time change makers,” Mwijukye says.

His background
Mugumya was born in 1979 in the western district of Rukungiri to Emmanuel Turyomurugyendo and Edinat in a family of five siblings.
He went to a school in Kasese district for his primary education before joining Muntuyera High School in Ntungamo and later Makerere University where he studied social sciences, majoring in political science. He graduated in 2006.
It was at Makerere that he cut his teeth in activism with the Reform Agenda, now FDC as general secretary of the party’s youth league. He was arrested in 2002 while delivering Christmas cards to former army commander James Kazini at Bombo barracks which Besigye sent to influential personalities.
He has not had formal employment after university and reportedly lives on hand outs from friends and well-wishers, arguing that he will get a job when the country has better leadership. He stood for MP Rukungiri Municipality in 2011 and lost.
In an earlier interview with this newspaper, Mugumya confessed his admiration for revolutionary icons Che Guevara and Machiavelli, saying his first girlfriend left him because she could not stand his extremist activism.
His humble background partly shapes his appreciation of Uganda’s governance questions and forms the fuel of his driving force. Mwijukye who last spoke to him three weeks ago says, “We come from a humble background so we are touched by inequality and the poverty this regime has created intentionally. You have schools, hospitals for the rich and poor. We want to change this.” When he is not engaged in frontline activism, Mugumya spends his time reading biographies and literature on revolutions and later catches up with friends in the evening.
Wherever Mugumya is, his close allies say, he is not shaken, he is only made stronger by adversity, his muscle of resolve has been thickened by the over 15 years of activism and passion driven by limitless conviction. City lawyer Julius Galisonga says he knows not of many young men who are incorruptible and resolute. For now, his future hangs in balance, what is clear though is that his detention is only part of an everyday struggle.


“We have asked Uganda’s ambassador in Kinshasa to inquire about Mugumya’s case. We cannot operate in another country. Normally, when something is on security matters, we handle it with care. If a Ugandan citizen is arrested by another government in a war zone, it is a serious affair,”
James Mugume, the permanent secretary, ministry of Foreign Affairs