Katumba’s shooting: Connecting the dots and the unanswered questions

Detectives inspect the bullet-riddled vehicle of Gen Katumba Wamala following a shooting incident in Kisaasi, a Kampala suburb, last Tuesday. PHOTOS | ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The audacious attempt on the life of one of the highest-ranking army officers in the country and former Chief of Defence Forces, Gen Edward Katumba Wamala, early last week has jolted the security establishment to its core.  Could the conspirators be part of the ever-changing security landscape in the volatile Great Lakes? Was the attempt on Gen Katumba a declaration of overt act of war from an external aggressor? Or could it be a spill-over from cloak and dagger games within the country? Writes  Irene Abalo Otto

Last Tuesday morning, Gen Edward Katumba Wamala, the outgoing Works and Transport minister, was lucky to survive after four gunmen shot dead his daughter and driver after they cornered him in a narrow road near Kisaasi, a Kampala suburb.

The gunmen appear to have trailed him for a while and noticed that whereas he was a high-profile target, he had lax security around him.

At Bulabira Road in Najjera where he lived, security reports had emerged that there were a few killings in this neighbourhood, which were a subject of a security investigation. Could the assailants that attacked Gen Katumba have had any links with these Bulabira Road killings, which took place this year? Three high-profile murders have taken place in an area within the same vicinity in a period of six years.

On March 30, 2015, Senior State Prosecutor Joan Kagezi was gunned down in Kiwatule near St Mbaaga Tuzinde Catholic Church about 2.7 kilometres from Gen Katumba’s home in Bulabira, Najjera in Wakiso District.

On March 17, 2017, former police spokesperson Andrew Felix Kaweesi was assassinated together with his bodyguard Kenneth Erau and driver Geoffrey Wambewo in Kulambiro, a Kampala suburb. Kaweesi was shot dead on Kulambiro Ring Road about four kilometers from where Joan Kagezi was killed. Kulambiro Ring Road had a police post about 1.7 kilometres from where Kaweesi was shot. The police post no longer exists but there is another police post established 138 meters away from where late Kaweesi lived.

From Gen Katumba’s home, there is Butukirwa Police Post about 3.6 kilometres away on the Northern Bypass where they are constructing the interchange. A drive of about 0.4 kilometres from this  police post leads one to Kisota Road where Gen Katumba and the occupants in his car were targeted that fateful Tuesday morning.

These three incidents are all within a radius of five kilometres. This area has a high concentration of police posts and deployed police patrol pickup trucks. But in all these incidents, no officers responded quickly to come to the aid of those under attack. It is what perhaps informs the daring attempt by those who are carrying out these acts. They perhaps have entrenched community cells and have studied the security architecture that they usually have so much time to encircle their victims and put them out of action.

In the Gen Katumba incident, the bodyguard, Sergeant Khalid Koboyoit, escaped unhurt from the assassins and fought a lone battle firing at the attackers.

He did not get immediate response from security and armed forces. In the videos that were widely circulated on social media, boda boda riders and the locals came to the rescue of Gen Wamala before any state security agency could arrive.

Security personnel look as the bodies of Gen Katumba’s daughter and driver are removed from the crime scene. 

“There is nothing that grips public attention as when the top in government, not the opposition, are being targeted. Before all this, for the last 30 years, starting the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was this idea that when you build a personal house, then you build a wall around it, have barbed wire at the top of it, enclosed with a gate, because when a home is within a gate and has barbed wire, that protects you,” Mr Tim Kalyegira, a researcher and journalist,  explains.

“But imagine, these gunmen now say why bother go to the home with a wall when you can trail them on the road, wait for them in the traffic when they are just a sitting duck with all those cars surrounding them they cannot jump, they cannot take cover in the bedrooms., there are no walls to protect them, And so the new scene of crime is no longer people’s homes; it is now the street.”

Speaking about the aftermath of the Katumba incident, the President also questioned the laxity of those who were manning security cameras and why there was no response from nearby police stations.

He also revealed that the gun that was used to kill Maj Muhammad Kiggundu was deployed in the mission to eliminate Gen Katumba. 

“The gun (which was used in the Katumba attack) which was used is already identified. It is the same one which was used in the Major Kigunddu case,” Mr Museveni said while delivering his State of the Nation Address last week.

But how much can such a cursory statement aid in intelligence gathering to find the assailants who continue to be emboldened by their killing spree?

 “Isn’t this pointer enough to know that the killers are known? Could these be scenarios that do not bother the state? If situations like this are left to occur, they become norms of state practice, society living and can consequently lead to state failure,” Dr Kisekka Ntale, a researcher and political economist, says.

Mr Kalyegira says the President was not clear on his statement about the same gun used in the Kiggundu murder being used again to attempt to kill Gen Katumba. He wonders whether the President was referring to the make, kind or the exact same gun that was used to kill Maj Kiggundu who was gunned down by motorcycle riding gunmen on November 26, 2016, at Masanafu, a Kampala suburb.

During the State of the Nation Address last Friday, Mr Museveni weighed in on the previous killings and how his 12-point plan to stop them in Kampala could have aided in combating crime.

Among the raft of changes proposed includes the need for police to change their method of communication. The President directed the police to go back to using radio calls for prompt responses in incidents such as the one of Gen Katumba.

“The policemen abandoned using radios, I think this was under the regime of Kale (Kayihura); they now use mobile phones. Mobile phone, you talk to only one person. Police do not work like that.  Police work on a network. It is like a village when you make endulu (alarm), because when you make endulu, the whole village wakes up. The camera people, why they are watching and they see something like that, they should shout. Everybody should be on the same network, not looking for the DPC who is asleep,” the President said in response to the Gen Katumba attack at the State of the Nation Address last Friday.

But Mr Kalyegira fears that knee-jerk reactions are not the antidote to deal with high profile assassinations “It is called state failure. When we start working using methods like, maybe we should do this, maybe we should use laptops, no we should use tablets, no we should use smart phones. Because the thing is if you look at the attempt on Gen Katumba’s life, and go back to several such incidents, it is obvious that these killers are highly trained and they are deeply informed about the goings on in the state system. So for such people, walkie talkie, mobile phones do not make a difference,” Mr Kalyegira explains. 

Gen Katumba breaks down after seeing the  casket containing the remains of his daughter Brenda who was killed in the shooting. 

He adds: “They are simply people who know what they are doing. Just like the case of 2018, the kidnap murder of Suzan Magara in which if you followed the news; these kidnappers seamed to know everything. Even when the mother of the kidnap victim would smuggle a police officer in the boot of the car and head towards the agreed upon place, they would give a phone call and say, ‘we have noticed, why are you putting so and so in the boot?’ They were wondering, who is this person who in real time knows what we are doing.”

Dr Ntale worries that there are too many unanswered questions for which the debates in public discourse may turn out for the worst if the situation is not arrested by responsible persons.

“The absence of an official position on what is happening to state-linked personnel means that there is something that the public is not being told. That is when you hear the saying among the public that if they can target a general, what about us? Why is it difficult to offer conclusive accountability? Could it be internal fracturing within the state apparatus?” he explains.

He adds: “We have participated in wars of pacification in South Sudan and Somalia, among others. If there is the highest will to work on this, it can be handled.”

Dr Ntale believes that Uganda has enough security apparatus to deal with the gun violence in the country as witnessed in the numerous external security expeditions. He makes reference to Operation Wembley.

The Violent Crime Crack Unit (VCCU) is a security agency of the government. It was originally a military unit codenamed Operation Wembley but was put under police control and renamed amid accusations of human rights abuses.  VCCU has since been renamed and is now called Rapid Response Unit (RRU). It falls under the Police Criminal Investigation Department (CID). As intelligence agencies kick off the probe into the recent attack on Gen Wamala, analysts say they should not only isolate it to the other prominent killings but introduce a wider probe into gun-violence and other grave crimes where citizens continue to be shot dead in broad day light.

Beyond the pronouncements from the President and security agencies, public confidence in regard to the state’s ability to nip in rising gun violence continues to diminish.

Experts say security agencies should be provided a financial war-chest and technology to gather intelligence and find evidence that can lead to the prosecution of these assailants. It may take years to unravel and disrupt organised crime cells but it is the only way out of a national security crisis and to answer critics who accuse the state of complicity.

Unresolved killings

Muhammad Kirumira

The former Buyende District Police Commander (DPC) was killed alongside his friend Resty Nalinya at Bulenge Trading Centre, Wakiso District, on September 8, 2018.

In February this year, Justice Alex Ajiji Mackay of Wakiso High Court postponed the hearing of the case to an unmentioned date after he was told by prosecution that only one out of the 10 prosecution witnesses had turned up. 

Andrew Felix Kaweesi

The former police spokesperson was assassinated in Kulambiro, Kampala alongside his bodyguard Kenneth Erau and driver Geoffrey Wambewo on March 17, 2017. About 50 suspects were arrested by a joint team of police, Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence and Internal Security Organisation.  They were detained and interrogated in various places but after protracted interrogations by security units, nearly half of the suspects were dropped from the indictment due to lack of evidence against them. Only 23 suspects were taken to court and charged. At least 15 of these were released on bail, while the remaining eight were indicted for aggravated robbery, murder and terrorism.

Joan Kagezi 

The former senior state prosecutor was gunned down in Kiwatule, Kampala on March 30, 2015. However, no suspect has ever been arrested to date.

Maj Muhammad Kiggundu 

He was gunned down together with his bodyguard Sgt Steven Mukasa in Masanafu, Rubage Division, on November 26, 2016.  In February, the Director of Prosecutions (DPP) Justice Frances Abodo withdrew terrorism charges against 11 people who were accused of killing the late Kiggundu.

Ibrahim Abiriga

The former Arua Municipality MP was shot dead alongside his brother Saidi Buga Kongo in Kawanda, Wakiso District on June 8, 2018. No suspects has been arrested or charged to date.

Sheikh Ibrahim Hassan Kirya

The former spokesperson of the Kibuli Muslim faction was gunned down in Bweyogerere, Wakiso District, on June 30, 2015. 

Sheikh Mustafa Bahiga

He was gunned down at Bwebajja Mosque on Entebbe Road on December 25, 2014.

Sheikh Muhammad Maganda

He was gunned down in Bugiri Town in August 2012.

Hussein Jjunju

He was gunned down in Ssembabule District in 2012.