Prosecutor Kagezi Case Puts Focus On Target Killings [analysis]

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.

Kyadondo East legislator, Ibrahim Ssemuju Nganda, who sits on parliament’s Defence and Internal Affairs Committee, told The Independent that given that this country has a bad history of targeted killings, it is hard to pin these murders one thing.

“It might be true that these sheikhs’ murders are a result of infighting within the Tabliq or that they have to do with the ADF but you also can’t rule out infighting between our security agencies,” he says.

Remember this government captured power by killing other people, Nganda says. Pecos Kutesa and Matayo Kyaligonza captured these things without any shame, he adds, referring to prominent fighters in the war that brought President Museveni to power in 1986 who have written books about the experience. Semujju says it could be because “they are falling out with each other”.

Ssemujju adds that a common thread in all these murders is that they have been carried out by people who are very knowledgeable about killing.

“So you also can’t rule out that some of these things are being staged,” Nganda adds, “That is why for me, I am against following one lead.”

Apart from the Sheikhs, several businessmen have been gunned down. The murder of businessman Wilberforce Noah Wamala, who was in February 2012 found beheaded at his home in Mutungo, raised disturbing details.

Wamala’s relatives and his widow blame a senior police commander for complicity in his murder, the reason, they say, their efforts in pushing the authorities to resolve his death has been frustrated over the last three years. Wamala was murdered with his house help, Sadiq Mugerwa.

The key suspect in the case was also later found dead in a police cell. He had implicated some of the deceased’s close associates.

Frustrated by the police, Wamala’s widow, petitioned President Yoweri Museveni directly seeking his intervention. In a petition, the widow noted that the police commander had been involved in procuring hit men who, at the time, were in custody on murder charges. Despite her petition, she is yet to get justice.

But before these allegations surrounding a police officer and procuring of killers could settle, another police officer was implicated in the killing of another businessman, Eria Sebunnya Bugembe, aka, Kasiwukira, who was knocked down by a pajero in October last year. Authorities ruled out a possibility it was just an accident and some of the arrested suspects confirmed they had at some point been procured to do the job. Despite these efforts, this murder too remains unresolved.

These killings have not spared police officers. Just two days after Kagezi’s shooting, machete wielding assailants raided a police post at Kasana in Luweero district, and attacked a cop, Geoffrey Baala, who died instantly. The attackers also badly injured another, Sarah Acan, who is still in hospital.

In February, this year, two other police officers, Muzamiru Babale and Abdallah Karim Tenywa who were guards at the home of a High Court Judge, Justice Faith Mwondha, were also gunned down by assailants riding on a motorbike.

Early this month, a mobile money agent was trailed until she got out of the taxi and was shot, her wallet, which contained Shs20, 000 was taken. This was the second time she was being attacked. The first time, her assailants reportedly took Shs18 million. In all instances, they used guns.

Too many guns

For observers the rise in target killings especially the killings involving guns has to do with the increased proliferation of guns in Uganda.

According to Gunpolicy.org, an international organization that tracks gun control and trade, Uganda has over 400,000 guns in civilian hands. Of these, only 2,770 are registered and 200,000 are illicit guns. In the region, only neighbouring Kenya has more illicit guns in civilian hands.

Although Tanzania has more guns in civilian hands than Uganda at 550,000, only 100,000 of these are estimated to be illicit. A high number 69,840 are licensed.

Uganda’s involvement in the fight against terrorism in Somalia has exposed it as a high target for attackers, who easily take aantage of the countries porous borders to smuggle in weapons.

Matters are not helped by the fact that some the countries neighbouring Uganda like South Sudan and DR Congo, have had unending wars and remain a major source of weapons.

Private security firms are also seen by some critics as a menace. There are reports of private guards vanishing with weapons or losing them to attackers. Assailants have also disarmed the police in attacks at police stations.

In 2013 alone, 31 guns and 190 rounds of ammunition were lost under unclear circumstances, according to the 2013 police’s annual crimes report. Police was able to recover 27 guns and 1,505 rounds of ammunition.

Because of increased insecurity especially gun crimes, police has seen an unprecedented number of applications from Ugandans for firearms.

Kayihura, who as IGP is empowered by the Police Act to approve a request for a firearm, recently said he had declined to clear several requests from civilians because of the rise of gun violence. A source at police records department, who declined to be mentioned, said the number of applications was in several thousands.

Blocking acquisition of arms, however, may not mean much in the resolving of these murders especially given that in none of the murders police is grappling with involved a police licensed gun.

Frustrated by these killings, Kayihura claims the current criminal justice system favours criminals and wants the 48-hour rule that requires police to investigate suspects and have them produced in court scrapped because it is too short for the police to get evidence.

Kayihura made his pitch while speaking on behalf of government security agencies at the requiem service of Kagezi at St Luke’s Church in Ntinda. New Chief Justice Bart Katureebe roundly opposed the suggestion saying it would compromise the basic principles of justice.

For many like Ssemujju and Rwakafuzi, the authorities must go back to the drawing board and carry out proper policing. “Otherwise, jumping to conclusions about al shabaab might just be a scapegoat that just hides the weaknesses of the authorities and that can’t resolve these murders,” Semujju said.

Source : The Independent

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