What you need to know:
A spate of killings by machete-wielding gangs in Greater Masaka has left the population terrified. Although amassing of security forces in the area has resulted in a lull, fear still lingers with no public knowledge about the perpetrators and their motive. One spy who confronted a similar insecurity in Masaka, and later Jinja and Luweero, is Cuba-trained Nathan Karema. He spoke to our Senior Reporter Gillian Nantume about how to fight the marauding outlaws.
The heavy security deployment in Greater Masaka is credited with putting an end to the unfortunate killings in the sub-region. But this is the second time these wanton murders are happening. The killings first happened in 2017/2018. And as each round of killings is staunched with security deployments, the questions remain unanswered.
Are we making a mistake to assume that the Masaka killings are a security problem? Could the killings be a symptom of an underlying political problem that must be dealt with by politicians from different political parties coming together to work out a solution?
Dr Nathan Karema, a Cuban-trained intelligence officer, seems to think that this is a political problem that cannot be solved by one party.
Not NRM alone
“The (local) politicians in Masaka must be involved [in fighting this insurgency], must be talked to. I don’t think that the leaders in Masaka would like to see their people being killed. Members of [the ruling] National Resistance Movement party], Democratic Party (DP), and the National Unity Platform (NUP) should be called together to discuss and see how they can overcome this matter. Then, after taking a common stand, they should move together (to the villages) and educate people,” Dr Karema says.
He believes that if civilians see their elected leaders taking the same stand, the insurgency and killings will stop.
“But if you eliminate NUP and DP and you go there as NRM, people will say this is a thing for NRM. That is why the political parties should be involved in the war to overcome this [killing],” Dr Karema says.
Dr Karema was part of the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) rebels who captured Mbarara District during the 1979 Liberation War, when the Tanzania Peoples Defence Forces or TPDF, and Ugandan rebel groups pushed into Uganda to oust President Idi Amin. But after the war, he joined the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC).
After the 1980 elections, a wave of insurgency and insecurity hit Jinja Town, in which a number of people lost their lives. To restore stability, President Apollo Milton Obote sent Dr Karema to Jinja as the assistant district commissioner in-charge of security. Before the elections, Dr Karema had trained in Cuba as an intelligence officer and had knowledge about peace and security and could work with insurgents.
“They were sort of politically-organised killings. People would go at night with iron bars, popularly known at katayimbwa, and they would await people either coming from bars or shops and they would hit them on the head. Sometimes they would hit people and not take any of their personal property. They would just hit and kill. Every night about 50 people would be hit,” he recalls.
Dr Karema says from his intelligence gathering, the political undertones in the killings were glaring.
He says: “When I arrived in Jinja, I was briefed by the District Commissioner and other officers and told I should be careful, otherwise I would be killed by katayimbwa. I was told that people enter their houses at 7pm or earlier. But I said we can’t keep going in the houses at 7pm when people are being killed.”
For a month, he read the files and walked the streets of Jinja Town, talking to people in the town, gathering information. They did not know that he was an intelligence officer.
“The people gave me names of those who were killing. I called the people whose names had been given to me. I invited them for a cup of tea in my office. The majority of them were UPC members. They were the ones hitting people with iron bars. Some tried to deny it, but I assured them that I was not going to arrest them. I told them it was very bad to kill each other because politics [election] was over. I asked them to work together,” he adds.
A week later, Dr Karema prepared a feast for the killers in his home and read the names of those involved. He educated them about the bad effects of the killings.
“Some were carrying out political revenge. You know Jinja was politically DP [at the time] and UPC members were now having an upper hand because we were in government. So, the chairman of UPC was saying they (DP) must go down; so, they would take revenge in the evening. It was bad. But after I spoke to them, in the second month, the killings started reducing,” he recounts.
He continued going to villages, not to arrest people, but to talk to the people who were killing.
“I knew that arresting them would not be very productive. I knew I would use them to stop others from doing it. And I knew they would be closer to me, listen to me, be my friends and not run away from me,” Dr Karema says.
From his experience in Jinja, Dr Karema believes that alienating the political leadership in Greater Masaka - whom the people voted for and trust in - is counter-productive to the fight against political insecurity.
“This question of, ‘I will crush you! I will finish you! …’ No, no. They should use Opposition to fight insurgency in their area. The moment the Opposition knows that it is dangerous to have people killed in [their] areas, and they know that they are incorporated in bringing about security in their areas, they will willingly do so. But if you neglect them (the Opposition) they will go and sit down with the wanaichi and they will start blaming you, and the killings will continue. If I had the opportunity, that is what I would tell President (Museveni),” he says.
According to Dr Karema, for a resident district commissioner to perform well, they have to have the trust of the people they are leading.
“The President recently transferred my brother (Fred) Bamwine from Masaka. Bamwine is a very hardworking man, but he lacked the skill of being a friend to the people of Masaka. They looked at him as an enemy. And the moment you are identified as an enemy of someone, they will not talk to you. But if you go down and talk to them in a friendly way, they will not do it (commit crime). Of course, the criminals should be arrested, but the best way to deal with insurgency is to carry out political education,” Dr Karema says.
In 1983, after bringing down the insecurity and insurgency in Jinja, Dr Karema was appointed the district commissioner for Luweero, the epicentre of the ongoing civil war. He said when he arrived in Luweero, the place was a no-go area.
“The Ggombolola chiefs had been killed. All structures of government were non-functional. They had just killed a chief magistrate. There was no leadership. All the roads were closed. People were running from the fighting. I survived death seven times; one of my ribs was taken out by a bullet,” he adds.
He says people called him Moses in Luweero because he talked to the people and encouraged them to return to the district.
“I carried out political education and people loved me. Some sort of administration returned. Later, NRM became stronger and stronger and dismantled the peace I had brought in Luweero. But that is not a conversation for today. I will not go into it,” Dr Karema says.