New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: I Was Duped Out of U.S.$100,000

When he first came to Uganda in 2005, his heart was moved to help three orphan girls to attain education and a bright future.

However, Dennis Bussey did not know that his heart of gold would make him lose over $100,000 to a conman. He shared his story with Gladys Kalibbala.

It was tears of both joy and sadness when four young needy girls recently met with their American sponsor Dennis Bussey from Virginia.

Joy, that he was still alive after their caretaker told them he had died in a wild fire in California in 2006; and sadness, that the family had been robbed of about six years of a good relationship.

It is alleged that Ronald Asiimwe, who later faked his death and managed to get some dollars from Bussey for his burial, is the reason behind Bussey's losing track of his 'Ugandan Family' as he happily refers to it.

Asiimwe, a born-again, abandoned his work as a laboratory technician at Mulago Hospital, claiming he was not earning enough. His friends say he has been cruising in different expensive vehicles around town. At the end of the journey which started in 2005, Bussey says the over $100,000 (about sh260m) he sent to this family never reached them.

Instead, Asiimwe swindled it, forcing the girls to drop out of school and work as housemaids. It is alleged that he defiled some of them. Bussey and his family are now trying to recapture lost time.

The Police have taken over Asiimwe's case after his arrest and detention at Wandegeya Police, where he met Bussey face-to-face for the first time.

Bussey narrates ordeal

I have not yet recovered fully from what I may describe as the most incredible week in my lifetime. However, I thank God that finally I have been able to re-unite with my Ugandan family which I formed in 2005 when I first came to Uganda. Then, I had come to see the gorillas in Bwindi, where I also met officials supporting an orphanage.

My first pick was Isabellah Mutesi, who was 14 years old. She was an orphan from Kyeshero village, Kanungu district and I later took on her two sisters, Esperance Niyisingyizwa and Dinnah Usanase. I remained in touch and would send them money for education and welfare through the orphanage. With time, their school administration complained about the orphanage officials not remitting fees in time.

I stopped sending them money until the school identified Ronald Asiimwe whom they described as an orphan, but one committed to supporting fellow orphans and could be trusted. He demonstrated visionary ideas which convinced me he was truly a 'Ugandan hero' - a title he enjoyed a lot during our relationship together.

Times of doubts

There were times when I was irritated with Asiimwe's seemingly never-ending schemes. One was to construct a building to be leased out so that the rent could be dedicated to the orphans who had literally nowhere to live except a pathetic shanty hut.

According to our communications by email, he proved my suspicions wrong as he successfully completed all the projects as he indicated in the mails. On top of the three girls, he included one Susan Kyasiimire whom he claimed was about to be exchanged by her uncles for a few cows to a man who was to use her as a servant and a baby machine.

He explained that Kyasiimire had persevered through life threatening danger, unimaginable complications and difficulty and she was about to complete her degree in wildlife health management.

Fortunately, I had met Kyasiimire during my first visit to Bwindi and at that time, she was a student who worked during the holidays, so I was touched and started sending money to enable her complete her studies.

Asiimwe had a way of forcing the things he wanted out of me against all odds and I had no doubt Kyasiimire would not have succeeded without him.

One time he said Mutesi had been shot during riots after the presidential elections and she had a rubber bullet in her leg which required removal. Back home with my family, we cried for the poor girl whom we were told was severely beaten by security people in the riot and was admitted in hospital.

Whenever such communications came from Asiimwe, the girls would also send the same messages to me, confirming their state which always made me act with speed. Little did I know that these were imaginary people using the names of my little disadvantaged girls! None of the real girls had ever communicated to me.

Tragedy strikes

Last year when everything was running smoothly, I got an email from a one Polito, claiming to be Asiimwe's brother. Asiimwe had been involved in a terrible road accident where many died on spot and Asiimwe had sustained a spinal cord injury which required urgent surgery, estimated at $6,000. My hero was dying, so I sent money immediately.

Unfortunately, he never survived as he died during the operation, but the money had already been paid to the hospital. Immediately, there was need to send $6,500 (about sh16.9m) more to arrange the burial.

I sent a condolence message accompanying the money and told mourners that he was the only truly "Ugandan Hero" I had ever known! Again, tears were shed back home with my family although I had never met Asiimwe in person. Life had to continue, so Polito took over helping me with the girls.

Second trip to Uganda

Last year, I met Rogers Kasirye, the executive director of Uganda Youth Development Link (UYDEL) in America so I planned to visit him this year.

Just two weeks to my visit, I got a message on Facebook from Mutesi. She was inquiring whether I was still alive and the rest is now history. That is when I got to know that Asiimwe was alive and kicking and none of the girls ever got my money!

Mutesi narrates

In December 2006, Asiimwe told me our sponsor, Bussey, had died at the age of 120 years in California. By then, Asiimwe had only paid for my fees for two terms.

My sisters dropped out of school and looked for employment in Kampala to enable me complete my S4. Asiimwe made me sign documents with one Keith Horrein, as my new sponsor. He took me to open a bank account in my names which I was never allowed to use again.

We have all struggled with life, working in different places until a month ago when I traced Bussey on Facebook. It was like God had answered my prayers and we have re-united and he has taken us back to school at UYDEL.

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