By eriasa mukiibi sserunjogi
The arrests, politics, and the Bushenyi factor
The arrests following the discovery of exiled renegade Col. Edison Muzoora’s body outside his home in Bushenyi have pressed a panic button in the opposition Forum for Democratic (FDC) party circles.
The suspects who have been arrested are either members or supporters of FDC whose president, Col. (rtd) Dr Kizza Besigye has in the past been linked to the misty rebel group called the People’s Redemption Army (PRA) that Col. Muzoora allegedly belonged to.
In 2005 Besigye and 22 others including his younger brother Joseph Musasizi Kifefe were charged with trying to topple the government using the alleged PRA. Court later stopped the trial for lack of merit in the treason charges.
There is raging suspicion among the FDC faithful that the arrests are a precursor to a resurgence of political persecution by the state and an attempt to link the party, especially its leader Besigye, to Muzoora’s death as a basis to cook up treason charges against them.
Two of the suspects – Didas Atunga-Bantu alias Colonel Iddi Kibwama Bendera, Boniface Mumbere Kinyambila alias Ivan Musinguzi – have since been charged with treason. Another four suspects – Dr. Aggrey Byamukama alias Happiness Akasigazi, Abel Kazoora Kacwano, Simon Matte Mwesige, Muhwezi alias Esau Tugumisirize Rwafafa – were charged with concealment of treason.
The new treason charges were allegedly committed under two new rebel groups, the Uganda People’s Freedom Front and Forces of Constitutional Change in Uganda, that the state said operated or planned to operate in the districts of Kampala, Bushenyi, Kasese, Mbarara, Ntungamo and other areas in the country.
The most high profile suspect, the FDC party Chairman for Bushenyi District, William Mukaira, is still recuperating in Mulago hospital where he was admitted following his arrest and detention by the military.
A few days after the arrests, the FDC top leadership hurriedly convened a meeting and discussed the matter.
Although they did not come up with a conclusive decision on the arrests, there was unanimous suspicion that the state was planning to use the arrests to link the top party leadership to subversion and therefore get a ground to send them to jail.
Coordinator of Intelligence Services Gen. David Tinyefuza seemed to justify their fears when he told a Kampala daily that the suspects in their custody seemed to be protecting ‘high value targets’.
Who is Mukaira?
Mukaira, 83, is no ordinary man. Starting out as a lower primary school Grade II teacher, he has accumulated wealth and power.
Although his close relatives, who are mostly wealthy and politically powerful in Bushenyi, tend to jump into bed with every changing regime, Mukaira always sides with the opposition.
He fell out with first Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) in the 1960s and joined the opposition Democratic Party while his brothers were strong UPC.
After the collapse of the UPC regime in 1986, he remained in DP for a long time even when everyone in the family converted to NRM. Some time back, he switched to another opposition party, FDC.
His brothers have become some of the most powerful members of the NRM in Bushenyi district.
His late brother, Ezra Kikuri, was a confidant and advisor of President Yoweri Museveni. It is said Health State Minister Richard Nduhura owes his place in Cabinet to Kikuri. Kikuri reportedly recommended Nduhura to Museveni because he (Kikuri) did not have the requisite academic qualifications to be a minister.
During his time in DP when Uganda was still under the one-party Movement system and opposition parties were confined to their headquarters, Mukaira offered his hotels to host DP top leadership meetings in Bushenyi.
He was always a huge thorn in the NRM flesh. The Resident District Commissioners would break up the DP meetings but Mukaira would not relent. He would host another DP meeting.
He is the proprietor of Valley Inn and Valley College School in Bushenyi, one of the top schools in the country. He offers bursaries to disadvantaged but intelligent students and has not hidden his vision to elevate the school to a university.
He is also a successful farmer, growing grapes and apples on a large scale and has set up a winery. His investments have provided employment and other opportunities to many in Bushenyi.
For that reason, his arrest may have serious political costs on Museveni and the NRM, especially if his prosecution is perceived as a political witch-hunt. His clout in Bushenyi cannot be underrated.
When Mukaira was admitted at Mulago Hospital in critical condition, political heavyweights both in opposition and NRM visited him. Minister Nduhura, NRM Entrepreneurs League chairman Hassan Basajjabalaba, and FDC’s Vice President for western Uganda Amanya Mushega have visited him.
Bushenyi people are known for their solidarity regardless their divergent political loyalties. The district is, therefore, not heavily polarised along political differences.
Even after Muzoora fled into exile and declared an armed rebellion against the NRM government, his wife was elected Woman District Councillor for Kyabugimbi and Kyeizooba sub-counties. Currently she is the LC I chairperson for her Nyanga village in Kyeigombe, a predominantly NRM area.
When moves to carve new districts- Kibingo, Nsiika, Mitooma and Rubirizi- out of Bushenyi about two years ago, the local strong men in both NRM and opposition teamed up against the plan.
Ministers Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere, Dr Richard Nduhura, and FDC’s Richard Kaijuka and Amanya Mushega and DP elder John Kabeireho joined hands to oppose the split of Bushenyi. They finally lost the battle.
The government claims Muzoora returned to Uganda alive and died at Mukaira’s home. However, residents of Bushenyi are finding it difficult to come to terms with his decision consideration considering the danger he faced.
There has been speculation that he returned on prospects of getting amnesty. In fact a senior FDC member claimed that a few months ago, Muzoora met a top government official in a foreign country who indicated to him that he could be granted amnesty. However, this does not explain why then Muzoora would choose to sneak into the country instead of coming officially with government facilitation.
The widow Vasta Muzoora told The Independent on June 1 that her husband had last talked to her on phone from an undisclosed place on May 2 to congratulate the family on the baptism of their last born.