Masaka murders: Locals flee homes

Some of the residents in Kyoko Village, Lwengo District, at their home on Friday. Strangers wrote messages on the wall of their house threatening to attack them.  PHOTO/GERTRUDE MUTYABA

What you need to know:

  • Authorities are encouraging residents who stay alone to be accommodated by others in the same locality to reduce their vulnerability to attacks.

A lthough joint security agencies have beefed up security in Masaka Sub-region and intensified the hunt for the killers, some residents are fleeing their homes fearing possible attacks by machete-wielding thugs who have wreaked havoc in the area, killing 26 people in the past one month.

Local leaders say some residents, especially elderly persons, have expressed a sense of uncertainty about their safety in the area.

Despite being  advised not to desert their homes , their families have convinced them and taken them away.
The attackers, who mostly target elderly persons, who are hit with blunt objects on the head, strike between 8pm and 6am, taking advantage of the curfew.

According to Mr Ronald Kateregga of Kkingo Village, Masaka City, two residents in his village have so far abandoned their homes.

“We have two families that have deserted their homes to stay with other relatives, these families of Mr Jawadu Kakeeto and Mr Steven Jjemba. They have genuine reason and we cannot stop them.Some people still have fear basing on what has been happening in the area in the past weeks, but I am sure they will come back, when they really feel safe,” he said at the weekend.

“I encourage others [residents] who have remained behind to be more vigilant, they should also avoid night movements because our vigilantes are at work together with police, and ready to detect where the assailants could be,” he added.

Lwengo, has been the epicentre of the night attacks where out of the  26 deaths,18 have been  recorded in the district while the rest were from Masaka City and Bukomansimbi, Lyantonde, Sembabule, Rakai, and Kyotera districts.

Mr Andrew Matovu, the chairperson   Kyoko Village in Lwengo, said three elderly persons deserted their homes last week and relocated to Kampala.

“I advise my people not to run away, instead they should work with us to see how we can overcome this situation,” he said.
Mr Paul Bbira, the chairperson Mirembe Village, Lwengo, said residents who stay alone in houses are accommodated by others in the same locality to reduce their vulnerability to attacks .

“We found out that the killers fear attacking bigger families because they can ably fight back. So, those staying alone are advised to go to their close relatives or friends during evening hours and spend the night there, we are providing security to all those people to  ensure they are safe,” he said.

A similar arrangement, according to Mr Aloysius Kibira, the chairperson  Kkingo Sub-county, has been adopted in all villages in his area.

Mr Joseph Kayemba, a resident of Kyoko Village, said he has since relocated to his brother’s place in Mpigi District.
“I am in Mpigi with my brother who has a bigger family. There are a lot of threats at our village despite the presence of vigilante teams,” he said.

Mr Kayemba said he hopes to return to his home village when the situation normalises.

Mr Steven Ssebunnya, a member of the vigilante group  in  Kkingo Sub -county, said they encourage elderly persons, women and children to stay in their houses as the men move out to guard the villages.

“We are ready to guard all those people as they stay in the houses. We don’t want them to abandon their villages as if they are aliens in this country,” he said.

Mr Herman Ssentongo, formerly Mityana Resident District Commissioner, but now posted to Lwengo, said he is yet to get in touch with the district security team and all village security committees to improve efficiency in the security of the area .

“We are going to strengthen the security teams at all levels and I urge our people not to run away from their villages. This is a temporary problem we are yet to fix ,” he said.

Some ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM)  top  officials, including President Museveni, have blamed the killings on politicians, who they claim want to paint a bad image of the government, but Opposition members have since dismissed the claims ,saying government should focus on hunting for the killers instead of using politicians as a scapegoat.

Police on Friday summoned two Opposition legislators Muhammad Ssegirinya (Kawempe North) and Allan Ssewanyana (Makindye West) for questioning over  alleged sponsoring of killings in the sub-region .

About 70 suspects have since been arrested in connection with the night killings , of which 10 were produced in court last Wednesday on charges of murder and attempted murder before being remanded to Masaka Ssaza Prison until September 15.

This has brought some sigh of relief and no killing has been reported since last Monday, unlike the past weeks where a death or two would be reported every morning.

It is now evident that machete-wielding thugs, who first gained notoriety in Masaka have already spread their wings in area parts of central region.

On August 26 , a similar gang armed with machetes ,iron bars raided St. Joseph Catholic Parish in Busunju Town, Mityana District, beating up priests and nuns before stealing Shs23m,and an assortment of household items,including mobile phones and laptops. 

Last Tuesday, the thugs attacked Jiu Zhou Stone Company in Nakaseke District where they looted property and two guns.
However, police later recovered the guns. On Saturday morning, their attempt to break into houses in Nabweru, Nansana Municipality failed after  an alarm scared them off.

This was the same situation at Jalamba Village, Mpigi District, where machete-wielding thugs raided a family on Sunday night, but residents swiftly mobilised themselves and chased them way, forcing them to abandon a machete and an axe at the scene.

Govt appeal

While meeting security chiefs from the sub-region in Masaka City on Friday, the Minister for Presidency, Ms Milly Babalanda, said the current wave of killings in the area may spread to other parts of the country. She asked leaders at all levels to mobilise the masses to rise up and defend themselves against the machete-wielding thugs.

“The current situation in Greater Masaka may not end in Masaka. Therefore, I challenge all our leaders to stand up to these threats and vigorously mobilise the people to defend themselves,”  Ms Babalanda said.

Compiled by Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Noeline Nabukenya &Ambrose Musasizi