A catechist, two army reservists and a mobile money dealer have been hacked dead by a machete-wielding gang rampaging in five districts in greater Masaka.
In total, the unknown assailants have cut to death 20 residents of Masaka City, Lwengo, Bukomansimbi, Lyantonde and Sembabule districts over the past three weeks.
Among the victims are elderly men, known in the communities as opinion leaders and small land holders.
The body of Peter Mayanja alias Yeye, 35, was August 26 found by residents at Bisanje near the area parish in Kimanya, Kabonera Division in Masaka City . This was just hours after 70-year-old Annet Nampijja, a resident of Kasaali village, was brutally murdered from her home on the night of August 25 by the yet to be known assailants.
Baffled security operatives and witnesses say the attackers take no cash or valuable possessions from their victims but only their lives, complicating attempts to decode their motive.
Some of the deceased were slashed on the neck and others on the head during the night raids and their bodies dumped in coffee and banana plantations.
With some terrified residents fleeing to stay with city-based relatives, security and law enforcement teams led by Armoured Brigade commander, Brig Deus Sande, rushed to the crime hotspots on Tuesday.
In public engagements, they exhorted residents presently questioning the effectiveness of security and intelligence organs, to be vigilant and cooperate with them.
Details of an emergency closed-door security meeting in Masaka City were scanty by press time, but it was preceded by tough questioning by residents who tasked security operatives to explain how killers can maraud and commit heinous crimes undetected when a 9pm to 5:30am curfew, during which they patrol, is in place.
Mr Allan Musasire, the chairperson of Greater Masaka Youth leaders’ Association, asked what crime preventers, some armed, who were active during the electioneering period, are doing amid unexplained murders.
The pattern of killings of the vulnerable and similarity in the method of the murders yesterday prompted Mr Charles Rwomushana, a former head of Intelligence at State House, to speculate that a rebel groups is at work.
“Such killings always happen when a war is in its early stages where insurgents can kill an underground operative of the State and vice versa, he said.
On August 7, an unknown person dropped a letter written in Luganda, the language of the Baganda where the killings are happening, claiming to be a new force fighting President Museveni’s government.
Security forces are yet to ascertain the authenticity of the letter and the threats, which Brig Sande has dismissed on grounds that real insurgents would already have attacked a military installation.
In another letter, the assailants asked the officer-in-charge of Misanvu Police Station, Mr Maurice Abongo, to provide them with two guns to help them in their activities.
When machete-wielding gang descended on two villages, Biganda and Nzizi in Kkingo Sub County, Lwengo District, they murdered two Army reservists on the night of July 21.
Nothing appeared ominous.
Both John Kabanda, 54, a former resident of Biganda village and Vincent Kalya of Nzizi village were close friends. After the two gruesome murders, the assailants dumped the bodies in a coffee plantation belonging to Mr Zaidi Kaasa, the chairperson of Ttaga village in the same sub-county.
By Wednesday, about 30 people had been attacked of which 19 were killed in areas of Masaka City and districts of Lwengo, Bukomansimbi, Lyantonde and Sembabule. Of the 19 deaths, eight occurred between Sunday and yesterday.
Latest attacks are reminiscent of similar attacks between 2017 and 2018 where at least 30 people were murdered in cold blood and over 50 injured during different night attacks on residents’ homes by machete-wielding thugs in the same sub-region.
Like in previous attacks, the killers don’t reveal their intent, but on breaking into homes, they hack their target and later vanish without taking any possession, not even money.
Majority of the victims in the latest attacks are elderly men, some above 60 years. On August 7, the thugs dropped leaflets In Kibinge Sub-county in Bukomansimbi District. Yesterday, more threatening leaflets were dropped in Mwaalo and Kyabakuuza on the outskirts of Masaka City.
The deteriorating security has thrown residents into panic with some relocating to their relatives within the centre of Masaka City.
“Our father has two homes; one in the city centre and another in our village in Kabonera and it is suicidal to sleep in the village given the current situation,” Ms Janet Nasimbwa, said yesterday.
Mr Vincent Ssewajje, the chairperson of Setaala Village, Masaka City, said his son Mr Ronald Ssebyato, narrowly survived death on Monday night after overpowering one of the goons. He is nursing wounds at Masaka Regional Referral Hospital.
“He was coming from Kabonera Trading Centre and found a tall black man wearing boots a few metres from our home. As they moved in the same direction, the assailant hit him on the head with an object he did not recognise and [he] fell down,” Mr Ssewajje narrated.
“But Ssebyato fought with the assailant, overpowered him and managed to escape leaving his shoes behind,” he added.
He said they used to have a police post nearby, but it was removed when the area was annexed by Masaka City last year.
The Monday night incident came in less than 24 hours after the assailants descended on two other villages; Kikungwe in Kabonera Sub-county and Kyabbogo in Kkingo Sub-county on Sunday and killed 87-year-old Diriisa Mukasa and Richard Mbaziira, 61.
Some 19 suspects have so far been arrested, according to Mr Muhammad Nsubuga, the southern regional police spokesperson.
On Tuesday, senior security officers led by the commander of Armoured Brigade at Kasijjagirwa Barracks, Brig Deus Sande, rushed to Ssetaala village where some of the gruesome murders have occurred, and assured residents that security is going to be beefed up in the area.
“The assailants seem to have a hidden agenda of attacking different villages, I only advise our people to become more vigilant as we also do our part,” Brig Sande said.
He, however, said the pattern of killings is difficult to understand because those targeted are not wealthy people and the majority elderly.
“We hope some of the people we have arrested so far will tell us their motive,” he added.
Brig Sande dismissed reports of rebel infiltration, insisting that if they existed, they could have already attacked the army barracks he heads. “These are just thugs and if we work together, we will wipe them out,” he said.
Southern regional police commander, Mr Paul Nkore, urged village security teams to beef up police while carrying out night foot patrols in the area.
“Some people fear to call us thinking that [they] may become suspects, but this is not the case. Use your phones to report all wrong elements in your areas,” Mr Nkore told residents.
Despite assurances from joint security agencies to nip in the bud the new criminal outfit, the biggest question that continues to linger in the minds of residents is identity of the masterminds of the heinous attacks.
“They have crime preventers at every village, do they only work during elections?” Mr Nasser Kasule, a trader in Masaka, asked.
Former intelligence operative and political pundit, Mr Charles Rwomushana, described the situation in Masaka as “signs of an insurgency in infancy stages”.
“What should be noted and treated with a keen eye is that the insecurity in Masaka Sub-region is political and a threat to constitutional order. What remains to [be] establish [ed] is who is behind those political games.”
However, Mr Rwomushana noted that those superintending security organs have a task to “define the colour and texture of the prevailing insurgencies by interrogating how they are conducted, what informs their next course of action and who are being targeted and why”.
High ranking security chiefs yesterday held a closed-door meeting with regional security teams in Masaka at Armoured Brigade headquarters in Kasijagirwa, to explore likely lasting solution to the problem. Details of the meeting were still scanty by press time.
Mr Allan Musasire, the chairperson of Greater Masaka Youth Leaders’ Association, said: “Security must be put to task to explain these killings, they must do more than merely investigations. Security is the pride of the National Resistance Movement government and such incidences taint the record and there is no amount of compensation that can ever replace human life.”
He asked security forces to double their efforts and engage trained intelligence officers at local levels to solve the problem.
“We have a huge force of the crime preventers who have been exposed to some training and some had guns, but where are they in a critical time when we need them most?” he asked.
In one of his recent televised addresses on the Covid- 19 pandemic and security situation in the country, President Museveni categorically stated that his government had wiped out the machete-wielding thugs , particularly in Masaka area and praised Resty Nakyambade.
Ms Nakyambade is a former victim who catapulted to national fame when a distress telephone call that she made, according to President Museveni, saved her life and helped security operatives to corner the outlaws and break their back.
She has since been tapped to work as a nurse.
Security agencies alleged that a one Musa Ggaliwango, and Mohammed Kiddawalime, whom a mob in Bukukula Trading Centre in Kalungu District killed on April 10, 2018 during a foiled robbery at Kyambadde’s home, led the group.
Between 2017 and 2018, dozens of murder and robbery cases were registered in the greater Masaka sub-region.
The attackers would send prior notices warning before attacking residents. It called for the direct involvement of the then Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, who camped in the area for several days to command a joint operation by police and other security agencies.
The operation managed to disrupt and dismantle Kiddawalime’s group, or so security operatives and residents thought, after Kiddawalime and Ggaliwango was killed by a mob in Bukulula Trading Centre in Kalungu District during a foiled robbery.
On December 9, 2019, the thugs put residents on tension again after dropping anonymous letters in Kyajiija village, Bukukula Sub-county in Kalungu District, threatening to launch attacks. In one of the letters, the thugs threatened to kill residents in retaliation for the murder of Ggaliwango. However, they never showed up.
In the past few years the thugs have also spread in other districts like Wakiso, Mukono, the capital Kampala and Mpigi, leaving in their bloodied trail wounded or dead victims. Last year on August 1, the thugs attacked residents in Sub-counties of Bulo and Ngando in Butambala District before crossing to Kyegonza village in neighbouring Gomba District, killing one boda boda and injuring others.
In October 2018, thugs descended on six villages in Ntenjeru Sub-county and killed four people and left at least eight others injured. In the same month, the thugs also invaded Najjera in Wakiso District and killed Mr Archie Rwego, a city businessman.
On August 4 , 2021, a 32-year-old businessman, a resident of Kyetume Village, Butayunja Parish, Kibinge Sub-county in Bukomansimbi District was attacked by machete –wielding goons who left him with deep cuts on the head .
On August 4 , 2021, a resident of Kyabi Village , Kawanda Sub-county in Sembabule District was attacked by assailants who inflicted deep wounds on his head .
On August 15, 2021, Ms Wanyana and her mother Seforoza Nakibuule – both residents of Kyanamukaka Village in Masaka District were attacked and sustained serious on their heads.
On August 24, 2021 , a resident of Setaala Village in Masaka City, narrowly survived death after assailants intercepted him on the way home. He is nursing wounds at Masaka Regional Referral Hospital.
Mr Tonny Lukyamuzi
On August 24, 2020, Lukyamuzi, 80, a resident of Kyamuyimbwa Village, Kimaanya –Kabonera Division in Masaka City, was attacked at his home at around 9pm and the assailants inflicted four deep cuts on his head. Lukyamuzi was admitted to Masaka Regional Referral Hospital.
Compiled by Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa, Wilson Kutamba, Noeline Nabukenya & Gertude Mutyaba