Assassination attempt on Gen Katumba marks return of Uganda's killer ‘pigs’
What you need to know:
- Gen Katumba, 65, is one of the highest-ranking military officials from the Buganda region. Once Inspector General of Police and commander of Uganda's armed forces, he was the country's Transport Minister from 2019 until last month when Cabinet was dissolved.
General Katumba Wamala is a veteran soldier of the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces. But even he was shaken to the core when assassins on a motorbike opened fire on him, pumping more than 50 bullets into his car.
The gruesome incident killed his daughter Brenda Nantongo and his driver identified as Haruna Kayondo.
After a day in hospital nursing injuries, he acknowledged that he was lucky to be alive.
“Things could have been worse,” he said on his Twitter page, thanking his bodyguard Khalid Koboyoit, whom witnesses praised for providing a heroic shield for his boss.
“I pray that one day soon, the terrorists that tried to assassinate me and took the lives of my daughter Brenda and driver Haruna will be brought to book.”
Gen Katumba, 65, is one of the highest-ranking military officials from the Buganda region. Once Inspector General of Police and commander of Uganda's armed forces, he was the country's Transport Minister from 2019 until last month when Cabinet was dissolved.
As one of Uganda's most respected politicians and military men, the attack, even it were a run-of-the-mill criminal act, was bound to be perceived as political.
Shortly after the incident, President Yoweri Museveni labelled the attackers as “pigs who do not value life.”
“We shall defeat the criminals as we did in the past. We already have clues to those killers,” the Ugandan leader said in a statement.
“Besides, the new system of digital beacons on all vehicles and boda bodas will eliminate the misuse of vehicles and boda bodas to commit crimes,” he added.
High profile murders
But Gen Wamala’s assassination attempt is not a new type of occurence in the country. In fact, the incident mirrors several drive-by killings from the past.
For instance, on March 31, 2015, Joan Kagezi, a Uganda State prosecutor and assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, was shot dead by riders on motorbikes. Famous for prosecuting the 2010 World Cup bombers in Kampala, Ms Kagezi was targeted by riders who pursued her in a car she was riding in with her children. The case is still under investigation.
In yet another high-profile case, Uganda Police Force Spokesman and Assistant Inspector-General Andrew Felix Kaweesi was shot dead on March 17, 2017. He was killed in a brazen attack alongside his driver and bodyguard Kenneth Erau. The incident occurred just a few yards from his home in Kampala.
Uganda's prosecution has since indicted eight of the initial fifty suspects for robbery, murder and terrorism.
In the aftermath of the killings, Ugandan police, army and intelligence officers rounded up dozens of suspected members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADC), a rebel group operating in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some counter-sued for state harassment and illegal detention. The same rebel group was this week accused of carrying out a brutal night-time attack in the Congolese province of Ituri, claiming the lives of more than fifty people.
After Kaweesi's killing, President Museveni issued a directive to install cameras on major roads in Kampala, seen as one way to counter the drive-by shootings. In Uganda, however, locals routinely sell or transfer vehicles without updating the system, meaning that even a dead person could still legally own a vehicle or motorbike implicated in crime.
In June 2018, former Arua Municipality MP Ibrahim Abiriga was shot dead alongside his brother in Kawanda, Wakiso District in the central region of Uganda that partly encircles Kampala. No suspects have been arrested or charged to date.
Months later, in September, former Buyende District Police Commander Muhammad Kirumira was killed alongside his friend at Bulenge Trading Centre, Wakiso District.
Return of assassination attempts
It now appears that after a lull in such brazen assassinations, and despite the order to install cameras all over Kampala, the country's killer 'pigs' are back in full swing.
In Gen Wamala's case, he likely survived because he changed seats with his daughter who was killed in the attack. An elderly eyewitness to the Tuesday attack in Kisaasi, a suburb northeast of the Kampala CBD near his home, said his daughter sat behind the driver on the right. This is reportedly where Gen Wamala usually sat, suggesting the atatckers had studied his behavioural patterns.
Bullets tore through the car as she sat reading a newspaper, and holding a mobile phone, the woman told the Daily Monitor. The Transport Minister was seated on the left behind the co-driver.
The woman, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said she saw one motor bike approach the car after it stopped to buy a newspaper from vendor. The rider appeared to peep in, then rode on. Minutes later, two bikes with a pillion each arrived and the shooting began.
“They were holding guns. They came from the opposite direction where Gen Katumba was heading. They shot non-stop for about six minutes,” the eyewitness narrated.
Sgt Khalid Koboyoit would attempt a response. Overwhelmed by the rain of bullets, he shot in the air and later shot one of the attackers in the back. He fled.
Another eyewitness said Gen Katumba got out of the car and fell outside in front of a perimeter wall at Eden Lawn Hotel, while his bodyguard acted as a human shield.
“He shot back [at the assassins] until his bullets were finished and I saw him loading more into his gun but the suspects had disappeared by then,” the witness said.
Another eyewitness described hearing gunshots before hearing a knock on a neighbour’s door as Gen Wamala and his guard sought refuge. The neighbour turned him down, unsure of who the two were.
“When I opened the door, I realised it was Gen Katumba because his face was familiar to me,” she narrated.
“The bodyguard went back to save Gen Katumba’s daughter but found that she was already dead.”