Trigger happy Lt. Col Juma Seiko makes UPDF the target
Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | On Feb. 9, one of Uganda’s well-known army officers; Lt. Col. Juma Seiko, was being chauffeured in a small saloon car through a busy market area when the car got into an accident. Accounts of how it happened vary, but the car got a scratch from a lorry. Seiko was not driving but his road rage made the incident, which is quite common in this area, big news. Seiko is mostly known as an aide to Gen. Salim Saleh, the decorated bush war hero and younger brother to President Yoweri Museveni.
Witnesses say Seiko stepped out of his car brandishing a gun. Minutes later he replaced it with a handgun which he pointed at driver of the lorry. Then he set on beating up the driver, one Ali Jjuuko, 45 years old. When the man attempted to run away, Seiko shot him twice in the right leg.
When a mob gathered, Seiko attempted to scare it by firing in the air. When that did not work, he shot two other people. All were hospitalised and Seiko was arrested and charged for “wrongfully wounding” a person, according to the police.
This incident is being highlighted as another sign of the return of extrajudicial actions by soldiers with guns against unarmed civilians reminiscent of the dark days of past military regimes.
The incident comes just days after Tarehe Sita; the anniversary of the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) which, as the National Resistance Army (NRA) enforced a strict respect for civilian life as they fought a five-year war to capture power in 1986.
The incident is also four months after Seiko’s guard, one Alex Cherotich, was sentenced by the High Court to 35 years in prison for shooting dead two people and injuring others. Cherotich committed the crimes while guarding Seiko’s home in Kampala.
Justice Flavia Anglin Ssenoga said the guard, a former UPDF soldier, recklessly used his gun.
“Court needs to send a strong message to the public that guns should not be misused to kill innocent people,” the judge said.
But it appears Seiko did not get the strong message. The public is now waiting to see how the case against him will proceed. Many are doubtful it will be pursued with any vigour. This is mainly because incidents of unruly soldiers shooting, beating, and killing civilians with impunity are becoming commonplace. Many of the offenders walk away scot-free.
Brig. Richard Karemire, the UPDF spokesperson, in an interview with The Independent, said the case must be analysed contextually.
“Seiko sustained injuries on the head and on the fingers, so is it possible that he was acting in self defence?” Karemire said.
But just a day after the Seiko incident, a UPDF soldier in Gulu shot dead three people; a woman and her two children. Then a gunman shot three people in a bar brawl in Nakulabye, Kampala. He was a security guard attached to Top Security Limited. When The Independent asked army spokesperson Karemire to comment on these incidents, he said the “three incidents must be analyzed separately and contextually”.
“You need to look at the accident report before you rush to any conclusions,” he said. The soft-spoken officer spoke extensively about the other unflattering incidents where soldiers have been involved in.
Karemire said he regretted and condemned the Gulu shooting formally and reiterated that there will be a court martial trial.
When such cases happen, they are sometimes characterised as brawls by low ranking officers and often attributed to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some suspects go on trial in the army court martial or regular courts.
Brig. Karemire says when most soldiers return from high profile missions like deployment in Somalia where Uganda is part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), they undergo ideological orientation and other necessary psycho social support to help them reboot.
UPDF has been cited in cases of brutality in fishing communities, land evictions, and some of its individual officers like Maj. Gen. Kasirye Gwanga have earned notoriety in how they deal with community issues.