21 January 2013

Uganda: Luzira Soldier Has Case to Answer

He is on trial for his life, but UPDF soldier Herbert Rwakihembo still has an obligation to fulfil his duty as a servant of the army, never mind that the same institution is trying him for murder.

It is even more ironic that he still has to obey the law and obligations of the army that is trying him where the hundreds of people filling the court marital at Luzira Church of Uganda primary school, say he is innocent. He is marched into the room like he is on command parade, salutes his superiors, led by Col Geoffrey Kakama, and remains standing throughout the entire hearing.

His is no ordinary trial. The neighbours in his community in Luzira, where he is alleged to have shot and killed three people and injured another, are demanding that Lance Corporal Rwakihembo be released. They argue that he was so badly provoked by one of his victims, his girlfriend. Before he is marched into the classroom where his trial is being held, villagers rush in for seats. More sit on the floor, some stand on tables while others crowd the windows blocking out light and fresh air.

Military police have been deployed to guard against any possible riots from irate sympathisers, who say that Rwakihembo was justified to shoot and kill his wife, her lover and two other women. The 31-year-old soldier, attached to a military police detach in Luzira prison, is believed to have committed the crime on December 10, 2012.

Jafari Evuley, a resident of Luzira, told The Observer that Rwakihembo's wife and the three others deserved what they got. He says Rwakihembo went to Somalia to brave the hard life of a soldier on the battlefield in a situation of life and death, so that he could make some money to take care of his family. Some 400 Ugandan soldiers die every year from suicide bombing and direct gun fire in Somalia. Each soldier is paid Shs 2.4m every month, most of which is sent to their bank accounts back home.

It is alleged that Rwakihembo had given his account information to his girlfriend Irene Namuyaba Nakibirango. When he left for the war zone, his girlfriend Namuyaba informed him while there that she was pregnant. So, Rwakihembo sent back home money for rent for their house, medical bills and to care for the baby when it was born. He is also alleged to have sent about Shs 7m for her to buy land.

There are rumours that Rwakihembo caught Namuyaba in bed with another man upon return from Somalia. But at the time of the offence, he had already returned and was living with her. Prosecution lawyer Captain Victor Chemususu told court that Rwakihembo left his guard post and went to his home in Kisenyi Zone III, Luzira parish in Nakawa division, where he shot and killed his girlfriend Namuyaba, Zaina Nasolo Nalongo and Loyce Kawendeka. He also attempted to kill a motorcyclist, Ali Bavawala, a resident of Mutungo Zone, who was allegedly involved in an affair with Namuyaba.

After shooting them, he went back to his guard post, where he was found and arrested. He pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

"The accused is responsible for this act because he personally put himself onto the scene of crime. The injuries in the lungs, blood vessels and intestines show that the death was unlawful. The accused admitted in a charge and caution statement that he had killed the people," Chemusus told court.

Evuley told The Observer that Rwakihembo went back home and found Bavawala in his house carrying his five month old baby girl. He asked Namuyaba: "biki bino byonkola?" meaning what is this you are doing to me. Winnie Nakato, who was at their house, says Namuyaba together with Bavawala, Kawendeka, and Nasolo started tormenting and abusing Rwakihembo.

"They told him that the child was not his and that he was impotent. Namuyaba told him that he was not man enough. I told her that the person you are quarrelling with is a soldier, why abuse him? But they could not listen," Nakato told The Observer.

Arguing his defence, his lawyer, Alex Rusto Mukhwana, told court that the three then ganged up to disarm Rwakihembo. In the course of the struggle over the gun, the accused cocked the gun to scare them. But this act did not scare them. Nasolo told the others that the gun was empty. Bavawala also told them that he had military training and was ready to disarm Rwakihembo.

"They attacked the accused and surrounded him. In that confusion of disarming him, the trigger was pulled by one of the six and hence the shooting. One of his arms was being held behind by Nasolo while her comrades attempted to disarm him. It is our humble submission that although the women died, it is not clear he caused the death since the accused was under eminent attack, he was struggling to defend himself," Mukhwana told court.

Mukhwana asked court to disregard the evidence of Bavawala, who was allegedly having an affair with Namuyaba, and was part of the gang that attacked Rwakihembo. But the prosecution lawyer told court that Rwakihembo had had ample time to cool his temper. He says he had other ways of resolving the issues.

"He had planned this act, he went back to his post and came back and shot these people. He knows a gun is a deadly weapon and if he had used a cane, they would not be dead," Chemususu told court.

Col Kakama said that court had found Rwakihembo had a case to answer.

"It should be noted that finding the accused with a case to answer does not mean he is guilty," Kakama said.

The case resumes today.

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