Killed in name of Covid and still waiting for justice

Evelyn Namulondo, a vendor, at Jinja Hospital after she was shot for allegedly flouting Covid-19 guidelines in May 2020. She succumbed to the injuries two days later. PHOTO | DENIS EDEMA

What you need to know:

  • Justice has been rather slow or simply never come in the cases of 13 people killed by men in uniform for reportedly flouting the presidential directives on containing the spread of Covid-19.

On June 30, 2020, the Mountain Division Court Martial of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) sitting in Kasese District sentenced Pte Abraham Lokwap to 35 years in jail for killing a lay reader, Benon Nsimenta.

Lokwap was sentenced on his own plea of guilty for the murder of the man who had been meant to be ordained reverend of the Church of Uganda under South Rwenzori Diocese in November 2020.

Lt Talent Akampurira, then the platoon commander under which Lokwap was serving, was sentenced to 12 months in jail, while privates Jackson Nyero and Joel Otim, who had been accused of being accomplices in the murder of the man of God, were acquitted.

Col Felix Nyero, who presided over the trial, ordered the immediate transfer of Lokwap to Mubuku Prison in Kasese, where he was to serve out his jail term, while Lt Akampurira was transferred to the Military Police Barracks in Makindye.

Nsimenta was killed at around 7am on the morning of June 24,2020, as he rode a motorcycle with his wife, Ms Allen Musimenta.

The couple was headed to their garden in Karamba Village, Karusandara Sub-county in Kasese when the fatal encounter with the soldiers happened at Karungibati on the Hima-Kasese road.

“The UPDF soldiers, who were standing on both sides of the road, stopped us and before they could talk to us, I saw one of them crossing the road from one side before opening fire on my husband. The motorcycle lost control before my husband and I crashed as he bled profusely. He was shot in the neck,” Ms Musimenta told the press at the time.

Nsimenta’s death was one of many registered following President Museveni’s announcement on March 18, 2020, of a partial lockdown and the introduction of a nationwide curfew, including a freeze on public transport, ban on use of boda boda and closure of airports and borders and education institutions.

Mr Museveni gave justification for the actions in a subsequent speech.

“The crucial point is the stopping of the pandemic. I do not want us to lose millions of our vulnerable people to this wholly avoidable pandemic just on account of indiscipline,” he said.

But those deployed to enforce the measures to save lives instead started taking the law into their own hands as they descended on those reportedly found flouting the presidential directives.

Other deaths

Mukono

On March 31, a police constable, Stephen Wafula, opened fire, killing Vincent Serungi of Wakiso Town Council. Serungi had been found riding a boda boda. One would not have expected a trained police officer to point his gun at and actually shoot an unarmed civilian, but the officer did.

Jinja

Jinja businessman Charles Isanga died early April on account of injuries suffered when a combined force of Local Defence Unit (LDU) personnel and police officers led by then Jinja Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Erick Sakwa beat him up at his home in Lwanda Village. Mr Sakwa, who has since been interdicted, was together with Mr Simba Mohammed, a businessman, and Mr Bumali Bazimbyewa, a mechanic. They were all charged in court in Jinja with manslaughter.

Wakiso

On the night of April 10, LDUs raided the home of Margaret Nanyunja in Kyengera Town Council at about 1am in search of one of her grandchildren, who they accused of having defied Mr Museveni’s Covid-19 orders. Nanyunja says her grandson, Andrew Mbaziira, was battered for asking them whether they had a search warrant.

Jinja

On April 15, the police in Jinja descended on Masese Landing Site on the shores of Lake Victoria to enforce the curfew. They arrived as a passenger boat was setting off for the small islands of Kisima 1 and Kisima 2, and immediately opened fire, killing Robert Kisanja.

 A local footballer, Mr Lazarus Obelajo, was injured.

Budaka

Wilber Kawono, a boda boda rider and resident of Budaka, was on April 18 killed when a police officer tried to shoot the tyre of the motorcycle he was riding, but ended up shooting him. 

Kawowo’s crime was to carry a passenger on his motorcycle, which the Budaka District police commander, Ms Shadia Nabunya, said contravened President Museveni’s ban on the use of public transport.

Kween

On May 10, LDUs in Kapkwata Village, Kween District, who were enforcing the curfew, shot and killed Alfred Mwanga. One other person, Denis Chemusto, was left nursing serious injuries. The deceased was part of a group of about 12 people who were found playing cards at his residence at around 11pm.

Masaka

On May 8, a Reserve Force soldier in Masaka, Pte Robert Muyaga, shot dead his wife, Jacqueline Nagasha, on allegations that she was having an extra-marital affair with Francis Musasizi, the chairperson of Lutovu B Village. Muyaga later also shot Musasizi.

Jinja

On May 13, Evelyn Namulondo, a vegetable vendor in Jinja Central Market, was shot near her home in Budumbuli Village, Bugembe Town Council, at around 5am for allegedly flouting the then 7pm to 6.30am curfew. She died two days later at Jinja hospital.

Buikwe

Gift Ochien, a fisherman based at Kiyindi Town Council in Buikwe District, was on the evening of June 25 shopping when a group of LDUs struck. Others who were at the shop fled, but he did not. His nephew, Fred Namwogoyi, says this seemed to have irked the LDUs, who accused him of despising them. 

They beat and pushed him down and he hit his head on a rock, leaving him severely injured. He died as he was being taken to a health centre in Kiyindi.

Still in Buikwe, on July 7, Robert Ssenyonga was riding a motorcycle to Jinja Town when he was stopped by LDUs at a road block in Bukaya near the government stock farm in Njeru. 

The LDUs descended on him with gun butts for not having worn his facemask. He was admitted to Jinja hospital but was referred to Mulago National Referral Hospital.  He died two days latter.

Oyam

On June 27, 65-year-old Francis Ogwang Munu, a resident of Amati Village in Kamdini Sub-county, Oyam District, was beaten up by six LDUs attached to Kamdini Police Station, who were enforcing night curfew guidelines at Amati Trading Centre. 

He later died of his injuries at a private clinic where he had been taken.

Napak

On July 19, Tom Opio, 18, and Luke Edilu, 19, were shot dead by LDUs at Kautakou in Napak District, while travelling on a motorcycle. 

Although information about the circumstances that led to the incident remains scanty, it is believed that they were shot for allegedly violating guidelines on curbing Covid-19.

Looking back

President Museveni on March 18, 2020, ordered the closure of schools and suspended religious gatherings across the country in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Although there had not been any confirmed case of coronavirus as of March 18, Mr Museveni said all primary and secondary schools, university and other institutions of learning would be closed starting Friday, March 20, 2020 for one month.

“It is wise that we temporary remove these concentration points to prevent the spread of coronavirus. All these institutions, without exception should close so that we deny this virus high concentration. We don’t want the virus to find dry grass ready for ignition,” Mr Museveni said then.

Public rallies and cultural meetings were suspended for 32 days.

Mr Museveni also banned Ugandans from travelling to high risk countries. He said returning Ugandans will be quarantined at their cost.

“All outbound movements of all Ugandans going to or through Italy, France, South Korea, China, UK, USA, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Norway, Malaysia, Pakistan, San Marino, Austria, Netherlands has been banned for 32 days,” he said.

The long wait for justice

The sentencing of the killer may have been very little consolation for Benon Nsimenta’s family, but having come within one week of the killing, justice came very fast. But it was a little slower in the case of the family of Francis Ogwang Munu, although it finally came.

In July 2020, the Court Martial of the 5th Division of the UPDF sitting in Oyam sentenced an LDU, Jolly Opoka, to life imprisonment.

His accomplices, a fellow LDU, Felix Okumu, was sentenced to 40 years, and a UPDF soldier, Lance Corporal Geoffery Ogwang, who was the commander of the group, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Justice has, however, been rather slow or simply never came in the case of the other 13 killings that were done in the name of enforcing guidelines to stop the spread of Covid-19. Whereas Constable Stephen Wafula, who killed Vincent Serungi was arrested and frog-marched to the court in Mukono where he was charged with murder, the trial has never taken off. The same applies to the case in Jinja where manslaughter charges were preferred against former RDC Sakwa, alleged accomplices Simba and Bumali over the death of Isanga.

The LDUs, who were responsible for at least six of the deaths that took place in Kyengera, Kapkwata Village in Kween District, Kiyindi Town Council and Bukaya Town Council in Buikwe District and Kautakou in Napak District were never brought to book.

By press time, efforts to speak to the army and UPDF spokesperson, Brig Flavia Byekwaso, had proven futile. However, her predecessor, Brig Richard Karemire, had in an earlier interview told Sunday Monitor that action had been taken against all the errant LDUs.

“All those who were involved in killing of people have either been sentenced or are on remand. But what is most important is that the leadership takes discipline as one of its core values. That is why we always correct and punish those who make mistakes,” Brig Karemire said.

No arrests were made in relation to the killings at Masese Landing Site in Jinja, Budaka and Budumbuli in Jinja.

The big question then is, will the families of Nanyunja, Kisanja, Kawono, Mwanga, Ochien, Ssenyonga, Opio and Edilu ever see justice for them?


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