Fear grips Kasese over looming ADF attacks

The tourist vehicle carrying the victims engulfed in flames after being set on fire by suspected ADF rebels in Queen Elizabeth National Park Kasese district on October 17, 2023. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Locals want security agencies to address lapses.

Fears of renewed armed conflict have gripped Kasese following a rise in attacks by suspected members of the Islamist Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) terror group.

Several residents yesterday spoke of the rising sense of uncertainty as the full horror of Tuesday evening’s killing of two foreign tourists and their Ugandan guide in the Queen Elizabeth National Park started to sink in.

Some had been first responders at the scene of the suspected ADF attack, revealing how they found dead bodies of one male tourist and the tour guide lying lifeless on the road, while another was on fire inside the burning Toyota Landcruiser tour car.

Mr Modesto Kasereka said as soon as he came upon the vehicle, engulfed in flames, he called a park ranger and then the police to report his gruesome discovery. 

Yesterday, his thoughts were focused on the fluid security, suggesting that the poor state of Katwe-Katunguru road on which the killings took place leaves people open to danger.

“…They need to tarmac this road so that more people start using it. Once this road is tarmacked, it will become busier, reducing the vulnerability of those who use it. Currently, it takes more than 30 minutes for one to encounter another user on the same road,” Mr Kasereka said.

There are reports, recently corroborated by President Museveni and the army, that ADF elements are finding their way back into Uganda through Kasese after coming under intense pressure from the UPDF’s joint counter-terror operations (Operation Shujaa) in eastern DR Congo.

Against that backdrop, locals interviewed said they were worried about the low level security deployment in the vast district. Their fears were made more pressing as Kasese today prepares to host the 57th coronation anniversary of Omusinga Charles Wesley Mumbere Iremangoma, the Rwenzururu cultural leader whose restive kingdom stretches from Kasese to parts of eastern D R Congo. 

Omusinga Mumbere was only recently allowed by the government to return to Kasese, seven years after bloody clashes between Rwenzururu militants, royal guards and joint security forces ended in his arrest and banishment to central Uganda. 

In June, the government dropped terrorism, murder and treason against Omusinga Mumbere, paving the way for his celebrated homecoming on October 4 after he reportedly filed for amnesty. 

Mr Livan Thembo, a resident, noted the considerable distance between the scene of the attack in Nyamunuka and the nearest army detachment in Nyamughasana.

Mr Thembo teaches at Ihandiro Vocational Secondary School, which he used to emphasise current security risks, noting that, “if these individuals can cause chaos here, where there is a barracks, what will happen when they reach a place like Ihandiro, which lacks police or UPDF presence?”

The Bukonzo West MP, Mr Atkins Godfrey Katusabe, agreed with Mr Thembo while also questioning why security agencies are quick to deploy at local political functions yet fail to prevent ADF attacks.

“If I wanted to hold a meeting anywhere in this constituency, even if I have not informed the police, officers will be at the meeting venue even before the guests. How come they fail to detect people carrying out such heinous acts?” he said yesterday.

As the security situation remains tense, a deceptive outward appearance of calm has settled over Kasese, said Mr John Bosco Kananura, chairperson of Katwe K’abatooro Town Council. Mr Kananura said he is concerned about the negative impact the prevailing fear would have on the local economy in Katwe K’abatooro, which heavily relies on tourism. 

Security concerns
As the authorities work to ensure security in Kasese, the deputy resident district commissioner, Lt Maate Magwara, acknowledged the challenge presented by the porous 40km stretch of border between Uganda and the DR Congo.

Lt Magwara identified Isango Sub-county as being particularly vulnerable because of River Lhubiriha, which traverses sections of Virunga National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park, making it difficult to monitor.

Locals are being asked to do their bit by providing intelligence information to the joint security forces. Security concerns will be high as the Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu anniversary is expected to be celebrated today in Kasese Town.

The Rwenzori East Police spokesperson, SP Nelson Tumushiime, reassured the public that despite suspected ADF attacks in Kasese, the security forces are prepared to ensure the safety of Omusinga’s anniversary celebrations. 

“In our capacity as security forces, we are fully equipped and committed to safeguarding the safety of all attendees at the coronation. We will deploy a substantial security presence, working closely with our fellow security agencies, with the police taking the lead. We kindly request the cooperation of all attendees; we discourage the presence of large containers and sharp objects at the venue,” he said.

The Tuesday incident comes after an October 14 attack in which suspected ADF rebels torched a Mercedes Benz truck, killed two people and injured one. The vehicle carrying onions was coming from the neighbouring Kisoro District heading to Bwera at the border with DR Congo.