There is a saying that in life “never miss learning from a crisis!” In the wake of the attempted assassination of General Katumba- Wamala, there are important lessons, perhaps Uganda may pick up.
First, is the importance of being a good person in life and acting civil towards others, especially the less fortunate. The Baganda call it, “obuntu bulamu”! Those who have seen the video clip of the wounded Ugandan General being helped out on a boda – boda, may want to wonder, that, what if General Katumba had been known to be a bad person in life, would the crowds have extended a helping hand! Except for that blotch which shocked many of him landing blows on a fellow legislator filibustering against the removal of age limit in the 1995 constitution, many here recognize General Katumba as a personable Mzei.
Years ago, in 1979, I was a witness to the fate that befell some of Amin soldiers for defending an unpopular regime. There were soldiers sent by Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi to pop up his murderous regime, hanging around the Mulago power station. Poor fellows little they knew what they had been sold on. When saba- saba bombs started landing and they scattered no one was there to give them cover. When other Amin soldiers were also fleeing, all their once invincible ammunitions leveled to the ground, the crowds would sneakily point them towards the hidden troops from Tanzania, falling into a bloody nest, and quickly executed.
After Amin fell the soldiers that formed the new Uganda Army perfected themselves in sheer brutality. I once saw a soldier shoot a civilian matatu driver, near Makerere University main gate, only because the driver had lost control of his car and rammed into his. That image of the poor driver with blood spurting out of his severed neck has never left my mind. So, when the Obote regime fell at the hands of the Lutwa- Okello soldiers, when the NRM troops finally besieged Kampala, as before I saw crowds pointing them in the very direction of their enemies, where they were quickly slaughtered.
But people forget so easily. These days I tend to see some high-ranking soldiers and big shots, of a thuggish nature, riding carelessly in their fleets, bought at taxpayers expense, sirens blowing and pushing small people off the road, down into trenches. Think of it, a time may come, when these “big shots” need a hand from these little people as we saw when a General stood helpless in the middle of the road, with all those VIP vehicles passing by!
The second lesson is the importance of having a good national health care system. Again we go back to that video clip. The disoriented General is crying out for help and later before he embarks on a boda boda wonders which hospital they are speeding him to. Ugandans of today may want to be reminded that in 1969 when President Obote was shot in the mouth immediately hospital attendants at Mulago hospital were readied to receive him. Indeed, once there, he received expert care, from some of the best professionals you could find, in the world, and quickly got back on his feet.
But in this case the General was motorcycled off to a private clinic, and later, to a private medical facility, which thankfully saved his life. But still, remember, this is a four star General, a cabinet minister in charge of infrastructure, who is certainly privy to national security matters. Even our friends in the US in their zeal for the private sector know fully its limits. In October, 2020, after being diagnosed with Covid 19 President Trump was admitted to Walter Reed Military Hospital, not just any other medical facility.
I can guess too, if these private medical facilities, had failed to restore the General to full health, the next step.
Back in November, 2009 when the then Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Defense, Brigadier Nobel Mayombo’s health took for the worse, he, had to be rushed to neighboring Kenya, for treatment where he lost his life. In 2013 the late former Deputy Prime Minister, Eria Kategeya, was too evacuated to a Nairobi hospital where again he lost his life. It is habitual for many of our senior government officials and the well- connected to boast of having treatment in overseas hospital which costs the tax payer over $150 million annually.
The third lesson is, lest we forget, General Katumba is not the first person to be hit by bullets from a run away boda boda with concealed number plates. Back in July 2005 I lost a dear friend and prayer- partner called Mrs Robinah Kiyingi, then a leading attorney in Uganda, also hit by bullets from a runaway boda boda.
Common sense would long have dictated that this country regularize the boda- boda industry, which account for nearly 20 admissions daily at Mulago Hospital. One report from the Traffic Police Department indicate that over 7,000 people were killed in boda-boda accidents within a two-year period from 2015 to 2017! While in Rwanda you find all boda- boda riders have clear numbers, ride on one side of the road, and are assigned particular stages, here it’s a puzzle. Some of us have cried ourselves hoarse on this issue only to be deflected by perennial debaters. Friends, if a boda boda with concealed number plates can follow a General for that length, unbothered, then who is safe here, at all!
The fourth important lesson, I shall present in form of a question: “What became of all other assassination investigations and conviction of culprits- Joan Kagezi (2005); Felix Kaweesi ( 2017); Ibrahim Abiriga (2018); Mohammed Kirumira (2018); Moslem clerics!” Back in September, 1945, after World War 11vetaran, GW Senkatuka, aggrieved by the decision of Buganda Kattikiro Martin Luther Nsibirwa to sign away land at Makerere for the government, shot him dead; the British with astonishing speed had him arrested and hanged him in subsequent months. Many would imagine that any serious government desirous for the protection of her people, and even itself, would long have apprehended these unknown assailants and won some convictions too. For all we know the killers are still at large.
So, why should we wonder, if another gunman looms out of the shadow to pick up from the last assassination? Shall we now believe so much in government’s frantic attempt to institute an investigation, which seems a standard operation, with every assassination!
This week I received a very sad mail. In November 2020 after my old work colleague, John Kittobe, was gunned down during the riots, I wrote his obituary and pointed out that I doubted his death was by accident. The BBC Africa Eye investigation team analyzed over 400 videos of these shootings and found there was a link with security forces in the over 50 Ugandans who by admissions of government were assassinated. The son of my late friend sent me that report. It was like a healing wound being opened up all over again. Remember, there has never been any public inquiry into these arbitrary deaths of innocent Ugandans.
Many people are visibly disturbed by the murder of the General’s daughter and driver, for how could they not! But how can we also afford to forget that hundreds of other Ugandans who have been assassinated as much before? Their lives count as much. And yet justice, for some reason, is long incoming!
The final and most important lesson here is that when we willfully create a lawless country for our ends, manned by all sorts of paramilitary forces often behaving with impunity, fail to strengthen our law and justice institutions, averring to untouchable security organs, we end up with a country where no one is safe, including, sadly, the high and mighty.
The writer is Associate Professor of Management, Uganda Christian University, Mukono.