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Unsolved killings by motorcycle hit men

Why and how security agencies fail

| THE INDEPENDENT | The June 01 shooting of army Gen. Edward Katumba Wamala in a suspected assassination attempt has reawakened interest in the wave of unexplained and puzzling killings that have occurred in Uganda since 2012.

Gen. Katumba’s daughter, 32-year old medical doctor Brenda Nantongo Wamala and his driver, 38-year old soldier Haruna Kayondo were killed in the morning attack when assassins riding motor cornered them in a narrow in the Kisaasi Suburb of Kampala city.

The assassins sprayed Katumba’s SUV with a volley of bullets from the back, side, and in front. Katumba was hit twice in the left and right shoulder but was saved when his bodyguard returned fire and the assailants fled.

The execution-style ride-by shootings have for a long time left a large part of the population in fear, and speculating as to the reasons for such acts as well as the individuals behind them.

Andrew Otine, an independent Researcher and Security Consultant, is one of the few experts who have attempted to answer these queries.

In a study report entitled `Unsolved: Killings by Motorcycle Hitmen and Serial Murders of Women in Uganda”, Otine show how Uganda’s experience is not an isolated one and says “the absence of convincing explanations by security and at times the sheer simplicity and unsatisfactory nature of what is offered leaves a lot to be desired”.  He refers to a statement to parliament by the then-Minister of Internal Affairs, Gen. Jeje Odong that the serial murders of women were ritualistic and blaming it on the Illuminati.The report was published by Social Science Research Network (SSRN).

Otine who in 2019 authored a book titled `Bearing Arms and the Scope of Self-Defence for Military Medical Personnel’ attempts to analyse the mysterious nature of these killings by attempting to locate them in their historical and socio-political contexts.

He shows how the shootings initially targeted a section of Moslem leaders but escalated to include senior government officials from around March 2015. He says this escalation coincided with the initial reports of the capture of Jamil Mukulu, the leader of the Allied Democratic Force (ADF), in Tanzania.

He also covers a separate but similarly puzzling phenomenon of the the murder by strangulation of over 20 women in Nansaana and Entebbe. He says this seems concomitant with the existence of one or more serial killers.

First he poses questions that need to be answered: Who could be behind these series of killings? Are they political eliminations? Or private kill orders issued to hit men for hire?

He says Uganda’s experience is not an isolated one, as countries such as El Salvador, Mexico, Colombia, South Africa and even some cities in the United States of America have had similar experiences. The scourge of motorcycle executions have been so severe in some cities in Philippines, that authorities have banned men riding together or a rider carrying a passenger.

In 2018, for example, over 100 Mexican politicians were killed together with as many as 13,000 civilians. The killings were gang-related. Some of the reasons given for these killings include: receiving money from criminal organisations, a refusal to cooperate with such organisations and standing against political opponents with links to criminal organisations.

Otine says the execution style killings without any arrests have led the public to conclude that the police force and other security apparatus in general are incompetent. But he says, it’s unfair to expect much from a force that is severely understaffed, poorly funded, riddled with corruption at almost all levels and increasingly seen as partisan.

Otine points at the existence of rogue elements within the government, existence of ADF terror cells, criminal elements seeking economic gain and the possible existence of serial killers as possible areas of investigation.

The term “rogue element” is used to denote a group or a set of individuals working from within government to propagate their own policy towards an issue. Its modus operandi is not limited solely to the use of internal government resources; such a group may harness and thus benefit   from   numerous   networks   outside   of   government.   They   deliberately   make   use   of   clandestine and covert methods to pursue their goals that are frequently in conflict with official government positions.

In reference to rogue elements, one scholar has developed the notion of “state crime against democracy”. It means their mean actions or inaction is intended to weaken or subvert popular control of their government.  Such action can include political assassinations and subtle violations of democratic processes.

Could such rogue elements really exist within the Uganda government? He says several prominent politicians, including former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, have spoken about such rogue elements. Bukenya at one time alleged   that   he   escaped   several   poisoning   attempts   and   stage managed road accidents. Another senior government minister described a cartel, ruthless and willing to do anything to achieve its aims.  Others have made specific reference to the existence of rogue elements within the security forces particularly the police and the army.

The rogue elements exploit positions of power and access to resources, intelligence, and   lethal   force to carry out   targeted killings   against individuals.

In 2018, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, unleashed a vehement tirade on the police force, publicly dressing them down as incompetent and infiltrated by `kawukumi’ (bean weevils) or wrong elements. His words would be followed with changes at the top leadership of the police force. But he says the jury is still out on whether the changes are a breath of fresh air or merely the placing of old wine in new bottles.  In fact, the killings of Ibrahim Abiriga and ASP. Muhammed Kirumira took place after the reshuffles.

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