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Prosecutor Kagezi case puts focus on target killings

By Haggai Matsiko

A behind the scenes look at what could be behind them

7:20 PM, March 30: A vehicle pulls up at a roadside fruit stall in Kiwatule, a fast growing suburb of Kampala city along the Kisaasi-Najjera Road. The fruit stall is near a tree shade, in front of a small building housing a saloon, a boutique and a motorbike repair shop. Across the road is St. Mbaaga Church. Minutes later, another vehicle; a white Ford double-cabin truck also pulls up and the other car moves ahead to give the new arrival space to park. The occupants of the newly arrived car are obviously well-known – and respected.

Inside the car is Joan Kagezi, a high ranking lawyer. She is with some of her children. Without leaving the wheel, Kagezi orders fruits; oranges, passion fruits, and mangoes to be exact. But as the fruit vendor moves to serve her, gunshots ring out.

“At first I thought something had burst,” recalls the fruit vendor, “then I heard the kids in the backseat shouting that their mummy had been shot. Only to turn and see for myself.”

Kagezi’s killers, police investigating the latest targeted killing say, most likely trailed her on a motorbike as she left work returning home. They say it was two men; the rider and his passenger. They say the assassin got a perfect opportunity when Kagezi stopped at the fruit stall.

The police say the gunman had a clear target because Kagezi’s car was slanted a bit with right tyres on the low ground next to the stall and the left on the tarmac, exposing Kagezi who was driving. She was shot twice. Police says one of the bullets cut through her neck, the other, her chest. She died at Mulago Referral Hospital minutes after she had been rushed there.

Kagezi’s killing has sparked mountains of speculation on who did it and why.  The Police Chief, Gen. Kale Kayihura, initially said she had been killed by Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a ragtag group of fighters based in the neighbouring DR Congo who oppose the government of President Yoweri Museveni. Later, however, the police boss pointed at the Somali Islamist group; al Shaabab as the killers. Without arrests or details of evidence pinning one group or the other, the investigators appear to suspect that Kagezi’s assassination is linked to her work as the Assistant Director of Public Prosecution at the war crimes division of the High Court. In that position, she prosecuted most top cases. One case involved 13 suspects of the 2010 twin bomb attacks in Kampala. Al shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack in which over 80 lives were lost, and Kagezi was due in court the next day when she was bumped off.

Kagezi was also the lead prosecutor in a case, in which Muslim leaders, a Ugandan doctor based in Australia; Agrey Kiyingi, and several sheikhs are accused of masterminding the murder of other sheiks and fuelling terrorism in Busoga region. This case has spawned a string of related targeted killings. But Police has not provided any evidence linking Kagezi’s killers to either of the groups. And critics also point to the fact that when terrorists carry out an act like that, they want to make a point, the reason they are usually the first to claim it.

Plus, these are not the only high profile cases she had dealt with. Kagezi had been a lead prosecutor in several high profile murder cases. She could have antagonised quite a few people, who had enough resources to cause harm to her.

That is why the question of who killed Kagezi is likely to take some time before authorities come up with believable answers. Matters are not helped by the fact that in the past, authorities have not been very successful in resolving several other high profile murders including that of another prosecutor, Robinna Kiyingi, who was also gunned down by assailants riding on a motorbike just in front of her gate. Her husband, the Kiyingi who is now being linked to the string of sheik murders was accused of ordering her contract killing. He was acquitted.

Trend of killings

But Kagezi’s slaying is the latest in a string of targeted killing of high profile persons. As the nation grieves, her death has increased concerns over the rise of these targeted killings and whether police is going about its job the right way.

Although killings involving guns have been on downward trend over the years, the latest crime report issued by Police is April 2014 showed a slight increase. The police reported that it had investigated 131 cases of gun killings in 2013, compared to 115 the year before. The 2014 cases are likely to be higher.

Most observers are pointing at this disturbing trend over the last three months of this year, but renowned human rights lawyer, Laudislaus Rwakafuzi, who is also involved in the case against the sheikhs, says that is being dishonest. The murders, he says, have been going on for about five years now.

“It is not a new trend. If we were taking policing seriously and not as a project but as a day to day commitment, we would get to the depth of this trend,” he says.

He says the problem, for which he blames Police boss Kale Kayihura, is the lack of consistence.

“We jump from one thing to another, CID officers are transferred every now and then before they have dug deep into the files and followed the cases. That is not the way to go,” Rwakafuzi says.

“Now the reason we are all jumping with al shabaab is because that will come with a big budget. But that is treating criminality like a project, where people are going to get real time benefits. What we need to do is go back to when this thing started.”

Before Kagezi was gunned down, police was for months grappling with a string of killings of prominent sheikhs. On December 28, 2014, Sheik Bahiga Mustafa was shot dead in his car outside a mosque along Entebbe Road. He too was with his children. Sheik Mustafa was killed just three days after another prominent Muslim, Sheik Abdul Qadir Muwaya was killed by gunmen in Mayuge on Christmas day. He was the leader of the Shia Muslim Community in Uganda. Before that, on April 20, 2012, another to Muslim; Sheikh Abdu Karim Ssentamu had been shot at in Kampala.

Two months later, in June, another Muslim cleric, Abasi Abubaker Kiweewa, was shot dead at his supermarket in Kyanja, a Kampala suburb. Again two months later, two other prominent Muslims Yunusu Madungu and Muhammad Maganda, were gunned down on Eid el-Fitr in Bugiri district.

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