9 May 2007

Uganda: Who Killed Brigadier Noble Mayombo?


If the country's chief coroner states categorically that Brigadier Noble Mayombo died of acute pancreatitis uninduced by any poison or other extraneous toxin, who am I to disagree? I have, moreover, ploughed through Muir's Textbook of Pathology since the tragic announcement of May 1 and from a battery of monstrous polysyllabic words peculiar to Medicine, I have been able to satisfy myself that the condition can, and does indeed, occur suddenly, spontaneously, and without any prior warning.

If conspiracy theories are already being mooted by the dozen, it is because this country has a poor history of transparency where high profile deaths are concerned. Did Kabaka Mutesa II really die of alcoholic poisoning? Was the death of Maj. Gen. David Oyite Ojok in a helicopter mishap a genuine accident or an assassination? Who killed Dr. Andrew Lutakome Kayiira? Major Malinga? Dr. Aporu Okol?

It is so easy to find plausible motives for a possible Mayombo assassination. His meteoric rise through the ranks of the UPDF cannot have amused everybody. Though it was never spelt out in so many words, he was cast in some circles as a potential successor to president Museveni, to the chagrin, perhaps, of those who had positioned themselves in the succession queue.

His tenancy of the top post of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence must have caused him to step on some sore toes. As Permanent Secretary of the most sensitive and powerful Ministry, he may have angered some powerful people, local as well as foreign, by blocking or canceling lucrative arms contracts which would have yielded millions of dollars in commissions for the said persons. The possibilities are endless. When the circumstances are right we might explore some of them.

But for now we can assert that whatever else caused Brig. Mayombo's pancreatitis, the real killer was the absence of the relevant medical facilities to handle that condition. Here's the deal: a person is taken ill suddenly. His first port of call is Kololo Hospital.

From there he is shuttled off to Kampala International Hospital. Here, too, the qualified personnel find themselves helpless. The nearest facilities to handle such a condition are to be found at the Aga Khan Hospital in far-away Nairobi.

Lots of valuable time between the onset of the illness has elapsed. When the Aga Khan Hospital also proves inadequate the only solution is to fly the patient to some specialist hospital in Israel. But the doctors are realistic enough to decide that such a long journey would be futile. The patient would never make it.

During Marshal Mobutu's twilight years in power, this column, then featuring in the Sunday Monitor, chided the Zairean leader for not having invested some of Zaire's wealth in either improving the Hospital Mama Yemo in Kinshasa to a state in which it could treat any condition, including the prostate cancer that was slowly killing him, or in building and equipping a state-of-the-art facility in the country that would save him the embarrassment of having his genitals handled by young white nurses in foreign hospitals.

The NRM government has bee n in place for 22 unbroken years. Why must Ugandan dignitaries still be flown overseas at great expense? Which is the cheaper option: To spend billions of shillings flying select individuals abroad or to build and equip adequate health facilities in Uganda? How many illnesses have the patience and politeness to wait for travel arrangements to be made before they strike down their victims? Not forgetting the fact that the presidential jet is not available for every Ugandan.

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