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Silencing voices of opposition

Chilling effect of Kakwenza’s arrest

Kampala, Uganda | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | The arrest of novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija has laid bare what many political observers say are tactics from the playbook of leaders who have clung to power too long, lack legitimacy, and have resorted to using security operatives to arrest dissenting, critical, or contrarian citizens and holding them incommunicado with impunity and total disregard to the law.

Kakwenza, the 2021 winner of the international writer of courage award from PEN International which fights for the freedom of writers who are harassed, jailed, tortured, killed, was violently arrested from his home in Kisasi, a Kampala suburb, on December 28, 2021.

“Men with guns are breaking my door,” the 33-year old tweeted at the time. “They say they are policemen but are not in uniform. I’ve locked myself inside.”

He was detained in unknown places and allegedly tortured. His crime has not been stated as he has not appeared in any court. But he reportedly harassed President Museveni and first son Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba on his social media accounts.

Kakwenza’s continued detention is in breach of an order issued on Jan. 04 by the Makindye Grade One Magistrate Irene Nambatya directing his unconditional release.

“Every police officer should comply with the above order,” Nambatya ruled saying Kakwenza should not have been detained beyond the allowed 48 hours without being arraigned in court as it violates his constitutional right to liberty and fair hearing.

This is the third time Kakwenza has been arrested in a period of two years. He was first detained in April 2020 following publication of his allegorical novel `The Greedy Barbarian’ which describes high level corruption in a fictional country. He was arrested a second time after he published `Banana Republic’ which describes his incarceration at by military intelligence operatives.

Kakwenza was briefly brought out of detention on Jan.03 and driven to his country home in Iganga where heavily armed security officials ransacked his house for nearly three hours. His wife, Eva Basima, and three young children were terrified. His wife said he left behind a shirt and underpants with dried blood stains on them. His legs were swollen and he looked starved.  She said she saw sharp piercings on the soles of his feet, leading her to suspect her husband was made to walk on nails.

The wife has since filed an application in Civil Division of the High Court against the Commander of the Special Forces, Brig. Gen. Peter Candia, the Director of Criminal Investigations Directorate, Grace Akullo, and the Inspector General of Police Martin Okoth Ochola, and the Attorney General. She wants court to order them to produce her husband dead or alive.

Analysts say the torture meted on Kakwenza and others is a departure from the relative tolerance of criticism that has for long been exhibited by President Yoweri Museveni that now seems to be waning.

Renowned journalist and political commentator Charles Onyango Obbo says repression under Museveni has become similar to that under the late dictator Idi Amin Dada.

“Though artists, writers, playwrights have endured repression in every period in Uganda, only in Idi Amin’s did they see the level of violence they face today: Byron Kawadwa, Dan Kintu, John Sebuliba, John Male etc. were all tortured/disappeared/executed in Amin’s time,” he tweeted after reading the narration of Kakwenza’s arrest.

Zziwa Zinabala, a poet and playwright, says “freedom in Uganda is a wrong dream”.

“No matter, how much we dream there will be a penalty meted to anyone dissenting in opinions in this country. It is not about writing. It is about hubris syndrome.

“It is only an insecure person, that would be so much scared of writers. It is only a low self-esteem person that can mete pain onto a body of another person just to cause a timid generation,” he says.

He says the arrest of Kakwenza is meant to intimidate writers.

“Will you be able to write again if Kakwenza throws in a towel due to torture? Writers in Uganda need to learn to step up and fight together because we all write to share ideologies about life,” Zziwa says.

Kakwenza’s arrest has also focused international criticism on Museveni’s government.

The European Union (EU) Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, on Jan.05 urged the Uganda government to accord Kakwenza due process of under the law.

“Uganda: I’m alarmed by reports of alleged torture and incommunicado detention of author (Rukirabashaija Kakwenza). He remains in detention without trial, despite a court order for his unconditional release. I urge Ugandan authorities to uphold rule of law and due process,” he tweeted.

PEN International has called for his immediate release and described his arrest as unlawful and violent.

9 comments

  1. Kipto arap Cheruyot

    It is morally wrong to condone torture by the state. It is equally wrong to condone torture by non state actors who use their literary might and support by multinational and interational powers through insults, abuses, blackmail, etc hiding behind rights. Such literary abuses amount to psychological torture and victims need protection. Kakwenza’s wife is very good at imagination: the holes on Kakwenza’s soles meant he was made to walk on nails. The coaches have indeed done a good job.

  2. If it is true Gen Muhoozi tweeted: “I want the arrest of Kakwenza Rukira (Rukirabashaija) to be a lesson to all those who think they can abuse me on social media and walk away scot-free.” it means, like his father, Gen Tibuhaburwa; Gen Muhoozi is also a Bloody Author and Master of Violence.

    In other words, what is the American Administration waiting for to blacklist and sanction the Kiman? Otherwise, the US is playing double standard. Or is it because Gen Muhoozi graduated from one of their Elite Military Academies?

    • Well said Mr. O the USA I hope is watching

    • Kipto arap Cheruyot

      Am surprised you are just realising that your darling US is a country of double standards just because it has not acted to your wish. Examples: Are you aware that US still holds detainees for over 2 decades at its Guantsnamo Bay prison without taking them to courts of law? Are you not aware that within East Africa there is a particular tiny country that has prized itself in murdering, torturing, detaining without charges, kidnapping its political opponents even from US doorsteps but you will never hear of any sanctions? Are you not aware of crimes against humanity in Libya, Iraq, Syria, Grenada, US itself, etc by US forces and agents? Have you ever heard of any sanctions on these? US acts ONLY to protect/advance own interests. If you think US will install for you a stooge leader just because you wish so, sorry. You also need to realise that just as we demand accountability from the state, the same should apply to non state actors too. They have no right to abuse the rights of others just because they the non state actors are in bed with the mighty US or EU. Inciting violence, calling for extermination of certain ethnicities, …, just because you do not agree with them, is criminal, and should be condemned in strongest terms. Being a non state actor does not warrant one to become an out law!

      • America is not perfect; and no one here is using them as a standard. Even if USA is corrupt, I would rather find myself in the hands of American soldiers or security people compared to ISO, ESO or CMI. At least I know that I have a 90% chance of being treated with respect with USA security people.

        On the other hand, find yourself in the hands of Uganda’s security for imagined crimes and 99.999% of the time you know you will be tortured killed and your body never found. I know I can go to Bidens twitter account an abuse him till I lose my voice ( not that I support that behaviour) and the CIA, FBI, etc will never waste a second of their time an dta xpayers money looking for me.

  3. Muhoozi as I suspected for a long time is an idiot with no brains whose only claim to fame and rise to power is because of Daddy. How many people abuse his father and M7 never lifts a finger? ( If there is ne thing I appreciate about Museveni is his tolerance or critics to some degree). Muhoozi is abusing power and his tweeting that message should be evidence that he is complicit in torture and abuse of human rights. I met Muhoozi a couple of times in passing and though I cannot claim he knows me; I always thought in my brief meetings with him that he is at least the face of toleration of this dictatorship. However after the torture of Bobi Wine and now journalists, We can see that this young man is drunk with power and uses it to settle personal scores. To me Muhoozi (if you reading) this does not win you respect but brings you down to the level of blood thirsty buffoons like Idi Amin. You have lost my respect.

  4. proverb-
    A Swahili Proverb says it all -Mtoto wa nyoka ni nyoka. Mtoto wa mtu mwenye sifa mbaya huishia kuwa na sifa mbaya. Evil bleeds evil! Like father like son.

  5. Ibra, it means the culture of crime, violence and inhumanity is inherent and nurtured in the household of the our so call first family. In other words, in order to numb Muhoozi’s consciousness/compassion; Gen Tibuhaburwa must have been regularly taking the young Muhoozi behind the house and made him wring the necks of chicken.

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