By John Njoroge
Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see. I had waited for him for four hours. Earlier, he had refused to meet me. Issa Wazemba does not exude the confidence and energy of a 25-year-old man.
When we met, his eyes constantly darted around suspiciously as he limped on his crutch towards the building I was in. He looked at me and whispered a few words in his native language, Lumasaba, to our middleman. He did not know I understood what he was saying.
His words were: ‘Are you sure he is the one? This could be a trick.’
Through a translator, Wazemba narrated his horrific ordeal at the hands of security personnel from the Joint Anti-Terrorism Taskforce (JATT) and the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI).
It all begun on November 18, 2007, a few days before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kampala. I was coming to Mbale from Kampala by bus where I had gone to buy second hand cloths to sell as usual.
We had just crossed the Nile bridge at Nalufenya as you enter Jinja town at about 6 pm when the bus was stopped at a roadblock. Army officers entered the bus and ordered everybody out.
They searched the inside of the bus and told us to go back in. As I tried to re-enter, I was stopped and pulled aside forcefully. I was pushed into a vehicle and was immediately blindfolded. All this happened so fast I was totally engulfed in fear. I did not understand what was happening.
Issa said he was transferred to another vehicle and driven a short distance to Nalufenya police station.
They pulled me out of the vehicle and removed the blindfold. I could clearly see we were behind a building which I later discovered was a police station. There were four officers around me. They asked me if I had luggage in the bus. I told them I did; I had a bale of second hand clothes. They slapped and kicked me until I fell to the ground.
They kept asking: ‘where are our things?’ I was ordered to get up and they took me back to the bus. I identified my luggage. It was put at the back of a Toyota double-cabin truck. I sat between two officers and they drove towards the direction of Kampala. They drove so fast within no time we were at Kitante barracks. All through, the officers said nothing.
At Kitante, Issa says he was taken to a water-logged room. He was ordered to sit in the water. At around 7.30 p.m. he was picked from the room and taken to an office where he was interrogated.
‘Two officers brought guns and put them on the table. Another officer, who I later learnt is called Lt. John Mwesigwa entered the room and asked me about ‘boxes.’ I didn’t know what boxes he was talking about.
Another officer walked into the room with a container full of iron rods and placed them next to the wall. Lt. Mwesigwa told me if I did not tell him where the ‘boxes’ were, he would use the rods on me until I came clean. I pleaded with him not to harm me. I knew nothing about ‘boxes’. I sell clothes in Mbale. I only come to Kampala to buy them and they had them.
Mwesigwa and the other four officers began to undress me. They got the metal rods and hit my legs. I cried and begged them to stop. They only laughed. They interrogated and tortured me for close to four hours until I lost consciousness.
Later that night, Issa regained consciousness in another place he later learnt was Summit View in Kololo, a posh Kampala suburb. He had been locked up in a small room with an Asian and five Africans.
The next day he was picked and taken back to Kitante. He was interrogated and beaten after which he was locked up in a room till dusk. He was taken back to Summit View and locked up in the same room.
‘I was hungry but could not eat. I was thirsty. I saw a bucket with water in it. I took a big and quick swig at it. It was urine. I vomited so much I thought my insides would come out.’
On the third day, Issa says he was taken back to Kintante. He was locked in the water-logged room again. Later he was taken to another room where he was interrogated and beaten. At this point he could not walk any more. He was carried back to the water-logged room and was offered food for the first time.
They hit all my joints with metals. They told me I was hiding bombs and bullets. They wanted them from me. They called me a different name which they claimed was my real name. I tried to explain to them that I was Issa Wazemba. They had my identification papers, they could check with my family and my relatives. They did not listen. They brought a gadget which they used to administer electric shock on me around my private parts. I thought I would never live beyond that day but somehow they stopped. They took me to the room with water. I sat in the water. I wanted to drink some of it but could not move my hands. I fell into the water and took a few gulps before I was lifted out of it by a soldier. He kicked me in the chest and told me not to drink that water. I was overwhelmed by pain both from the wounds and from inside of me. I cried a lot that day.
When it got dark, Issa says he was taken back to the interrogation room where he was again beaten till he lost consciousness. When he got back to his senses, he was in a different room with men of Somali origin.
He later discovered it was in Kisaasi Ntinda, another Kampala suburb. On the fourth day, he was carried into a double-cabin pick-up and driven to Kololo where he was photographed. He was carried out of the building and into a small vehicle. He was locked in it for several hours.
By the time they came for him, Issa had fainted. When he regained consciousness, he was questioned once again on the ‘bombs and bullets’ they said he was hiding. His torturers smeared pepper on his face and beat him. He lost consciousness again. He was later washed and given food which he says he could not eat. He was taken back to Kisaasi.
On the fifth day a doctor called Lt. Wilson Rutaremwa was brought to him. The doctor examined him and gave him medication. After sometime, the medication stopped. He was not tortured for about a month. The doctor observed that his condition was not getting better; his wounds continued to rot and had a foul smell. He transferred him to Mbuya Military hospital. He was still being guarded by soldiers.
‘Life was better at Mbuya. The nurses helped me so much. In the night, when the guards were not there, they gave blood in form of drips. In total I was given three pints of blood. A European doctor also cared for me. One morning he came with bad news. He told me that if I was to live, both my legs were to be amputated. I cried so much. I felt hopeless.’
On the day of amputation; another doctor recommended that only one of his legs, the left one, be amputated since the other could heal over time. After the operation, Issa was moved to Bombo military barracks where he was admitted in a private room.
‘I woke up in a private room. My left leg was cut off below the knee joint. I felt no pain at that time. I was clean. The nurses were good to me. I knew one of them. I don’t remember her name but we both used to buy second hand clothes from the same dealer. Lt. Mwesigwa and S/Sgt Katenesi, my former torturers, would visit me from time to time.’
Issa was moved from Bombo back to Kisaasi Ntinda.
‘In June 2008, I was moved to CMI headquarters where I was kept in the house of Warrant Officer Opedun. The house was next to the garage of the house of Lt. Okello. Here, I was given a mattress, a room and a bed. I was asked to order all I wanted to eat and drink. Another officer, Lt. Joash Mushabe would visit me often.
Issa recalls his short stay at CMI headquarters.
‘Dr. Rutaremwa would visit me to check on my health and recommend medication. My condition would fluctuate. Sometimes I was ok; some times I was in pain. Lt. Mushabe would give me money. I remember he gave me Shs 50,000 and Shs 20, 000. Other officers would visit to threaten me not to speak to anyone about what happened to me. They told me if I told the media I was tortured, I would be killed. I was to say, I got an accident while in Kampala and was in hospital. At times, mostly in the nights, when the officers where drunk, they would come to my room and would slap me and squeeze my privates. ‘
In August 2008, Issa asked if he could go back to his family. He says, he was granted permission but was told never to speak of his experience.
‘On August 9, 2008 Lt. John (also called Lt. Elias) drove me to Nakasero market. He gave me Shs 200,000 in cash, a mobile phone with a Celtel (Zain) line and small bag with clothes. I never got my luggage back. He told me to call him when I reached. He also said I should go back to CMI in three months time to get more money. I have never gone back. As for the phone, I used it when I reached Mbale to call him (Lt. Elias) I told him I reached safely. I switched it off and have never used it again.’
In Mbale, Issa’s family could not live in the town. They had no idea what had happened to Issa. For all they knew, he could have died. They were forced to move back to his ancestral home in rural Mbale where life was less demanding financially.
Issa recalls the first time he saw his family after a whole year.
‘I went to the village and found my wife and children. They had lost a lot of weight and were looking horrible. Clearly they had suffered so much. They were also shocked to see me without my left leg. My people cried when they saw me. I cried too. I told them what had happened to me. They were devastated. Worse still, I told my wife I couldn’t have an erection any more. She said nothing, nothing. She has said nothing up to today. We now live in a friend’s home. He gave my family and me a small room. We sleep there the four of us. We beg for food and every day the situation is tense.’
Issa says his health has also deteriorated.
‘My body behaves like it is not mine. It pains all over especially in the morning. The remaining bit of my left leg is rotting and needs to be cut off. My teeth are shaky, I am dizzy most of the time and my eyes fail me from time to time. My first born daughter is not in school. I don’t know how long my friend will keep me at his home. CMI said they would compensate me but I have had nothing from my lawyers. For the sake of my family’s future, I need help.’