A year after Zebra’s death family awaits justice

Isaac Zebra Ssenyange Sr—a former national boxing captain. Photo / File

What you need to know:

  • Isaac Zebra Ssenyange, a former boxing champion, was killed in the wee hours of December 29, 2020. Witnesses say he was killed by security operatives while fleeing his home following a raid. However, the family says no one has been arrested in connection with the crime.

Isaac Zebra Ssenyange Jr had a dream of representing Uganda at an international boxing event, flanked by his father, mother and uncle, who have jointly trained him.

“That would have been a very special moment in my life,” he told Daily Monitor last week.

That dream was shattered when his father Isaac Zebra Ssenyange Sr—a former national boxing captain, was shot dead by unidentified security operatives on December 29, 2020.

Zebra was killed about 40 metres away from his home in St Francis Zone, Bwaise III Parish, Kawempe Division.

Without his father, friend and number one role model, a teary-eyed Zebra Jr says: “I can only distract myself with ring success and accomplishing what dad wished for me.”

However, a little over a year after Zebra’s death, the family has yet to find out who shot and killed their bread winner and why.

According to them, nobody has ever been charged in connection with the killing and the status of police/army investigations remains unknown.

In his end of year address (2020), President Museveni said Zebra was accidentally shot dead by security forces. He apologised to the nation and vowed to keep on the case.

The President also promised to bring every finding to the knowledge of his family and pledged to deal with the murderers. 

“Indeed, Zebra was meant to come and see me when he was killed. Zebra’s wife told me people in police uniform came to pick Zebra but he jumped over the wall and could have met another group who shot him. At first, I thought they were thugs disguising in uniform, but as I continued investigations, I found out that Zebra was killed by security personnel,” the President said.

Wife speaks out

“I still wonder why my husband was killed,” Ms Mercy Mukankusi, the widow to the late, said in an interview at her home in Bwaise last week.

“When I met the President, he told me that the soldiers told him that they killed him [Zebra] because he wanted to fight them. And that he doesn’t have enough evidence [suggesting otherwise]…because there’s no witness account that’s reliable.”

 Ms Mukankusi said some of the witnesses spoke to the President including a man who saw Zebra trying to jump over a nearby fence before he was cornered, a woman who operated a salon nearby and a woman who suffered a miscarriage the following day.

She added: “I have no more evidence because we were held here [at home] by soldiers, when everything was happening.”

But Ms Mukankusi told Daily Monitor that on that fateful Tuesday morning, her husband told her he was going to meet Mr Hudu Hussein, the then deputy Resident City Commissioner (RCC) of Kawempe Division.

When Daily Monitor met Mr Hussein to explain why he wanted to meet the late, he denied meeting Zebra on that day but said his last meeting with the boxer was a week or two before he was killed.

He added that it was during the launch of Kawempe Peacekeeping Vanguards (KPV) at Hotel La Grande in Wandegeya.

The purpose of KPV was “to help transform ghetto youths into useful citizens.”

Mr Hussein, now Kampala Resident City Commissioner, said Zebra was appointed commander of the group.

Zebra was reforming jobless youth voluntarily through his boxing club and according to multiple sources, this contributed to his being chosen as commander and chief mobiliser of KPV. 

During the launch of KPV, Zebra was filmed convincing security officials about KPV boys’ potential to quell Opposition uprisings in Kampala and ensure peaceful elections.

“Mummy tukuba, tuweeyo contract emu bweti,” Zebra said in Luganda, asking for a gig for his boys to fight lawbreakers, without involving police or military.

In the video that circulated on social media after his death, Zebra in the presence of Mr Hussein, Maj Gen Kigozi Kaweesi, told Ms Madina Nahamu, the director administration and finance of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) secretariat to: “Try it as your own initiative, don’t involve others,  they might fight it.”

Some people who knew Zebra described him as a law-abiding citizen yet others, without providing context, linked his death to politics.

They say some people they didn’t name had tried to turn KPV into “a faceless political machine”.

They suspect divisions within KPV ranks and involvement in partisan politics could have caused Zebra’s death.

Abdullatif Ssekirime, the St Francis Zone chaiperson, said without Zebra some youths have reverted back to crime.

 “Now they fear no one,” he said.

Zebra’s dealings

Ms Mukankusi, without giving details, said her husband worked for security and government bigwigs, adding that they called and met him anytime, anywhere.

“So if they really wanted him why didn’t they arrest him during such meetings? Did they have to raid his home, moreover at night?” she asked.

She added: “If they had come to arrest him, they should have shown me the warrant of arrest, but they just broke into the house, held me at gunpoint and beat up my son, even though we never resisted all.”

Museveni also said: “The soldiers involved say when he [Zebra] was stopped he refused to stop and he tried to fight with them…and that’s how he was shot twice and died.”

However, security sources told the Uganda Radio Network, a news organisation, that CCTV footage showed 12 officers shooting at Zebra and that he was shot nine times.

 “I’m very sorry about this…I have already talked to the wife and the son and I’m going to investigate the whole situation and I will inform the family and maybe the country later,” Museveni promised.

Arrests

Robert Mukasa, aka Soja Man (Soldier Man), who was a coach at Zebra Boxing Club, was arrested by security operatives the night Zebra was killed.

He was taken to an unknown detention centre and was feared dead.

However, he was later released at a police station in Kireka. He spent a number of weeks nursing injuries, which he said he sustained from the torture by security operatives as they inquired about Zebra’s dealings.

On the same night of Soja Man’s arrest, Zebra’s colleague and fellow boxer, Joseph ‘Joe Vegas’ Lubega, also went missing. The following day, another boxer, Mudde Ntambi, was also arrested by security personnel.

Zebra’s family at their home in St Francis Zone, Bwaise III Parish, Kawempe Division after the interview last week. PHOTO / ABDUL-NASSER SSEMUGABI

Lubega was dumped in a swampy area on Bombo Road after being held for 26 days in a torture chamber, while Ntambi was among the Bobi Wine aides charged in the military court with illegal possession of ammunition and remanded to Kitalya Prison. He was released in May.

Justin Juuko, who was a mobiliser for the Opposition Forum for Democratic Change in the 2021 General Election, was also arrested and released the day Zebra was buried.

President Museveni

In the first 17 minutes of his end of year-speech on December 31, 2020, hours after Zebra’s burial in Masuulita, Wakiso District, Mr Museveni explained the circumstances surrounding Zebra’s death.

He admitted that he was killed by highly-trained commandos, some of whom had fought in Somalia and against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).

He said the commandos had been deployed to deal with hard-core criminals and Opposition elements who had turned some places in Kampala into no-go areas for police and were behind the November riots in which more than 50 people were killed.  

Mr Museveni said since the deployment of soldiers on November 20, many people had been arrested, some released, some taken to court, some corporated with the forces and some were killed.

“Now on account of that background, information was received that Zebra was training boxers who then would be used by some people to attack civilians,” Museveni said, adding that he knew nothing about Zebra until his phone conversation with the widow after his death.

“Now when I inquired, I found that actually Zebra was doing quite a good job in the Kawempe Area.” 

Museveni explained that security people had gone “to take in Zebra and ask him some questions.”

Unanswered questions

So, who had told the security operatives that Zebra was training potential criminals—which necessitated his arrest—and 24 hours later told the President that Zebra was an NRM supporter doing a good job?

“I have nothing new,” Mr Hussein said, adding: “I agree with the President that some people could have misunderstood Zebra and a very regrettable mistake happened. Zebra had become like my brother, he was my pillar, a great mobiliser of the ghetto youths and very passionate about reforming them…so his death was a big shock to me.”

The family and friends are also curios to know which police or army unit the killers belong to, who their commander was and why they haven’t any been arrested?

“At least we need to know why dad was killed,” Zebra’s son told the press after a memorial service that marked one year after the tragedy.

But Mr Hussein said without revealing names that some people were arrested in connection with the killing.

Security reacts

When asked for an update on the case last week, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) spokesperson, Brig Flavia Byekwaso, said: “I’m sorry I have not been following up.”

She later called, saying she had forwarded our query to the UPDF legal department, and promised to furnish us with updates. She had no updates by press time.

In July, Brig Byekwaso indicated that investigations take time depending on the complexity of the case and that updates about Zebra’s case “will be available as and when they are ready.”

On December 30, 2020, Kampala Metropolitan Deputy Police spokesperson, Mr Luke Owoyesigire, issued a statement indicating that Kawempe Police Station was investigating a murder case after recovering crucial pieces of evidence from the scene.

But when contacted on December 31, 2021, Mr Owoyesigire referred Daily Monitor to Police spokesperson Fred Enanga for updates on the investigations.

When Daily Monitor contacted Mr Enanga on the same day, he told us to wait until this week, saying: “It is a Friday, end of year, you can’t get any good update.” 

However, we were unable to reach Mr Enanga on Monday and yesterday as he did not answer our calls. Reminders were sent to him but he did not respond to WhatsApp messages.  

Maj Jimmy Omara, the pokesperson of the Special Forces Command (SFC), said he could not answer reliably because he has been on study leave since September.

COPING WITH THE LOSS

Murals

It took Ms Mercy Mukankusi, Zebra’s widow, about six months to settle after her husband’s death. She lost her job as a Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) scout but she commends Zebra’s friends for the moral and financial support towards the family.

“I’m also grateful to President Museveni that besides the condolence funds, he also gave us more money and promised more for the children’s school fees and establish a business to support the family. I last met him when he was going for the Dubai Expo [in October] and he promised to see me again. I’m waiting,” she says.

Ms Mukankusi said in the meeting, she had also asked Mr Museveni to fund the building of the Zebra Sports Academy, plans of which Zebra had started sketching on paper but the President declined saying it was envisaged in the government plans.

Soja Man also admitted to receiving money to foot his hospital bills. He also expects more compensation from the government.

Zebra’s family keeps him around. They painted his mural on the wall where boys train boxing. They keep another mural and portraits of him in the sitting room.

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