Three weeks ago, the nation was stunned by the assassination of Arua Municipality MP Ibrahim Abiriga. He was brutally shot with his brother as they drove home in Kawanda, Wakiso district. The incident was the latest in a series of murders that have taken place in Uganda in the last few years targeting high profile people. For the purpose of this writing, the Merriam Webster dictionary defines an assassination as “murder by sudden or secret attack often for political reasons.”
I compiled a list of assassinations that have shaken Uganda since it acquired independence in 1962.
Brig. Pierino Okoya
Brig. Okoya was a young army officer who rose through the ranks to become deputy army commander in the first government of President Milton Obote. At the time of his assassination, he was also the commander of the second infantry brigade based in Masaka. He travelled to Gulu on a personal errand on Jan.23, 1970. On the evening of Jan. 25, he made a brief visit to the Air Force Officers Mess in Gulu where he had a conversation with the Base Commander Capt. Smuts Guweddeko. A few hours later, Okoya was shot dead with his wife at their home in Gulu, a few kilometres away from the army barracks. His murder remains unresolved but it is widely believed that his boss, then army commander Idi Amin, plotted his assassination as a forerunner of his coup a year later in 1971.
In December 1969, Obote had survived an assassination which was said to be engineered by Amin. Following the killing, two inquiries were instituted; one by the army and one by police. Both probes heavily implicated Amin, and Guweddeko and another officer were sent to Luzira prison. However Amin overthrew Obote a few months later which marked the end of the inquiries. Amin released the two officers and promoted them whereas those behind the inquiry were killed.
Chief Justice Benedicto Kiwanuka
By the time Kiwanuka became Chief Justice, he had already made a name as an ambitious politician since he was the chief minister of Uganda as it agitated for independence. His ambition and fearlessness made him a target in Amin’s reign of terror. Kiwanuka was at his office at the high court chambers when he was kidnapped by state agents on Sept. 21, 1972. Four days later, he was shot dead by Amin at State Lodge Nakasero and his remains have never been located. Kiwanuka was appalled by Amin’s disregard of the rule of law and his constant criticism of the regime led to his brutal demise. Kiwanuka’s murder led to international condemnation of Amin’s regime but locally there was more fear and anarchy as several critical people were killed and many others fled into exile. Among the many honours of the former Chief Justice is a street in Kampala named after him.
Nkutu was a minister in various capacities in the Obote I government who was murdered by Amin’s soldiers during a purge of Obote-era officials. Like Kiwanuka, he was abducted from his office in Jinja in broad day light on Jan.11 1973 and summarily executed later that night at Gaddafi Army Barracks. Nkutu’s body was dumped in River Nile but retrieved later by state agents and buried in an unknown location. Decades later by sheer chance, one of the grave diggers met a relative of Nkutu leading to a mind-bending process of exhumation. On Feb. 12, 2005, the remains of Nkutu, draped in the national flag, were reburied in Bugweri, Iganga district. President Museveni and then Deputy Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, attended the function.
The former archbishop of Church of Uganda was paraded and killed in Kampala on Feb.16, 1977 with two other officials; Erinayo Oryema and Oboth Ofumbi, the Inspector General of Police and Minister of Defence respectively. Luwum was accused of being an agent of Obote on top of being a leading critic of Amin. He was murdered after a few days in detention at State Lodge Nakasero. Later the bodies of the three men were placed in a stage-managed accident.
In 2015 the government and Church of Uganda agreed to celebrate the life and honour the martyrdom of the former archbishop every February 16 as St Janani Luwum Day. On Jan. 12, 2015, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali launched the Janani Luwum Memorial Charity at Namirembe Cathedral in Kampala. The church also asked the government to designate the birthplace and resting place of Luwum- Mucwini village in Kitgum district, as a pilgrimage and tourism site. A new 16-storey commercial suite built by Church of Uganda on Kampala Road is also named after Luwum. However the West Minster Abbey Cathedral in the U.K., which is the parent to the Church of Uganda province has for the last 41 years celebrated Luwum’s life and martyrdom. A chapel was named after him right from when he was martyred and a statue to him unveiled in July 1998.
Maj. Gen. David Oyite-Ojok
Oyite-Ojok was the Chief of Staff of the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) in the second regime of Obote and effectively the lynchpin of the army. On the morning of Dec.3, 1983, he prepared to fly to the jungles of Luweero to commandeer a mission to flush out Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Army (NRA) guerillas. He set off from Nile Mansion (now Kampala Serena Hotel) with five other army officers in a Bell Augusta-412 helicopter. Col. Alfred Otto was the officer flying the helicopter, and shortly after take-off, the chopper crashed in Luweero not far from rebel territory, killing all on board. The incident dramatically changed the fortunes of the guerilla war and led to the eventual collapse of the Obote government. The incident also set off a slew of conspiracies on what could have transpired; from faulty mechanics to a plot by then vice president Paulo Muwanga, or Obote to eliminate Oyite-Ojok. The three were mired in power struggles. However the abiding theory is that the crash was not an accident. President Museveni visited the scene of the crash in September 2007.
A former leader of the Uganda Freedom Movement, a rebel group fighting Obote II, Kayiira was killed not long after he was acquitted of treason charges. Kayiira was shot several times at the home of his friend, Henry Gombya who worked for BBC at the time. On the night of March 6, 1987, Kayiira was having dinner with Gombya, and the latter’s wife and three children when the house was attacked by gunmen. In the ensuing melee, Gombya fled the house while the wife and children hid in the bedroom. It is alleged that the gunmen busted Kayiira from one of the rooms and shot him in the arms and left side of the body. Kayiira had made peace with the new Museveni regime and even served as minister of energy but suspicions remained around him which led to his arrest in October 1986 and a treason charge.
The murder of Kayiira sparked several investigations including one by Scotland Yard, a special British investigations unit, at the request of President Museveni. The report by Scotland Yard was never released. In January 2007, as the 20th anniversary of Kayiira’s murder neared, the Democratic Party released its version of the report which implicated the government of Uganda. The government also released its version absolving it any of any wrongdoing. It almost turned into a circus as various reports did the rounds claiming to be the authentic report of the murder investigation. In 2009, responding to a request to Kayiira’s friend Gombya, Scotland Yard officially declined to release the report stating that releasing it could jeopardise diplomatic relations with Uganda. Gombya however maintains that the NRM government orchestrated the murder.
Maj. Gen. James Kazini
Kazini, a battle hardened former army commander was found dead at dawn in a shanty house in Namuwongo, Kampala, with a deep cut to his head on Nov.10, 2009. Immediately after, a woman named Lydia Draru, turned herself in confessing to have murdered Kazini. She was tried and convicted for his murder but speculation remained rife on who the actual killers were. Many doubted how a young woman of average size like Draru could have physically subdued Kazini who had fought many gun battles, to the point of bludgeoning him to death. Kazini was disgruntled at the time he died. He had been un-deployed since 2003 and was facing a possible conviction in the General Court Martial for abuse of office and insubordination. In short, he had fallen out with the security establishment. Speculation still abounds that he was bumped off by highly trained assassins.
Andrew Felix Kaweesi
The former Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIGP) was shot dead in his car on March 17, 2017 as he left home in Kulambiro, Kampala at 9am. His assassins were riding on motorbikes when they opened multiple rounds of fire on Kaweesi’s car killing his bodyguard and driver too. He had served as the commandant of Kabalye Police Training school in Masindi, commandant of Kampala Metropolitan Police and Police spokesperson, his last posting. His killing saw President Museveni make an unprecedented assertion: that the police was full of criminals- a scathing indictment of then Inspector General of Police Gen. Kale Kayihura. It also marked the start of Kayihura’s troubles as his right hand men were arrested one by one, including those belonging to a rogue outfit called Boda Boda 2010 which was in bed with the police. It climaxed with the sacking and arrest of the former police chief on March 4 and June 13 respectively.