Few things pique the human curiosity, suspicion and fear like the realisation that someone has disappeared, especially if it is a child or any other person of interest.
And it just gets more complicated when the disappearance culminates in a mystery characterised by finger pointing and conspiracy theories. Such is the case of 35-year-old Sam Mugumya.
When the youth activist and Opposition party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) stalwart vanished, what was heard was that he had been arrested on rebel activity-related charges in neighbouring DR Congo.
Intriguingly, news of his arrest was broken by the Uganda People’s Defence Force’s spokesperson, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, on social media and then to the media. He also said Mugumya had been arrested in company of four others with huge sums of dollars and documents linking them to some rebel outfit in eastern DRC with intentions of overthrowing the Ugandan government.
A day after this revelation, the Uganda Media Centre executive director, Mr Ofwono Opondo, shared a photo on twitter of a seemingly depressed and scrawny Mugumya in the DRC army detention.
The DRC embassy in Uganda denied any knowledge of the matter but referred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here, who also similarly denied knowledge on the issue.
Uganda’s ambassador in DRC, Maj James Kinobe, who is ideally meant to be the first point of official contact in Congo told a local newspaper, “There are two ways through which I can get formally informed. First, a relative of the detained person can report at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that their person is missing and he is suspected to be in DRC. Then, as ambassador, I am told to do a follow-up. No relative of Mugumya has shown up.”
“Secondly, the government of DRC can write to the embassy telling me they have arrested a Ugandan. They have not done so.” He admitted hearing of the arrest informally. That was last week.
Early this week on Tuesday, Col Olivier Hamuli, a spokesperson of the Congolese army, also known as FARDC of North Kivu province, in a brief telephone interview with NTV, also denied knowledge of the arrest of the firebrand activist.
As the ping pong raged on, Lt Col Ankunda stuck to his guns, asserting that the matter had been left to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “to negotiate with our Congolese friends and have that fellow brought here”.
But officials at the ministry still maintained they had no idea on this matter. But then on Wednesday the commander of the North Kivu FARDC, Brig Gen Muhindo Akili Mundos, admitted to having Mugumya, also aide de camp to three times presidential election runner-up, Dr Kizza Besigye.
So why did the admission take along? Why did the FARDC spokesman deny a day after and later his commander broke the news? Isn’t there coordination between the army and the Congolese government given the fact a person of interest had disappeared in a neighbouring country?
Such are the million dollar questions yet to be answered but the latest revelation threw a spanner in the works. The divergent sources of information have opened room to an avalanche of conspiracy theories.
Former coordinator of intelligence services, Gen David Sejusa (Tinyefuza), posted on social media that Mr Mugumya could be held up in a safe house in Kampala.
According to Francis Mwijukye, the acting FDC deputy spokesperson and close ally to Mr Mugumya, the aide, who has been arrested at least 60 times by the Uganda Police Force, was in Kampala about three weeks ago.
“I last saw him at Parliament around October 16. He was in town around the time the FDC National Council was meeting. He told us he was going to Rukungiri. They have a home in the municipality and village,” he told Sunday Monitor.
This newspaper could not speak to Mr Mugumya’s mother as she could not be reached by phone and is not ready to speak to the press. Only three months ago, Mugumya lost his brother and found himself having to fend for his one child and wife.
Rukungiri is a few kilometres from Congo. The North Kivu commander said Mugumya was being held for illegal entry alongside four others while Mr Ankunda associates Mugumya with rebel activity. Congo has a track record of hosting rebel movements hostile to Uganda, including the Allied Democratic Forces and Lord’s Resistance Army.
Former director general External Security Organisation David Pulkol avers that Mugumya’s arrest raises more questions than answers in a situation where two governments with clear command structures have uncoordinated flow of information.
What is surprising, from the onset, he says, “is that UPDF broke the news of Mugumya’s arrest and appears more knowledgeable of what is happening in Congo than the Congolese government.”
This would not be strange per say since armies in the region and indeed elsewhere in the globe have cross border liaison offices with well-established channels of information. In this case, however, the matter has not been brought to the attention of the foreign affairs ministries of either countries and remains top notch security information.
“Could the ambassadors be feigning ignorance and to what end?” Pulkol says. “That in itself is wrong because the military must be under civilian control so that matter should have been raised with the civilian authorities who in turn would be speaking about it now.”
Former head of the political intelligence desk at State House Charles Rwomushana, however, notes that there is more than meets the eye in this fiasco, so expecting standard international law procedure to be followed would be falling short of idealism.
Mugumya’s case, he argues, “is a military matter. I have submitted that DR Congo must show cause, it doesn’t augment FDCTinyefuzaAmama axis in wanting to use DR Congo ground to wage war on Uganda. And Kabila will want M23 commanders in exchange for Mugumya…If it was a simple issue, then the envoy would have been in the know.”
He adds, “Gen Tinyefuza says they now prefer war to get rid of Museveni. They are in discussions to form a united front with various rebel groups on the ground. Mugumya appears to have been for such a mission.”
This information cannot be independently verified, but army spokesman Ankunda intimated there is evidence linking Mugumya to subversive activity.
Mr Rwomushana’s assertion comes against the backdrop of renegade general Sejusa’s public pronouncements of the use of armed force to dislodge Mr Museveni’s 28-year-old regime. Dr Besigye has time and again also said the use of force is a legitimate option provided for under the law.
He has also declared his loss of confidence in the ballot process after standing and losing thrice. Mr Mbabazi on the other hand has said he will not contest against his ally for 40 years, but has argued that there is nothing wrong with having an eye at the presidency.
To buy Rwomushana’s argument would be to give credence to Mr Ankunda’s earlier revelations but Dr Besigye has been fast to point fingers at trumped up charges, akin to those of terrorism in 2005, being the fulcrum of Mugumya’s arrest.
Mwijukye says, “It is not the first time they are saying that. [Police chief] Kale Kayihura called a press conference one time to announce that Mwijukye, Mugumya and Ingrid Turinawe want to overthrow the government and the case was dismissed in court. Let them give evidence this time round.”
Mr Pulkol says, “I don’t know if Uganda has an extradition treaty with Congo the way it has with Kenya and Tanzania and if it is there, if there is a process to fast track that. What happened to former MP Tony Kipoi? Will the same befall Mugumya?” he asks.
Could Mugumya have been abducted, as Dr Besigye fears, and taken to Congo?
Mr Pulkol wonders why the local commander has not informed the leadership of the Congolese army of Mugumya’s arrest. Ordinarily, military practice demands commanders to file situational reports to their command structure on a daily basis. It therefore becomes suspicious that the North Kivu commander has not yet officially informed his government of this arrest.
“Could the government of Uganda be conniving with him and perhaps paid him some money to give their account credibility? I find it strange that a local commander is keeping him and the government is not aware. Does UPDF work with local commanders in Congo?” the former chief external spy asks.
All is not yet over
Members of the pressure group, 4GC to which Mugumya belonged have planned a visit next week to Kinshasa, where the army said he would be transferred.
But Uganda’s Foreign Affairs spokesman Fred Opolot says “the DRC government hasn’t made any formal communication to our embassy in Kinshasa, so it’s still hard to know what is next”.
Former Bubulo MP Tony Kipoi was arrested sometime last year in DRC on similar charges and later transferred to Kishasa on grounds that he would be extradited to this day, the country is still waiting.
“I don’t know if Uganda has an extradition treaty with Congo the way it has with Kenya and Tanzania and if it is there if there is a process to fast track that. What happened to former MP Tony Kipoi? Will the same befall Mugumya,”
David Pulkol, Former director general External Security Organisation
“Gen Tinyefuza says they now prefer war to get rid of Museveni. They are in discussions to form a united front with various rebel groups on the ground. Mugumya appears to have been for such a mission,”
Charles Rwomushana, Former head of the political intelligence desk at State House
SOURCE: Daily Monitor