7 February 2013

Uganda: Nine Months Later, Thembo's Murder Still Remains a Mystery

On May 11, 2012, a gang of men attacked the home of Amon Thembo. He pleaded with them to take everything they wanted but spare his life. However, his pleas fell on deaf ears.They shot him dead.

The Police made some arrests over the murder, but the suspects were not produced in court. Charles Etukuri and John Thawite explore the circumstances surrounding Thembo's death

Amon Thembo always dreamt of opening up his own television station. He worked hard as a freelance journalist, hoping to achieve his goal within five years. After working for different media houses in the country, he settled down in Kasese district, where he became a video director at Mupaghasya Community Television Centre.

In his yet-to-be published autobiography, he wrote: "My wish is to establish the first community television station in Kasese, educate the children and the general community, encourage people to have journalism and mass media skills and to create friendship within and outside Uganda for development."

But he would never live to see his wish come true. On May 11, 2012 at around 11:00pm, a gang of men attacked the home of the budding journalist, who had just returned from covering a give-away party in Bwera and shot him.

According to a relative, Yohazi Kamanyi, Thembo had been hired to cover a give-away function in Kibarura village in Kisinga sub-county, but since it ended late, he decided to spend the night at their ancestral home in Kyogah village, Bwera sub-county.

"He was one of the best photo and video journalists in the area and was often hired to cover local functions at a nominal fee, on top of working for Mupaghasya Community Television," Kamanyi says.

Thembo had practised journalism for some time. He rose to fame in the early 1990s, when he used to present a popular Lhukonzo language programme on the government-owned Radio Uganda, before it was rebranded to Uganda Broadcasting Corporation.

On the day he was shot, the deceased reached home at about 11:00pm. Hardly had he settled inside his house, than a group of armed men attacked.

"The gang of men immediately stormed the house and forced him and his son out of the bedroom to the sitting room. They asked him to produce a video camera that he had in his possession," adds the relative.

"He begged them to take whatever they wanted and spare him, but no amount of begging would convince them," he says.

They shot Thembo and then took his video camera, a jacket and a bag containing his video recordings. "It seems they wanted something from him," the relative adds.

Moments after the killers had vanished, Thembo's son made an alarm that attracted the neighbours, who were now terrified, having heard the gunshots. They came to his rescue, but it was too late.

Thembo was pronounced dead at Bwera Hospital before doctors could administer any medical care to him. He had bled severely and the doctors could do little to save his life. His death came just nine days after journalists globally marked World Press Freedom Day, which is marked every May 3.

His death immediately received attention and both local and international journalists issued a press statement condemning the killing.

A statement by the local journalists from Kasese reads: "It is tragic that our colleague Amon Thembo died in such a manner. We condemn with strongest terms the killing of our colleague. May the Police and other security personnel intensify their operations and investigations, so that the assailants are brought to book."

"At the time of his death, he was coaching his son the art of self-reliance and self-sustainability, something that some modern parents often fail to do," says a relation of his. Friends describe Thembo as a courageous, resilient promoter of the model family life and a voice of the vulnerable through his journalism work.

Was his death related to his work?

Was this the work of armed thieves who just wanted to steal or was his murder premeditated? A friend says the deceased could have stepped on some people's toes during the course of his work as a journalist. He says a week before the deceased was gunned down, he had been confronted by a senior official in the district over a story in which money meant for certain works in the district was allegedly embezzled by the said officer.

It is said the deceased had gone to the official's office and recorded the officer and had also made a documentary of the said shoddy work, which involved the construction of a local road and a school toilet in which the deceased felt there was no value for money.

"We went together to the suspect's office and asked him a series of questions, but he kept on calling and threatening us not to run the story, lest we face serious consequences," adds the friend.

So could this have been the reason why the thieves specifically targeted the video camera? Was this meant to destroy whatever evidence that had been recorded? Did the local Police ever make an effort to follow up the clues that were given to them as possible leads to finding the killers?

The Police sniffer dogs, which were brought the next morning, traced the scent of the killers to the home of a local resident, where it is believed the suspects first hid after accomplishing the mission and some arrests were made.

Why were the arrested suspects never taken to court and up to now nobody has been charged with the murder?

These and many questions remain unanswered nearly nine months later.

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