By Patrick Kamara
When priests carried guns to office and I met Princess Bagaya
Prince Happy Kijjanangoma from the Royal household of Tooro was a physically disabled man and very bright and daring too. This was the time when Tooro Kingdom had broken into factions after the death of Omukama Patrick Olimi Kaboyo in 1995. The king had been succeeded on the throne by his three year old son Omukama Oyo Nyimba. Because the king was still an infant he had to rule through three regents that were appointed by the Orukurato; an equivalent of a parliament for Tooro kingdom.
Cracks in the kingdom became real divisions. One group of elders preferred to follow then-prime minister or Omuhikirwa John SanyuKaturamu and the other group was in the camp of Princess Elizabeth Bagaaya, the elder sister to the late king.
John Katuramu was a very rich man. He had bought several buildings in Kampala and Fort-portal. He owned two small aircrafts and had even bought a government airstrip at Saka on the outskirts of Fort-Portal. Stories are told that whenever his Cessna plane flew to Saka, he would not land immediately. A car would first drive on the airstrip as they circled around and then the pilot would land exactly where the car had driven through. The car was supposed to clear the way just in case there were landmines on themurram surface!
The Queen mother, Best Kemigisa, allied herself to the group of John Katuramu and that did not go well with Prince Kijjanangoma. They had court cases and scheduled many meetings without reaching an agreement on how the kingdom should run. In my line of duty I had to know Prince Happy Kijjanangoma.
On the night he was assassinated I had met him along Rukidi III Street where I lived in an apartment. He was battling a court case against Best Kemigisa over the custody of some of King Olimi’s personal property.
“Kamara…the ruling is next week…I want you to report that news without bias,” he had told me.
I assured him that the story will be reported the way it would come out. He asked me not to “fear Katuramu” even if he, as the owner of Voice of Tooro FM radio, was my boss at the time. I told Kijjanangoma we had editorial independence and Katuramu was not an individual that I would meet often.
As we talked on the street, we attracted a few boys who were working in the adjacent CosyPhoto Studio. The prince invited me for a drink at Palace View Pub but I could not take the offer because I was still going back to the station to edit news. I promised to join him in about two hours and we parted. That was the last time I saw him alive.
I had just edited about two news items when I heard the sound of gunshots. Immediately power went off and we were plunged into darkness. News started coming in that the prince had been gunned down at a bar.
Rukidi III Street was just a few blocks away from where I was. My friend Joseph Kasimbazi and I decided to go and check out what had happened and verify the rumours.
Police had cordoned off the entire street, blocking people from getting there. We identified ourselves as journalists but, even then, it took time for the police men to allow us go and check what had exactly happened.
I told them I had a news bulletin in the next one hour and that if it was true that the prince had died I was not going to skip the story or carry it without confirmation. They obliged! The scene in the pub was ugly! The assassin had pumped eighteen bullets in the body of the prince. Most of them hit him in the stomach, chest and legs. The face was intact. Surprisingly despite all these bullets the prince’s body remained in the chair. It was only tilted a little.
Just outside the bar the assassins had also taken out a night watchman who had tried to engage them with a mere stick. The lifeless body of the guard, called Mulokole, lay in a pool of blood.
I met a group of boys who had earlier joined us in the conversation with the prince; they had been around when he invited me for a beer. One of them was looking at me and appeared lost for words. Finally he said he had thought I had joined the prince for a drink and been killed too!
We returned to the station and had a breaking news story aired about the death of the popular Prince Kijjanangoma. There was a lot of wailing across town. The Batooro were moaning their prince.
There was a sorrowful and sombre mood in Fort-Portal the following day. Prince Kijjanangoma was a man loved by so many people. His death touched all young and old. You could see people gathered in small groups discussing the previous night’s killing of the prince. Some people blamed his death on John SanyuKaturamu.
The day after Kijjanangoma’s death, Katuramu drove to Voice of Tooro in his characteristic style of the expensive motorcade. I was out on the veranda of the building when he stepped out of his car. He headed to the VOT offices upstairs and stayed there for a few minutes.
Katuramuwas a kind of guy who would come to his country home in a convoy of expensive vehicles with armed guards. You could tell he is in town by the presence of the monster cars and mean looking security men. He always took his personal security very seriously.
He had these men talking on walk talkies and they would also open the door of his limousine and start the engine a few seconds before he arrived. So when I saw frantic movements at the entrance of the building then I knew he was getting out of the VOT offices.
But what surprised me is that he got into the car and after a few seconds got out again. Then I saw him walk towards me. I looked behind me, wondering where he was headed. I was certain he was not coming to talk to me. But he was!
“Kamara you heard the news?” he asked me. I answered that I had heard the sad news.
“Now some people are likely to blackmail me for this,” he said.
I told him it was possible this act could be linked to him because of the differences they had with the prince but also the divisions in the kingdom.
A number of people were looking at us from across the street along Lugard road. He walked back to his car. For lack of a better word I told him to watch out just in case.
“No problem,” was his answer as the convoy left for Kampala via Kasese.
I kept wondering why he had taken time to speak to me? I was so junior in rank and a nobody so to speak.
Investigations were kicked off by the police that resulted in the arrest of three people whom I worked with. They included the General Manager Earnest Nkoba, the accountant Joshua Kato, and the driver Milton Mwesige. They were remanded at Katojo government prison.
Colleagues in office were scared of going out in that bar or any social events after the arrest of these three people. My hardest moment came when one of the regents and father-in-law to John Katuramu; the late Rev. Canon James Rabwooni, asked me to accompany him to the bereaved family in Kidukuru where the vigil was. We drove there in his white Toyota Corona car, viewed the body and he paid his condolences.
A few days later John Katurmau was put under house arrest. It caused outcry from the public. But some people wanted him kept in jail without enjoying the comfort of his home in Mbuya. Anyway he was later charged with the murder of the prince and sentenced to life imprisonment in Luzira.
My three former workmates also stayed on remand in Katojo prison. Milton told me they were being guarded twenty-four-seven by armed guards whose fingers were always on the trigger.
The guards had been told that Katuramu’s drivers and bodyguards had been trained in martial arts in Korea and that they were lethal in mortal combat. Mwesige told me how he would walk and see guards giving him way and looking very suspicious. The reality, however, is that Mwesige had never attended any training in martial arts. He was the most unfit person that I knew with a big round belly. He used to be my neighbour in Fort-Portal town.
One day I was shocked to find him at his home with the prison guards in civilian clothes outside. I think he had bribed his way to come home, enjoy a hot meal, and may be to perform his marital obligations. He made this a routine. In fact when his wife got pregnant, people accused her of adulterous behaviour! But the truth was that the man would once in a while be brought into their home at night and the guards would ensure he returns to Katojo. Talk about corruption even in prison.
There was a real sense or paranoia in Tooro. A few months after Kijjanangoma’s death, I met Princess Elizabeth Bagaya by chance at Palace View Pub which had resumed business. As a journalist I wanted to talk to her and possibly get her contact. She is a woman I have also had a lot of respect for because of her achievements in life. I mean she is a princess, immensely beautiful, intelligent, former Hollywood actress and diplomat. She had also worked as Uganda’s minister of Foreign Affairs during the Amin regime.
When the NRA led guerrilla was over, President YoweriMuseveni revealed that his war effort had gotten a lot of money from the princess. In fact at one event Museveni told the people of Tooro that the money he received from princess Bagaaya was so much that he got concerned about the source.
Apparently Bagaaya had asked him: “Don’t you want to win the war…take the money and go and fight”. She served the Museveni government as ambassador to the United States. And now, as they say, the rest is history.
This was a princess that, given chance, any inquisitive journalist would love to talk to. I found her talking to Prince Francis Mugenyi. I introduced myself to her. She knew about my village Ngezi which had one of the numerous palaces of her grandfather, King Kyebambe.
When I asked for her phone contact, she said it would be dangerous for the “Katurmau people” to see me getting the phone number. She came up with an idea. She asked me to go out and call her driver whom she gave a note.
“On your way out find my driver and he will give you my telephone contact,” I thanked and left. I got the note that had a fixed line telephone contact!
I remember Bagayaa ddressing a gathering at St. John’s Cathedral in Fort-Portal when she stated that “evil people are not only those who do bad things like maim and kill but also those who stand by and watch and let it happen”.
I understood it to mean that the people of Tooro should not have that passive mentality when things are not in order.
This showed me again how all the most important people in the Kingdom were so cautious; almost afraid of their own shadows.
However the winner of this paranoia was Rev. Richard Baguma who also worked as a human resource manager at Voice of Tooro. He is a man I would give a lot of trouble in general meetings asking him all manner of questions to justify his actions as a boss. So he never liked me to say the least.
One morning he came into office with his usual small black leather bag. After exchanging greetings, he came close, bent over towards me and opened his bag.
“Patrick have you ever seen this….?” Jesus…the reverend was carrying a revolver pistol!
I told him I had always seen the bag but all along I thought it contained a Bible. Thank God I got that answer spontaneously because I put him where exactly I needed him. He almost staggered away because I had landed a bomb in my response. I could not understand. Did he want to intimidate me or use me to spread the word that he was armed and dangerous?
I had asked him why he carried a gun in office moreover he was a clergy man. “I don’t want to be taken unawares by the Bagaaya people,” he said. He had put it in Rutooro: “Aba Bagaayabatalijakumpabiramu”.
That showed me the level of insecurity people were feeling in Tooro and the degree of animosity in the kingdom.