Where Is FDC’s Sam Mugumya?

Confusion, uncertainty reign over the whereabouts of vocal FDC activist

On October 17, Sam Mugumya, a Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) political activist who is now a subject of parallel investigations by two governments, sauntered into the parliamentary building in Kampala.

Dressed in khaki trousers, a navy blue T-shirt emblazoned with a photograph of Che Guevara, an Argentinian revolutionary, and carrying a small bag, he appeared to be in a jovial mood.

“He was in good spirits,” recalls Francis Mwijukye, a friend and fellow activist. “He said he wanted to go back and spend more time in Rukungiri to look after his ageing mother and the family property.”

This was the last time Mwijukye saw Mugumya. The former FDC president, Dr Kizza Besigye, for whom Mugumya served as a long-term personal aide, recalls meeting Mugumya around the same time. Dr Besigye told The Observer on Monday that he last saw and spoke to Mugumya about three weeks ago.

“We did not talk much. He told me he was going back to the village,” Besigye told us at Namirembe cathedral, on the sidelines of a funeral service for Prince David Ssimbwa, the younger brother to the late Kabaka Sir Edward Mutesa II.

Having lost his brother months earlier in a motor accident, those who know Mugumya say the accident jolted the young opposition politician. Some of his friends say the loss of his brother greatly affected him and, for someone without a formal job, the task of looking after his late brother’s family seemed to weigh heavily on him.

It could have influenced his decision to go back to Rukungiri and look for means of eking a living out of the prime family land located in the municipality.

It is during the time Mugumya was supposed to be in Rukungiri that UPDF spokesman, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, announced that he had been arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).


As mystery continues to shroud the exact whereabouts of Mugumya, friends and fellow political activists cannot tell how, when or whether indeed Mugumya went to DRC. The Ugandan army reported two weeks ago that he had been arrested in Beni, a town in eastern DRC.

The army spokesman, Lt Col Ankunda, said then that Mugumya had been found in possession of dollars and was suspected to be involved in subversive activities. Ankunda stuck to the same position on Monday when The Observer sought him out for an update. He said what was left was for the Ugandan authorities to work out Mugumya’s extradition arrangement with their counterparts in DRC.

While the army is yet to provide evidence of Mugumya’s alleged detention or engagement in subversive activities, last week, Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of Uganda Media Centre, posted a photograph of a bare-chested Mugumya, allegedly taken from Beni, which has set tongues wagging.

Taken at close range, Mugumya is seen in the undated photograph standing against a background of a house, looking haggard and emaciated.

Repeated attempts to get Opondo to tell us the source of the photograph that he uploaded on his twitter handle (@OfwonoOpondo) on November 6 were unsuccessful as he did not pick our phone calls.

But Mugumya’s story took an interesting spin this week when two diplomats, one from Uganda and another from DRC, could not tell for sure whether Mugumya was in DRC or even whether he was under arrest. Maj James Kinobe, Uganda’s ambassador to DRC, told The Observer yesterday that he had also read about Mugumya’s arrest in the papers.

He said: “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.”

Kinobe said he had heard informally about Mugumya’s arrest but until DRC confirms his arrest and conducts investigations, we should not draw early conclusions.

Even in the event that charges are brought up against Mugumya, Kinobe said, his extradition to Uganda will not be easy as happened with Nsubuga Tony Kipoi, the former MP for Bubulo West, who is still held in DRC (See: DR Congo refuses to hand over ex-MP Kipoi).

Similarly, Pierre Masala, DRC’s deputy ambassador to Uganda, told us on Monday that they were not aware of Mugumya’s arrest in DRC or that of any other Ugandan.

Conspiracy theories:

“I also read from the newspapers [that Mugumya had been arrested in DRC]. So, I am the wrong person to ask where he is,” Masala said in a brief telephone interview.

The lack of clarity over Mugumya’s current situation has fed into and given veracity to several conspiracy theories as to what could have happened to the vocal opposition activist. Some people claim Mugumya was kidnapped from Rukungiri by the army and taken to DRC so as to implicate him in rebel activities.

Others suspect that he is being held and “tortured” in a safe house in Kampala with a view of extracting a confession from him that he was involved in subversive activities.

“At this point we can’t tell whether he is in Beni, Kinshasa or Kampala,” Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, the FDC president, told journalists on Monday.

He was flanked by a group of youths holding posters with a photo of Mugumya and with the inscription: “Release Mugumya Now.”

There has also been speculation that Mugumya’s arrest and the allusion that he is involved in rebel activities could signal the onset of new treason charges against him andor his boss, Besigye.

This view gained currency on Monday when one Dan Morris Tumusiime, who described himself as a transformed former PRA rebel coordinator, posted a 943-word statement on his Facebook wall alleging that indeed Mugumya and other FDC leaders were planning to overthrow the government.

“I have read with a lot of disgust how FDC, Dr Besigye and others have on several times again denied and tried to sway the public away from believing that they’re involved in subversive rebel activities.

I wish to put this on record that FDC and some of its leaders have indeed been involved in rebel activities designed to overthrow the government of President Yoweri Museveni, and they have in this been linking up with the LRA and ADF since 2001…They have tried many occasions to reactivate the PRA which they were trying to do through Mugumya and others at large but have been hit in the face by the intelligence of Museveni,” he wrote on his wall, attracting a series of comments, many accusing him of being part of the plan to implicate FDC leaders in treasonous activities.

From Tumusiime’s statement, others saw parallels between Mugumya’s situation and that faced by James Opoka, a former guild president at Makerere University and Besigye’s political assistant during the 2001 elections.

Opoka is said to have joined the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) after the elections. However, he was reportedly killed in 2003 by Joseph Kony, the rebel leader, after the two got a disagreement.

Shortly afterwards, some people were arrested, accused of being part of a shadowy rebel group, People’s Redemption Army (PRA), which was reportedly led by Besigye, then exiled in South Africa. Upon his return from exile, Besigye was arrested and charged with treason. But in 2007, the High court dismissed the case.

Eternal political activist:

Mugumya was born in Rukungiri in 1979 to the late Emmanuel Turyomurugyendo and Edinat Turyomurugyendo in a family of five siblings. He had an eventful childhood, growing up in Kasese where he had his primary education.

“We used to jump on fast-moving vehicles for free rides to town,” he told us during a 2011 interview, in a tone that suggested he did not regret this dangerous stunt.

Later, he joined Muntuyera High School in Ntungamo district for his secondary education before joining Makerere University. During his days at Makerere University in the early 2000s, Mugumya was an opposition activist and a member of the Reform Agenda, Besigye’s 2001 campaign platform.

An admirer of Che Guevara (he told us that he has more than five T-shirts emblazoned with the photo of Guevara) and a consummate reader of Machiavelli’s works, Mugumya’s political thinking was greatly shaped by the political philosophies of these two men. After university in 2004, Mugumya, unlike many young people, decided not to look for a job and instead immersed himself, headlong, into political activism.

“I will get a job when the country is liberated,” Mugumya told The Observer in 2011. He apparently survived through handouts from friends, relatives and well-wishers.

In 2005, Mugumya got his “first job” as a political aide of Besigye. On the campaign trail in 2006 and 2011, Mugumya did everything to ensure that his boss was comfortable.

He bought the day’s newspapers and refreshments for Besigye, and carried the portable public address system which the former FDC boss used during the campaigns, among other duties.

Mugumya’s personal identity would be incomplete without reference to Besigye. Asked in the 2011 interview what drew him to Besigye, Mugumya said: “Besigye espouses the values I stand for. He is an eternal political activist.”

Yet for the people who have known and interacted with Mugumya, the same description could fit him. He eats, breathes and dreams politics.

Source : The Observer

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