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Who killed Gen. Kazini, and why?

By Andrew M. Mwenda

He was trying to avoid one death when he fell into another

Maj. Gen. James Bunanukye Kazini spent most of Monday evening November 9 out with his girlfriend, Lydia Draru a.k.a. Lydia Atim Draru. At about 5am, the former Uganda People’s Defence Forces army commander dropped her off at her house in Namuwongo’Wabigalo parish, a low income city suburb, and drove to his home in the upscale neighbourhood of Munyonyo, a 15-minute drive away.

His wife, Phoebe Kazini, was already awake when he reached home around 5.20am. They were preparing Kazini’s bags as he was supposed to leave for the airport at 6am for a flight to Juba, Southern Sudan.

According to reports, Kazini went to the bedroom, changed clothes and came out wearing a safari outfit. Then he received a call. It is not clear who called him and what he was told on the phone. Anyhow, he immediately picked his car keys and stormed out of the house.

Outside the house, his driver was seated in an army green, army registered official vehicle. As he saw his boss walking out, he started the engine. However, Kazini walked directly to another car, a brand new Landcruiser VX that was given to him by Gen. Isaak Mamoor Saidoti of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

He entered the car and drove off alone. Surprisingly, his driver did not follow him and possibly tragically so. It was about 5.40am. Thirty minutes after he had driven off, someone called his home with bad news: Kazini was dead.

What happened in the 30 minutes when Kazini left his home and when he was found dead in his mistress’ love den remains unclear.

What is clearer is that just before he died at the alleged hands of a lone woman, Gen. Kazini, army number RO 1331, was facing a possible long jail term or even death sentence by firing squad.

Just a few months before, in March, the military court martial sentenced Kazini to three years in jail for causing financial loss to the army. He was also still on trial for other charges of disobeying lawful orders and moving troops without the Commander-in-Chief’s permission. But the judgements were still pending. These charges could attract a death penalty or a longer jail term on conviction.

Sources said that President Yoweri Museveni had endorsed a Military Court Martial decision to also find him guilty on three counts of insubordination, abuse of office and disobeying lawful orders. Kazini reportedly disregarded the directives of the commander-in-chief and moved troops without seeking approval from the Commander in Chief.

In effect, Kazini was on trial for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government of President Museveni. According to Section 133 of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces Act of 2005, a soldier who disobeys a lawful order that results in the failure of an operation or leads to loss of life is liable, upon conviction by the General Court Martial (GCM), to be sentenced to either death by firing squad or to life imprisonment. Legal experts say that since Kazini’s actions had not led to loss of life, it was unlikely to lead to a death penalty.

Highly placed sources told The Independent that the GCM had finished its deliberations and had found Kazini guilty on the remaining charges. However, its chairman, Lt. Gen. Ivan Koreta, decided to consult widely on how to handle the matter. Koreta who is also the Deputy Chief of Defence Forces is one of the few remaining Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) veterans in the UPDF. FRONASA was President Museveni’s first rebel organisation that later gave birth to the National Resistance Army and now the UPDF.

The sources told The Independent that Koreta managed to cause a meeting of the army High Command to discuss Kazini’s fate. The meeting was called at President Museveni’s country home in Rwakitura and was not open to all High Command members but a restricted few.

High Command sources at the meeting say that Koreta briefed them about the implications of delivering judgment in Kazini’s case ‘ sentencing a former army commander to a long jail term. Koreta is said to have told the High Command that this was unprecedented and asked them to think seriously about its implications.

Sources in the meeting say that decorated army veteran, Lt. Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho a.k.a. Salim Saleh, who is the President’s younger brother and a respected voice in the army, came to Kazini’s defence. He argued that Kazini had made a great contribution to the struggle that brought Museveni to power and that delivering such a judgment would unsettle many other officers. Saleh also told the meeting that many officers who sacrificed have been on katebe (un-deployed) and some have charges against them. Locking up Kazini for many years or, remotely, executing him, Saleh argued, would put this group in great anxiety.

The Independent was told that Museveni finally and firmly pronounced himself on the matter: If guilty is the verdict, then the GCM should go ahead with the judgement. End of meeting! According to people at the meeting, Saleh was highly agitated. As Koreta and others left for Kampala, Saleh immediately called Kazini on phone.

Sources say Saleh told Kazini that the High Command had reached a decision to go ahead with the judgment. ‘Where things have reached,’ Saleh reportedly told Kazini, ‘I cannot save you.’ Kazini knew that meant trouble. Saleh advised him to seek protection from the courts. According to sources, Kazini ran to his lawyer, Kenneth Kakuru.

However, Kakuru’s recollection of events was different. He told The Independent that Kazini came to him after losing the case before the GCM. Kakuru says he advised Kazini to petition the Constitutional Court arguing that his trial in the GCM was unconstitutional. However, the petition was not enough to stop Koreta and the GCM from delivering their judgment which, sources say, Museveni wanted done immediately. So Kakuru sought a court injunction restraining the GCM from proceeding to deliver the judgment.

On October 12, 2009 he had lost his Constitutional Court petition challenging his trial by the General Court Martial (GCM). Sensing danger, Kazini had written to the Attorney General indicating that he was taking his fight against the GCM trial to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land. He died before this appeal could be disposed of.

But did Museveni really intend to hang Kazini? What went wrong between the two men?

Earlier, in the affidavit sworn on April 2 to support his case for an injunction against his GCM trial, Kazini was clearly worried by the speed at which the GCM wanted to finish his case. ‘Given the speed at which the hearing of the above cases is going on,’ he wrote, ‘it is likely that the cases in the General Court Martial are most likely to be decided before the application for stay and the petition, are disposed by the honorable court.

‘The General Court Martial is ready to dispose of all the impugned cases pending before it before the disposal of the main application and the petition,’ the affidavit said.

This wording of the affidavit, sources say, was aimed at showing how fast the GCM was moving to deliver the judgment.

The papers for the injunction were filed before Justice Steven Kavuma. Apparently, Kazini’s team had noticed that the GCM was going to deliver the judgment the next day, although Kakuru says it was a strange coincidence. However, UPDF sources say that information leaked on April 15 that the GCM was going to deliver its judgment the next day.

Sources say that at this point, Kazini’s team turned to Saleh again for help. Saleh called Kavuma and personally asked him to save Kazini’s life by granting the injunction against the proceedings in the GCM. Kavuma himself had sympathy for Kazini because they had worked together at the ministry of Defence. Kavuma was minister of state for Defence when Kazini was army chief of staff.

The Attorney General opposed Kazini’s application. After hearing both sides, Kavuma adjourned court and consulted. He learnt that Museveni had personally approved the GCM to deliver judgment. He got worried that in issuing a court injunction he was likely to annoy the president. However, Kavuma granted the injunction.

‘An Interim Order does issue against the General Court Martial restraining it whether by itself, representatives, officials, agents or workmen from implementing the directive to prosecute the Applicant/Petitioner for the various offenses stated herein until the disposal of Miscellaneous Petition No.08 of 2008.’ Kavuma wrote.

It was not the first time Saleh was intervening to save Kazini’s skin. When he was convicted by the GCM and sent to Luzira last year, it was Saleh who helped him get released on bail, something Museveni had opposed. Saleh had gone to his brother and pleaded for his friend to get bail from the GCM Appeals Court. Museveni had initially refused to yield, but after a heated exchange, the president succumbed.

According to sources close to the two brothers, Museveni asked Saleh to go and seek permission from, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, saying that if the Chief of Defence Forces agreed, he (the president) would have no objection to it. Saleh did and Aronda agreed that Kazini be released on bail. However, for Saleh, it was the ultimate humiliation of forcing him to seek authority from his junior. Although the two are of the same rank, in historical seniority, Saleh is above Aronda.

Then Saleh began frantically looking for sureties and managed to get major generals Kahinda Otafiire and Zed Maruru and Lt. Gen. Jeje Odongo.

But why had Museveni approved the GCM to go ahead and deliver a judgment that would have sent Kazini to long time in jail? There was a time when Kazini was (or appeared to be) Museveni’s blue eyed boy in the army.

The Museveni Kazini fallout appeared to be confirmed when on March 27 Kazini was sent to Luzira Maximum Security Prison on charges of bloating the army payroll with non-existing staff numbers in the so-called ‘ghost soldiers’ scam. He was accused of unlawfully enriching himself to the tune of Shs 62 million from ghost soldiers’ money.

Analysts claimed Kazini was paying for two cardinal sins: First, earlier in the investigations, Kazini had rattled the army top brass with a claim that the so-called ghost soldiers’ money had been sanctioned by President Museveni to pay off Congolese rebel leaders.

Kazini and Saleh have a long history, having hit off neatly since 1985 when Kazini became head of Saleh’s escort. At that time, Saleh was commander of the Mobile Brigade of the then rebel NRA.

Loved and hated

Some reports claim Kazini was a nursery school teacher near Kabamba Military Barracks when the Tanzanian army defeated Idi Amin’s government in 1979. His military career was launched when he joined the fleeing soldiers of Idi Amin’s regime into Southern Sudan. When the soldiers regrouped to form the Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) rebels under former Amin minister Brig. Moses Ali, Kazini was among them.

While Museveni fought in the southern and central Uganda Luwero areas, Kazini’s UNRF operated mainly in the West Nile region of northern Uganda. In 1984, however, Kazini appeared to have defected to Museveni’s NRA although some claim the two groups were really working together. Their representatives, for example, were in Tripoli, Libya together to seek arms and other support from Muammar Gadaffi. At the time, Kazini’s brother, the late Lt. Col. Jet Mwebaze was already in the NRA.

But at Kazini’s funeral at All Saints Church in Kampala on November 11, Museveni said he had first met him in 1981. He said Kazini who was serving in UNLA convinced him that he could persuade some disgruntled UNLA soldiers to defect to NRA.

‘I gave him money to hire trucks to transport these soldiers but he ended up in the bar where he was arrested,’ Museveni said.

Museveni’s revelations, especially with Kazini’s body lying in the casket before him, caused restlessness in the church. But Museveni in typical direct style said Kazini was a hardworking, patriotic soldier whose major undoing was recklessness. He concluded that ‘Kazini’ had taken himself to God.’

Kazini death was a precedent in that he was the first former army commander to die when the regime he served was still reigning. His body, however, did not lie in state whereas that of former Defence permanent secretary Brig. Noble Mayombo, much junior to Kazini, lay in state in May 2007. The president and commander-in-chief also attended Mayombo’s burial in his village in Kabarole.

The president did not attend Kazini’s burial at Sanga in Kiruhura district. He reportedly had engagements in Karamoja.

Kazini had been a blue-eyed boy of the army. Nurtured under Saleh, Kazini bloomed over the years to become a ruthless and efficient battlefront commander. He rose quickly through the ranks to the chagrin of many who nicknamed him ‘the creeper’ ‘ someone reaping big from a struggle he did not invest much in.

Along the way, he seems to have created many enemies. As commander of the Mechanised Brigade in Masaka in the 1990s, Kazini wrote a secret dossier that accused Gen. David Tinyefuza and Col. Kizza Besigye of training a secret army to topple President Museveni.

Museveni dropped Tinyefuza as Ministry of State for Defence and named him advisor on Security. As fate would have it, Tinyefuza was on the committee that tried Kazin for creating ‘ghost soldiers.’

Secondly, Kazini had apparently angered the high-ups when, during the burial of one of his co-accused in the ghost soldiers scandal, Col. Poteli Kivuna, he blamed the leaders for the latter’s demise.

‘A person of Col. Kivuna’s status has a big family to look after but you put him on ‘˜katebe‘ (not deployed) for a long time! There was no medicine for him, yet there were some people who were acquitted by the court martial,’ Kazini is quoted to have said.

Kazini, who had been undeployed since 2003, was understood to be speaking for all the disgruntled officers on katebe. The UPDF routinely punishes errant soldiers by denying them plum postings, but by expressing bitterness so publicly, Kazini appeared to have sealed his fate.

Between April 4 and May 14, The Independent ran a series of articles: ‘Kazini’s fall: What price will Museveni pay?’; ‘Kazini: The untold story (How Museveni used Kazini and dumped him)’ and ‘Did Kazini plot to overthrow Museveni?’

In one of them, it was revealed that sometime in 2001, Gen. Salim Saleh was in trouble over two loans from two banks. One was Shs 900 million and the other Shs 1 billion.

He approached then army commander, Maj. Gen. Jeje Odongo with a request to help him clear them. Odongo refused to comply. Two weeks later President Museveni removed Odongo and replaced him with Kazini, who had been the army chief of staff.

Kazini’s appointment came as a surprise: Just weeks earlier, on October 28, 2001, Museveni had written an angry memo to Kazini titled ‘Sense of direction’. Museveni accused Kazini of three things: Incompetence (poor judgement of especially terrain in war); insubordination (acting unilaterally even against the President’s written orders), and being a bad team player (by ignoring advice from the army forum).

Had Museveni appointed him purposely to help Saleh out of his financial predicament?

The treason case against Kazini includes allegations that he recruited 7,000 men and trained them at Bihanga Training School in Mbarara and also created a semi-autonomous unit in West Nile region (409 Brigade) to assist him execute his mission.

Kazini’s inglorious death is likely to add to the restlessness in the camp. Many of those on katebe are high ranking officers, and like Kazini, have wide networks in the army. To use a famous quote in Ugandan political circles,’ they can cause trouble.’

If Kazini’s death proves to be a turning point in the Museveni reign it would not be the first.

It is well known that Muyseveni’s rebellion against Obote II was catapulted to success by the death of Oyite Ojok in a mysterious helicopter crash. Earlier in history, post-independent Uganda’s politics was affected dramatically by the death of Brig. Severino Okoya.

Investigations into death

Kazini’s has had women trouble in the past.

In March last year, he hit headlines when he punched a man, Dr Robert Kagoda, whom he suspected of having an affair with his lover, one Winnie.

Be that as it may, Kazini’s trip to Sudan could be a pointer into why he was killed. He had spent the day preparing for the trip.

Secondly, he was driving a Sudanese registered car i.e. he would need the car for some time either because he would be staying in Sudan for a long time or he would be going there often. Therefore, Ugandan number plates would not do.

Thirdly, there was a fear that Kazini intended to flee the country. In fact, reports attributed to intelligence circles claimed there was a ‘man-hunt’ for him by security when he went off the radar a few days before he was killed.

Earlier in July, according to press reports, Kazini had had a conversation with Ugandan-born American journalist Shaka Sali which suggested he

was seeking asylum in the US.

Museveni confirmed the fear that Kazini intended to flee.

President Museveni told mourners at Kazini’s funeral at All Saints Cathedral that he had forced Kazini to sign an agreement that he would come back to the country after a military course in Nigeria in 2004.

‘I told him that if you do not I will contact Interpol,’ Museveni said.

The Independent could not confirm whether Kazini had got clearance for the trip from the Chief-of-Defence Forces, Lt Gen. Aronda Nyakairima. Soldiers of Kazini’s rank need such clearance to travel.

Meanwhile, investigations continue into Kazini’s death.

According to the police and the press, Kazini was killed by his girlfriend who used an iron bar to hit him on his head during a brawl. However, the police explanation raises more questions than it answers. The police picked a round iron bar as the murder weapon. Such a weapon would have inflicted a blunt injury. Yet the cuts on Kazini’s head are deep, suggesting use of a sharp object ‘ like a machete or an axe.

The woman who claims to have single handedly killed Kazini is much shorter, smaller and weaker than Kazini.

Experts The Independent spoke to say that given her height, she could not have reached his head to cause such injury. Besides, given that she claimed Kazini was holding her by the throat, how did she then slip from his grip to deliver such devastating blows on him? Besides, Kazini was a giant of a man ‘ strong and macho. Many experts find it highly doubtful that he could have been killed by a lone young woman.

Also intriguing about Kazini’s murder is the fact that although he was reportedly killed at about 6am in the morning and the police arrived at the scene before 7am, the scene of the crime was left unattended to till 10am. Normally, police cordon off a crime scene, especially in high profile cases, and deploy specialised crime detectives called Scenes of Crime Officers (SOCO) in order to stop onlookers from accessing it and either deliberately tampering with or inadvertently destroying evidence.

In Kazini’s case, the scene was left unattended and no SOCOs were sent to preserve or secure it. His body was also left on display for three hours. During this time, journalists with both still and video cameras were allowed to take pictures from any angle they wished.

Why did the entire security system seem to want journalists (and through them the general public) to see how Maj. Gen. Kazini was killed? Was this sheer incompetence or was someone trying to ‘manufacture’ believable evidence?

The most puzzling was the behaviour of Kazini’s alleged murderer. She was telling everyone who cared to listen how she had killed ‘her man’. Her confidence and calmness after killing one of the most senior officers of the Ugandan army, a man known to be close to President Museveni’s brother, Gen. Salim Saleh, intrigued even the most dispassionate witnesses. Why didn’t she fear retribution from the state?

Police sources say that the statement she gave at the crime scene immediately they arrived was almost identical to the statement she gave hours later at the Central Police Station (CPS). Crime experts say that victims of such circumstances tend to be incoherent immediately after the event, only gaining calmness later to be able to recollect the chain of events. However, police sources say, Draru’s testimony sounded rehearsed.

In fact, when the police arrested her, Draru’s hair was combed to perfectionist detail; her clothes were clean and well kempt. In fact, initial photos show her in a yellow top with black cardigan as she is hauled from her house to the police station. However, by the time of her interrogation, she had changed into an immaculate chili-red long-skirted dress. It’s unusual for suspects in police custody to be allowed such privileges.

However police later explained that the clothes were taken from her as exhibits and that’s why she had to change the clothing.

She also did not show any signs of a lone woman who had just been involved in a life-and-death fight with an army general. Her skin had no bruises safe for a few around the neck. Her clothes were not spurted with blood.

Could Draru have killed Kazini without the aid of anyone? This is very unlikely. Her testimony raises more questions than it answers. That is why it is important to interrogate the scene of crime itself.

Gen. Kazini’s widow has said publicly that she would ask the government to investigate the possibility that Draru was part of a group.

Apparently inside the house, police found three glasses of whisky and a bottle of Black Label that was almost empty. Who was drinking with her in the house? Draru’s neighbour claimed that there were three men (although other accounts say they were two) who ran out of the house immediately after the murder.

If these were the men who could have helped her subdue a general of Kazini’s caliber, then they were not ordinary goons from the slums of Namuwongo who should have been drinking kasese or some sachet waragi (crude local gin); they were high class players who took expensive drinks. Who are they?

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