What you need to know:
On November 27, 2016, a joint force of police and the military raided the palace of Rwenzururu King, Charles Wesley Mumbere, on Kibanzanga Road in Kasese Town. The raid led to the death of more than 100 people, many of them Rwenzururu Kingdom loyalists. More than 200 others were arrested. However, some went missing. In this part of our Kasese Killings series, Jerome Kule Bitswande talks to families whose relatives went missing.
Doreen Masika, whose brother describes as an ardent Rwenzururu Kingdom supporter, was excited to visit the Rwenzururu Kingdom palace for the first time on November 24, 2016.
Her brother, Paul Kabwemi, a former Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu (Rwenzururu Kingdom) accounts assistant, says earlier that day , Masika and her daughter seven-year-old daughter visited his office at the Rwenzururu Kingdom Prime Minister’s House on Alexander Street in Kasese Town.
“She had come to pick her birth registration certificate, clan identity card, and marriage certificate. These are documents that she had earlier paid for, so when she arrived, I issued them,” he says.
Kabwemi adds that they had a conversation for close to two hours, with Masika intimating that she intended to hire three acres of land in Rugendabara Town Council to plant beans and maize.
He says Masika also told him that she had never visited the Rwenzururu Kingdom Palace and thus wanted to tour the place.
“I told her that three of our cousins were royal guards at the palace. At that point, she would not return to the village without touring the palace and paying a courtesy call on our cousins,” Kabwemi narrates.
Kabwemi, 56, says he bade Masika farewell and that was the last time he saw his sister and niece.
Masika later called her brother to confirm that she had reached the palace but that was the last communication the two had.
On November 26, the Rwenzururu Kingdom prime minister’s office was raided by a joint police and army team and on November 27, the palace was also raided.
Masika and her daughter were trapped in the conflict that claimed so many lives.
“When the palace was razed down, we assumed that both of them had died. However, when we went to search for their bodies, we only found the body of our cousin,” Kabwemi says, a resident of Habitat Cell in Hima Town Council.
About 200 metres from his home lives Emmanuel Kikama, who says he has not seen his son, Bakamwegha, a Rwenzururu Kingdom guard, since the attack on the palace.
“When the attack happened, it dawned on me that my child had died at the palace. However, when I failed to find his body, I assumed that he had been arrested,” the 60-year-old says.
A total of 225 Rwenzururu Kingdom loyalists were arrested and are facing a plethora of charges including terrorism, treason, malicious damage of property and murder.
Of these, 132 were released on bail in January.
When Kikama heard the news of the release, he was hopeful that his son, who was 23 at the time of the palace raid, was one of them.
He went to Rwenzori International University Project premises in Kasese Town, where the suspects disembarked from the buses after their release but Bakamwegha was not among them.
“I watched all the royal guards disembark from the vehicles until they were empty but I did not see my son. So, I went to one of them and asked if my son had remained in prison; but I was told he was never in prison in the first place,” he says.
Kikama adds that his son had been supportive to him and the entire family.
Kikama, who is grappling with a number of illnesses, says Bakamwegha, who was also a fish monger at Kahendero Fishing Site, used to nurse him whenever he was sick.
Bakamwegha’s mother, Violet Nakalema, says: “My boy was very hard working. He was a hustler and we always counted on him.”
Eric Baluku Nyamutedi, a resident of Kyabulera Village, Bwesumbu Parish in Bwesumbu Sub-county, also a former royal guard, has been missing since the palace attacks.
Nyamutedi is said to have been assigned to the office of the prime minister of the kingdom and his family suspect that he was killed on the November 26. However, his body has never been found.
Nyamutedi had two wives and 12 children.
Samson Bagenda, a resident of Bwesumbu Sub-county, says it is unfortunate that some kingdom loyalists are still missing.
“We have a community where people keep waiting for their loved ones to return and the waiting never yields any results. This is not good for the healing process of the community because in our culture, at least one would rather die and people have them buried,” he says.
Bagenda adds that the disappearance of some people and the presence of bodies that were recovered after the attack but were never identified is confusing.
“People are asking, where did our people go? If they were killed, where were their bodies taken?” Bagenda says.
He adds that similar questions exists about the 52 bodies, which were never identified.
The bodies were buried at the military barracks in Rukoki, Nyamwamba Division of Kasese Municipality.
We were unable to reach Brig Flavia Byekwaso, the UPDF spokesperson, to clarify on the issue of the unclaimed bodies.
Meanwhile, records at the Creations Forum Afrika (CAF), a local non-governmental organisation that deals with human rights and governance, indicate that 15 people went missing without a trace shortly after the attacks.
Mr Sam Kalamiah, the head of programmes at CAF, says the fact that some of these questions remain unanswered is another hurdle in the peace-building process.
Kalamiah argues that the African culture attaches a lot of emotion and importance to burial when a loved one is lost, adding that the fact that some people are still missing, it will take long for those families to move on.
Mr Sam Kalamiah, the head of programmes at Creations Forum Afrika, says if transitional justice is adopted in resolving the Rwenzori conflicts, some of these wounds, could be healed.
“Transitional justice will give a platform for the communities and the OBR (Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu) to recognise the mistakes committed and appreciate the consequences. In the same vein, government would also concede to errors committed during the operations. This is the only way to go if we are to attain sustainable peace,” he says.
Transitional justice is an approach to systematic or massive violations of human rights that provides redress to victims and creates opportunities for the transformation of the political systems, conflicts and other conditions that may have been at the root of the abuses.